As the current round of fighting swirls around us and every day brings a new set of developments and challenges, I would like to share one aspect of the current crisis that has not received much attention.
Two and a half years ago, our housing subsidiary, Amigour, undertook the responsibility of constructing fortified safe rooms for all apartments in Sderot. Since then, Amigour has built 5,000 safe rooms throughout the city, adding one fortified room to every apartment in the city.
Today, there is not a single family in Sderot that does not have a space in which to seek shelter during rocket attacks – thanks to Amigour, Sderot may well be the best-protected city in the world. Amigour is also responsible for repairing damage caused to homes by rocket fire. In recent days, the Amigour-constructed safe rooms have gone through a literal trial by fire.
In one case, at the start of the current operation, a mother and daughter – Svetlana and Evelina Fumin, who made aliyah from Russia some years ago – made it to their safe room, which is also the daughter’s bedroom, just before a rocket hit their apartment.
They were so well-protected that they did not initially realize that their home had been hit. On Thursday, I went to see Svetlana and Evelina during my visit to Sderot and, thanks to Amigour, there was no trace of the gaping hole and the debris that had been there just one week before.
While there, I also presented Svetlana and Evelina with financial assistance from our Fund for Victims of Terror, which is sustained by contributions from the Jewish Federations of North America, Keren Hayesod-UIA, and other donors, and has already helped families throughout the south cope with recent rocket attacks.
I remember that it used to be difficult to attract people to live in Sderot, as residents were largely defenseless against the mortars and rockets that had started pouring down from Gaza. Today, there is not an empty apartment in Sderot and prices have gone up dramatically.
The government is now planning to expand the construction of safe rooms to other communities and towns in the region.
Thanks to our partners, we at The Jewish Agency have been able to contribute NIS 44 million ($14.7 million) to this effort to secure the residents of southern Israel, a sum that will be matched by NIS 230 million ($76.6 million) from the government.
I am attaching a photo of an apartment building across from the one in which the Fumin family lives. The orange-colored sections closest to the camera are the fortified safe rooms, and the metal awnings actually weigh 2 1/2 tons and are meant to screen the rooms from incoming rockets.
You will notice that one of the safe rooms on the top floor was hit by a rocket, but due to its sturdy construction, the rocket merely scratched the surface and left a burn mark before falling to the ground below.
This represents just a small impression of our work surrounding the current crisis. We will be taking thousands of children whose lives have been affected by rocket fire to enjoy some respite in the Jerusalem area. I will make sure to update you further in the coming days.
Natan Sharansky is chairman of the executive of the Jewish Agency for Israel.