There's no 'easy money'

Volunteers and friends will always come through in times of crisis, but that doesn't mean the state shouldn't get its act together.

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July 30, 2007 23:08
4 minute read.
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The state comptroller's report on home front preparedness and functioning during the Second Lebanon War is one of the harshest seen in Israel. Particularly so, in the wake of the Winograd Committee's interim report and the ongoing public discussion regarding the state of preparedness in Sderot and the Western Negev communities under continuous Kassam attack. The argument sparked recently between Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and the associates of Chief Justice Dorit Beinisch regarding the responsibility for reinforcements in Sderot is just another chapter in this saga. The report clearly shows that Israel was not prepared for war as regards the home front, and as a result the residents of the north became exhausted, ultimately weakening Israel's ability to fight. This is not the first time Israel's home front was targeted by Arab terrorism. Arab terrorist groups attacked civilians during the second intifada (2000-2005), and enemy countries had also identified Israel's soft spot - Egypt in the 1970s, and Iraq in 1991. However, during the Second Lebanon War, the home front's position underwent a significant change when, in view of the collapsing national and local systems, a wave of volunteers arose built entirely on a newly-fledged Israeli "third sector." One of the elements called to the aid of the home front in the war was Jewish organizations, mainly from North America, which felt Israel's vulnerability and wished to help. Since they cannot - and indeed are forbidden - to help the country's military endeavors, they lent their support to civic operations, and mainly to the victims of war in Israel's north. This support was one of the main sources of funding for aid operations started by volunteer organizations. ACCORDING TO the State Comptroller's report, volunteer organizations de-facto replaced the authorities in essential matters such as food supply and distribution, resident evacuation, bomb-shelter equipment for lengthy stays,even providing supplies directly to IDF units. The report finds that the government and authorities failed to coordinate their actions with third sector organizations ahead of time, did not assess needs in many fundamental domains, and neither were they sufficiently prepared for incorporating volunteers in their operations. Moreover, Israel did not succeed in offering guidance for volunteers on the national level, and a National Coordination Center for volunteer organizations which was set up only two weeks into the war had been inefficient. Finally, the comptroller brings to light several cases of irregularities in donation allocations, and states that there was lack of supervision over equipment donations, and no arrangements were made for storing or distributing donated equipment. IT WOULD be wrong to depreciate the importance of these findings, since donations were a crucial part of the support for the home front, and will be so in the future, should occasion arise. It is difficult to imagine Israel today without the third sector, and without donations coming from both home and abroad. Despite the inherent inconvenience, it is clear that these donations were central for addressing immediate needs surfacing in times like these, which the state is hard pressed to answer. I regard these donations as a value in itself. The United Jewish Communities of North America, which is without doubt the largest philanthropic organization of the Jewish People, had collected during the war and following it over $200 million, all of which had already - or is in the process of being - transferred toward strengthening the north. Smaller sums were also allocated to the south of the country, which has continued to withstand its share of missile fire over the past few months. The UJC, from the outset, set strategic goals for its operations, and is still working toward them today. Its support for the education system in the north, for community capacity building, and for improving economic conditions, had not only been meant to address immediate needs, but to also have a lasting impact. In this respect, the organization succeeded in identifying Israel's needs, and understood that a long-term investment was better than answering urgent needs, although these also had been filled. THESE DONATIONS are significant not only financially, but also morally. They convey affinity, commitment and infinite love for the State of Israel and its citizens. The donors who were requested, for the second time in five years, to mobilize for an Emergency Campaign, had responded with willingness and understanding. They recognized their responsibility toward Israel, and especially to citizens under fire. They have done it in the past, and I believe they will always come through in the future, if requested or if sensing that Israel has need of them. For this reason, the state must quickly learn the necessary lessons from the Comptroller's report. The Israeli public and the overseas donors must not receive the impression that these funds are considered easy money. The UJC, together with other organizations in Israel and abroad, are a vital strategic asset to Israel's resilience. The donations' contribution to morale is an important component in the resilience and endurance which the home front is required to demonstrate in a state of war. The mobilization of volunteer organizations both in Israel and abroad is the strongest proof of the fact that the citizens on the frontlines do not stand alone. Even the State Comptroller, while examining the issue of donations and volunteer-work, felt he should end his report on a positive note. In an uncharacteristic gesture, he called attention to the praiseworthy work of the donors and volunteers, who "labored during the war to give the citizens of the north the aid they required and to support them in their hour of distress, and did much to address their needs." This is the point where the state and the local authorities must commence their preparations with no delay, and begin by inviting the philanthropic and voluntary organizations to join them in building infrastructure for the future, as the time for preparations may be short indeed. The writer is senior vice president of UJC and director-general of UJC Israel.


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