US charity bypasses gov't on shelters

$10m. in Evangelical donations to be channeled via local authorities.

bomb shelter 298 AJ (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
bomb shelter 298 AJ
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
After months of bureaucratic wrangling, the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews announced Wednesday that it will stop waiting for the government to resolve outstanding issues and work directly with local authorities to repair thousands of private building shelters in the North. The funding, which was raised from US evangelical Christians by the Chicago-based organization, had been slated to be used to repair shelters in northern Israel, but the work had been held up by governmental red tape and legal issues, the organization said. After months of negotiations, an agreement was announced this spring whereby the government allocated NIS 57 million. to repair more than 3,000 public shelters, while the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews was charged with fixing more than 2,500 private building shelters for NIS 43m., the organization said. But three months later, the work on the private building shelters has still not begun. Unresolved issues include who will be charged with overall supervision of the project and who will maintain the renovated shelters. On Wednesday, the charity announce that it will begin work directly with local authorities and the IDF Home Front Command. The organization's founder and president Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein said the decision to go ahead without the government followed a year of mounting frustration. "We tried to achieve the goals with and through the government, but at a certain point - especially when the possibility of another war is there - you shift gears," Eckstein said. He estimated that the entire project could be completed within 60 to 75 days. The plan calls for shelter repair work in older buildings in nearly a dozen northern cities and towns including Nahariya, Ma'alot, Kiryat Shmona, Acre, Karmiel, Safed, Rosh Pina, Hatzor, Shlomi and Tiberias. The International Fellowship said it was the first time an NGO was funding the renovation and repair of private building shelters. By law, the state is only charged with maintaining public shelters, an official in the Prime Minister's Office said. The government's delay in handling the issue has prompted several outside offers of support, embarrassing the government. Founded in 1983, the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews has raised nearly $400 million to support projects in Israel, and to assist needy Jewish people throughout the world.