Saturday, February 13, 2010

'Now we are safe': ICEJ donates more bomb shelters to communities near Gaza

-by Taylor Innes
first published for ICEJ's publication Word from Jerusalem

The war between Israel and the Hamas terror militia in Gaza ended in January one year ago, but for the students at the ORT Amit technical high school in Ashkelon, it wasn’t long before it started back up again. An advanced Grad rocket landed in the school’s courtyard a few weeks later, sending shrapnel in all directions and severely damaging the building.

Thankfully, the strike occurred on a Saturday, when the teenagers were home for Shabbat. But it struck in the very spot where the IDF Southern Command had advised the students to hide in case of a rocket attack. A sign was soon erected in the courtyard saying: “A great miracle happened here!”

The structure was quickly rebuilt and today the courtyard is brightened by paintings of biblical figures on the walls. However, the strike was a bitter reminder to the city of Ashkelon and surrounding Israeli communities that Hamas has its own understanding of what a ‘ceasefire’ is.

“Most military analysts don’t talk about if there will be another war but when”, IDF spokesman Capt. Kory Bardash told a delegation from the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem visiting the Gaza border area last month on the one-year anniversary of the end of Operation Cast Lead. He warned that Hamas has spent the past year of ‘quiet’ rearming itself with four times as many rockets as before, including thousands of improved Iranian-made rockets with larger ranges and payloads than their homemade Kassams.

One of the first stops of the ICEJ tour was to the courtyard of the ORT Amit high school in Ashkelon, where city officials underscored the growing threat they face.

“We have 20 institutes here like kindergartens and schools that still don’t have any kind of shelter”, deputy mayor Shlomo Grande told the delegation. “We tell the students to hide under the desk… but practically it means nothing, because I have seen what happens to desks in a rocket attack.”

“Every day, I expect an attack; pretty much every minute of every day. They [Hamas] don’t need a reason… This is my experience”, added Yossi Greenfield, the municipality’s security chief.

The ICEJ had offered Ashkelon a large 70-ton portable bomb shelter which can hold up to 50 people for a city school, and they decided ORT Amit would be first in line. A city of 125,000 only ten kilometres from Gaza City, Ashkelon suffered 200 rocket strikes during Cast Lead and they know their town will be a main target in the next conflict. So dozens more bomb shelters are desperately needed, despite recent reports that the new Iron Dome anti-rocket system will soon be deployed along the border.

An Iron Dome has been designed to shoot down short-range rockets but is only effective if the projectile is in the air for at least 30 seconds, to allow the system’s advanced radar to find, track and intercept the incoming rocket. That means communities closer to the Gaza border are still vulnerable, and Iron Dome cannot guarantee protection even for towns farther away.

“There are some estimates that in the next conflict, both from the north and the south there will be over 300 rockets emanating a day and no system anywhere is able to stop all of them. But bomb shelters will save lives. It can’t be stated enough, it’s not just the saving of lives that is important with these shelters, it’s being able to live a normal life”, stressed Bardash.

The Ashkelon officials have also been informed that active rocket defences are not enough and that more bomb shelters are needed. With this in mind, the government is providing shelters to locations within a five kilometre radius of the Gaza border, but outside that line the communities are largely on their own.

With help from organisations like the Christian Embassy, Operation Lifeshield took a lead role in recent years in protecting vulnerable communities in the Gaza periphery by placing 60 portable bomb shelters from Sderot southward to the Sinai border, and is now working its way northward from the Erez Crossing up towards Ashkelon and Ashdod.

The ICEJ delegation watched as a heavy crane lifted one of its four newly donated shelters into place at a kindergarten in Talmeh Yaffe, a small moshav just seven kilometres from Erez. Two more shelters were delivered to a community center and adjacent youth center in nearby Mavqi’im. Otherwise, all these facilities would be forced to close down in times of conflict.

As the 18 excited youngsters at the Talmeh Yaffe kindergarten filed into the shelter for a first look, one child asked the teacher: “Why is the shelter here?”

“Because they chose us!” replied the teacher. “Now we are safe!”

It made a heart-warming day for the Christian visitors.

“Seeing these little children having a safe place to run to and the peace of mind that brings to their parents really brings home what we are doing with these shelters”, said ICEJ Executive Director Malcolm Hedding. “We simply believe that Israelis have the right to live here in peace and security.”

Taylor Lee Innes is a staff writer for the Media Department of the International Christian Embassy of Jerusalem

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Bring Civility to Travel with Easey-2-Pick

Israel In Our Day Listen online:

Reported by Shalle McDonald
Written by Kasey Barr

We can thank Israeli innovation for many of our modern, life improving, technical gadgets upon which so many of us rely today – including the cell phone, disk-on-key storage devices and more. Recently Israel 21C listed “Israel’s top ten must have gadgets.” Among the ten was a revolutionary travel device called, “Easy-2-Pick.” Front Page featured this device as it was being developed in 2008, today Easy-2-Pick is now available for purchase and is a “must have,” at least among frequent flyers.

Retired IDF colonel Yoav Ben-David and his partner Zvi Kanor from American Express Travel in Tel Aviv have come up with an electronic device to connect passengers to their luggage through radio frequency and thus avoiding the unpleasant push and shove that comes when weary travelers expend their last bit of strength to wrestle humans, machines and the countless lot of black suitcases to secure their personal possessions.

Easy-2-Pick is an electronic luggage tag about the size of a credit card which transmits to a small, circular receiver carried by the passenger. When the luggage tag is within 12-15 meters of the receiver it begins to transmit a signal alerting the traveler that his luggage is nearby.

The idea came to Ben-David when, like so many other Israelis, he faced a situation he was sure that modern technology could solve with the right innovative thinking.

“Passengers were pushing each other and there was total chaos,” he recalled in an interview with Israeli press. “I thought for sure there had to be a better way of waiting for one's luggage, without the stress.”

And so he and Kanor set out to work with the Israeli electronics industry to come up with a transmitter and receiver that would work on a special algorithm.

“The first step was getting the credit-card-sized transmitter to 'talk' to its receiver, a circular device that fits neatly in-hand. The next step was to get different ones to talk to different receivers,” Kanor told Israel21C, allowing for a time when many travelers will opt for this technology. They also had to work with Airports in order to transmit at a frequency that would not interfere with airport infrastructure.

Today the technology is ironed out and all a traveler has to do is attach a smart tag to his suitcase and keep the remote in your pocket or purse. Once the traveler is in the baggage claim area, the technology works at a distance up to 60 feet away. It is possible to sit back, relax and wait for the remote to signal you with beeps, flashes and vibrations. No more wading through a sea of suitcases.

Easy-2-Pick is now available online and in select stores. It retails for around 25 to 30 dollars. Traveling today can be complicated and full of frustration. While Easy-2-Pick may not make security checks less stressful, seats less cramped and boxed food a little tastier, this smart device is sure to bring more civility to your world, at least around the luggage carousel and in baggage claims across the globe.

Additional Resources:
Israel21C -