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Thousands of Israelis are cooped up for the second week running in unventilated shelters - often ill-equipped and ill-maintained. Their resilience, Israel's politicians have rightly noted over and over since this war in the North began, is crucial to the success of that war effort.
Without their fortitude, without the resolve and resilience of that sizable proportion of the populace all-too tangibly aware of Hizbullah's rocket capabilities, the IDF would not have the backing to wage this conflict according to its military needs.
Their daily ordeal is easy to salute but it's far from easy to bear, especially when the end is not in sight and when the danger of leaving the cramped shelters is as palpable as yesterday's events in Haifa tragically demonstrated.
Nahariya resident Andre Zelinsky left his shelter last Tuesday to fetch provisions. He was steps away from safety when struck down by a Katyusha. How then are families trapped in their shelters to obtain food, medications, toiletries or a change of clothes?
Cognizant of the growing hardship, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert yesterday opened the weekly cabinet session with a solemn pledge to aid "residents of the North whose daily routine has been disrupted." He went on to express his admiration for the volunteers who assist the shelter-bound.
They do indeed deserve admiration, but their spirit of resilience does not absolve the government of its responsibilities toward them. It is a little disquieting, for all the stresses and strain of managing a conflict imposed upon Israel, to hear the prime minister declaring on Day 12 that "steps are being studied to remedy the situation."
Reports of increasing hardship within the shelters are becoming alarmingly frequent. Some local councils are rising admirably to the challenge. But in other areas, desperate callers, pleading for food, are being directed by representatives of officialdom to the charity organizations whose members have taken upon themselves to risk life and limb and deliver supplies to citizens unable to venture outside.
Thankfully some of the plight is alleviated by brave souls who are not obliged to be there. David Silberschlag's Meir Panim organization has been delivering 2,000 hot meals to the shelters each day. The Yisrael Beyahad ad hoc coalition of voluntary outfits logged 4,000 appeals for food within two days alone. These came from families, from the elderly and the disabled.
Every Israeli should be proud of the truly gallant souls who step into the breach and help to the extent they can. But laudable as volunteerism is, it must not be relied upon to fulfill the responsibilities of elected authorities. The latter shouldn't count on philanthropists to do the government's job.
Silberschlag attests that "dozens of voluntary organizations bravely rose to the occasion" but goes on to assert that "we are facing a true collapse of public services and welfare at the most basic level. The voluntary associations simply cannot shoulder this load. They haven't the means to cope with so massive a challenge."
It behooves us to consider who many of those trapped in the bomb shelters are. They include some of the weakest members of society. Many of the hardier and the better off have long ago left for safer regions, though many have stayed for motives including fatalism and spirited determination. Still, the poor, the aged and the infirm comprise a heavy proportion of those left behind.
It is not enough to pay lip service to the hardiness of Israel's suffering northerners. It is time to realize that these ordinary folks cannot go shopping, and cannot then enter their kitchens and cook. In fact many cannot even obtain cash at these dangerous times.
If the strength of civilians under fire indeed constitutes a major component of Israel's power to pursue the terrorists, then the IDF Civil Defense Command needs to do more to ensure that citizens are not abandoned and are not assumed to possess inexhaustible resources of inner energy and resolve.
It is perhaps also time to consider putting up some families in schools and other public facilities out of immediate Katyusha-range. Those who cannot afford to pay for accommodation should not be denied the opportunity to breathe fresh air and stretch their limbs.
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