Laura Wharton
Jerusalem City Councilor, adjunct lecturer in political science

How to Help in Israel’s Time of Need

Israeli Solidarity, 2024. Credit for photo: Laura Wharton

After the barbaric massacre of October 7th, more than 100 hostages still in the hands of sadistic terrorists, the largest call-up of reservists in Israel’s history, hundreds of fallen soldiers and thousands injured, hundreds of thousands of evacuees from both north and south, and a completely dysfunctional government, it is an amazing and great tribute to Israeli society that the country continues to function at all. Not only that, but endless examples of extraordinary bravery and a vibrant civil society are continuing to give people hope, despite the daunting and disastrous situation.

Yet there is no question that Israel needs support. How can one help? Here are 10 suggestions of issues that anyone can help with, from near or far.

  1. Demand the immediate release of the hostages. The ongoing trauma is the greatest and most painful issue in Israel today. While some people still believe that continued fighting will advance the release, most — including the two former Chiefs of Staff Eizenkot and Gantz, think a deal must be struck. Any appeal or pressure on governments, the UN, the International Red Cross or any other body could help bring home the 136 hostages still held by Hamas terrorists. Nothing is more important.
  2. Help the Israeli evacuees in their temporary lodgings as well as the homes, farms, and businesses they left behind. Approximately 200,000 Israelis (no one knows the exact numbers) were either evacuated from the north and south or left by their own decision. These people are living in hotels, hostels, apartments, and other arrangements, and are still largely without regular schooling for their children, work, or a clear future. Some have no homes to go back to, many have businesses or farms that are now closed or neglected. Volunteers, with only minimal government support, are trying to help in all aspects of this situation. Far more help is needed.
  3. Support Israeli soldiers. Apart from the regular enlisted soldiers Israel relies on its reservists, who leave families, work and their homes whenever called to protect the country. Israel will have to devote huge resources to families of the fallen soldiers, as well as thousands who are injured and more, traumatized. In addition, Israel is still trying to cope with thousands who witnessed the atrocities of October 7th, including mass rape, decapitations, and other gruesome war crimes. The hostages who have been released are being treated, but the families of those still held are also suffering and will be helping — we hope, soon — the hostages yet to be released to cope with the months of starvation and brutal treatment in the hands of Hamas.
  4. Prepare to help in Gaza. Needless to say, the Gazans are also going to need massive assistance in re-building. Talk has already begun of a Marshall Plan equivalent. Gaza will truly need to be built anew, and hopefully better. Although who will be managing Gaza post-war is not yet clear, whoever is in charge will need to address both physical aspects such as housing and infrastructure but also an education system, a health system, and aid in the physial and emotional rehabilitation of the people. Initially, simply seeing that the population is kept fed will be a challenge. Apart from a moral responsibility, it is in Israel’s interest that the people of Gaza be settled and  secure.This time, it is to be hoped that humanitarian aid will reach the people and not the coffers of Hamas leaders in Qatar.
  5. Demand Israel rein in the violent settlers on the West Bank. Messianists, moving forward to bring us a war of Gog and Magog, are trying to open a new front rather than pitching in to fight the terrorists across the borders. Their attacks on innocent Palestinians are a dangerous disruption against which all of the security forces have warned. Good fences make good neighbors, and Israelis will only be as safe as their neighbors feel,  The IDF needs military supplies and refreshed soldiers; the need to send forces to settle crises created by lawlessness among the settlers is a drain on the army and was apparently one of the reasons why the Gaza border was left unprotected on October 7th.
  6. Help encourage and support interfaith and cross-cultural groups; fight racism within Israel. Mutual suspicion and hate are challenging the country after the massacre of October 7th and especially for Arab Israelis, also the deaths of more than 20,000 Gazans. A long struggle to renew ties and mutual trust must be begun, including the re-development of an inclusive citizenship that will make all Israelis — Jews, Christians and Moslems — feel at home again. Elderly Americans may remember the imprisonment of people of Japanese background during World War II; since October 7th and the outbreak of the war, tensions are high and the very multi-cultural Israeli society is being challenged. Problems began before the war with Netanyahu’s appointment of Itamar Ben Gvir as a government minister (a former supporter of Kahane, the founder of the first Jewish terrorist organization, now illegal), but since the war the tension he fomented has been exacerbated.
  7. Help encourage new leadership. An overwhelming majority of Israelis want a change in government, and it seems there will be elections in 2024. Abu Mazen is 87 years old and widely disliked. A new and better future in the Middle East requires new and better leaders, and now is the time to seek them out and prepare them. It is important to reach out and help contenders who are worthy, and to make set new agendas. In the coming months it is likely that newcomers will begin to emerge, and they should be talked to and tested.
  8. Voice support of a two-state solution. A de-militarized Palestinian state as almost settled upon during Ehud Olmert’s tenure as prime minister is the only way to bring any calm to the region. Years of trying to avoid such an agreement has only strengthened the extremists on both sides, those opposing any compromise. The Arab Peace Initiative (also know as the Saudi Plan) would be a good place to start. Progress towards an agreed upon border would bring hope and a safer future, allowing Israel to focus on defending its borders rather than trying to guard settlers scattering among the hilltops.
  9. Of course, fight anti-Semitism and anti-Israeli sentiments abroad. Israel’s military control of the West Bank must be brought to an end, and it is far from flawless as a still young nation, but Israel still has the right and responsibility to defend itself and its citizens. No country could leave a terrorist regime on its borders, especially one that continues to fire missiles into its cities, declares its intentions to destroy it, and in a barbaric act of war sends armed militants to cross its borders and slaughter more than a thousand innocent civilians.
  10. Don’t lose hope; we haven’t. Israel is strong, the Jewish people have never been stronger, and we will make it through. We have to, together. Follow what is happening, ask and criticize when necessary, but keep cultivating our ties. We need one another.
About the Author
Dr Laura Wharton is a member of Jerusalem's City Council as a representative of Meretz and an adjunct lecturer in the political science department at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Born in the U.S., she immigrated to Israel after receiving a B.A. in the government department of Harvard University and then served a full term in the Israel Defense Forces. She subsequently completed an M.A. and a Ph.D. at Hebrew University. For research that later served as the basis for her book "Is the Party Over? How Israel Lost Its Social Agenda" (Yad Levi Eshkol, 2019) she was awarded the Prime Minister's Prize in Memory of Levi Eshkol. She is a mother of two and has been living in Jerusalem for more than two decades.
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