Funds for renovating shelters delayed

Red tape holds up $10m. in Evangelical donations earmarked for bomb shelters.

rabbi eckstein 298.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
rabbi eckstein 298.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Millions of dollars in donations from Evangelical Christian supporters of Israel raised in the United States have been earmarked to renovate bomb shelters, but much of the funding has been held up for months due to bureaucratic wrangling, officials said Sunday. The money, raised by the Chicago-based International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, includes $10 million allocated to refurbish more than 2,500 private building shelters in northern Israel, and $1.5m. to repair all 60 public shelters in Sderot, which has been hit by thousands of Kassam rockets from the Gaza Strip over the last six years. While the funding earmarked for Sderot shelters was accepted last month by municipal officials, the funding allocated for the shelters in the North is still pending final agreement with officials in the Prime Minister's Office, the officials said. "The situation in terms of the government's relationship with the home front is a failure," said IFCJ founder and president Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein. After months of negotiations, an agreement was announced last month whereby the government allocated NIS 55 million to repair over 3,000 public shelters in northern Israel, while the IFCJ was charged with fixing more than 2,500 private building shelters for NIS 45m. However, in the month since the announcement, technical and legal details still need to be worked out, and no agreement has been reached on beginning the work, officials said. The Prime Minister's Office denied Sunday that they were any delays in the work on the shelters in northern Israel, and voiced hope that a final agreement with the IFCJ could be reached this week. An official in the Prime Minister's Office added that work on the the shelters in northern Israel should start by next month. Eckstein said that his organization had come in to fill an "outrageous void and vacuum" in the handling of the home front, but was dealing with a government in "free-fall" for months following public backlash over the inconclusive Second Lebanon War, and that had not charged one single authority with homeland security. He added that if there were any additional unreasonable delays, the organization might choose to work directly with local authorities. Sderot Mayor Eli Moyal accepted the IFCJ's offer after six years of the government and the army insisting that fixing shelters was the city's responsibility, a senior official in the Sderot Municipality said Sunday. "Anybody who knows our city, knows we don't have the financial capability to renovate the city shelters," said city treasurer Shimon Peretz. Peretz added that city officials were left with "no choice" but to accept the charity's offer to its shelters after years of government refusal. He noted that all of Sderot's public shelters should be refurbished within two months. "Hopefully, we will be better prepared for the next round," he said. Founded in 1983, the IFCJ has raised nearly $400m. to support projects in Israel and assist needy Jewish people throughout the world. Last year, it approved over $38m. in immigration, absorption, and social welfare projects, according to the group's annual summary.