Government Plans 400m Shekels in Aid for Gaza-area Communities

Facing criticism, Treasury weighs calls from unions, businesses to help deal with employee absenteeism due to rockets.

Soldiers on Kibbitz Kfar Aza, which was hit by a rocket in July 2014.Credit: Eliyahu Hershkovitz

Facing mounting criticism that it failing to aid the country’s south as it endured a third day of rocket attacks, the government is likely to approve a 400 million-shekel ($116.7 million) package of aid for communities closest to the Gaza Strip and may help businesses whose employees aren’t reporting for work.

The aid would be disbursed over the next three years to communities within seven kilometers of the Gaza Strip, which have borne the brunt of Hamas rocket attacks.

The aid package, which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is expected to present to the cabinet Sunday, would be spent on improving health, education, infrastructure, employment and security for the communities.

Meanwhile, the treasury said it expected to respond favorably to calls by the Histadrut labor federation and the Manufacturers Association trade group to compensate employers whose workers are not reporting to their jobs because they have young children at home.

“It’s the government’s responsibility to enable parents to be with their children at this difficult hour without fear that they will be hurt financially,” said Zvi Oren, chairman of the Federation of Israeli Economic Organizations and the Manufacturers Assocation.

The offers came amid a barrage of some 350 rockets and mortar shells fired from Gaza since the fighting began on Tuesday. Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system has shot down over 70 rockets aimed at populated areas, a factor that explained why the Tax Authority had received just 121 claims for damage from the fighting by yesterday. It estimated the claims amounted to just 5 million shekels in the three days.

Nevertheless, many factories were working partial shifts while downtowns and shopping malls were bereft of customers. Shares on the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange turned lower, after a one-day pike higher, but the shekel strengthened against the dollar (see stores on page 14).

Among the biggest instances of damage reported, Kibbutz Nir Am lost two wheat fields of 1,000 dunams (about 250 acres) when a rocket set them on fire. Although the wheat itself had already been harvested, the straw was destroyed.

At Ben-Gurion Airport, Israel’s main international terminal, operations continued normally although Greater Tel Aviv was targeted by rockets. A record of about 63,000 travelers passed through the facility on Thursday and 403 flights took off or landed, but no sirens were sounded in the airport and only a few, slight delays were reported.

Tel Aviv’s tiny Sde Dov Airport, which handles domestic flights, was closed yesterday due to the fighting, with the airlines serving it told to move flights to Ben-Gurion Airport.

Airlines reported cancellations and delays, but not from incoming tourists, rather from Israelis who don’t want to leave the country.

“It’s terrible what’s happening now. We’ve seen a dramatic drop in reservations, mainly for Europe,” said one airline executive, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Uri Sirkis, the CEO of Israir, said there was a 30% drop in July reservations for flights, with many people putting off plans until August.

The fighting has apparently affected Israelis’ online habits. Zap, which operates a group of consumer websites, reported yesterday that there had been a 92% increase in searches for child psychologists, although only an 8% increase for clinical psychologists.

Presumably worried about their rights vis a vis employers for not reporting for work, Zap said there was a 73% jump in searches for labor lawyers. Anticipating damage to their homes, searches for contractors were up 58% while searches for a local synagogue were up 24%.

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