A crowdfunding project launched on June 2 on the Israeli website Headstart has already raised nearly 1.5 million shekels (some $340,000) – two-and-a-half times the goal for the full 30 days of the project.
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What moved hundreds of thousands of Israelis to pledge the money was the call to help the family of Yehuda Yitzchak HaYisraeli, a Givati Brigade soldier who was severely injured during Operation Protective Edge in 2014, to expand his parents’ home in the West Bank to accommodate HaYisraeli and his family. The Defense Ministry refuses to pay for the expansion of the house in Ofra, a settlement built mainly on private Palestinian land.
The crowdfunding project’s web page explains that HaYisraeli is now well enough to leave the hospital to continue his rehabilitation at home, but for that to happen the house must be adapted to accommodate his wheelchair and enlarged.
“Just like every injured soldier, Yehuda is eligible to receive monetary aid from the Ministry of Defense in order to renovate his home to fit his current needs due to his injuries,” states the info tab for the project, which was launched by the right-wing organization My Israel, founded by Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked and Education Minister Naftali Bennett (Habayit Hayehudi).
“Sadly, in Yehuda’s case, receiving such aid is being hindered due to the fact that Yehuda’s home is in Ofra; a community that undergoes building freezes,” the website goes on to explain. “Any construction or renovation in Ofra is prohibited by the Ministry of Defense.
“Yehuda’s family feel helpless standing against the political bureaucracy that is preventing them from giving Yehuda the conditions needed to provide him with the best of treatment at home. Conditions that would allow Yehuda to live with respect and human decency at home, without becoming a burden.”
Haaretz asked Yoni HaYisraeli, an uncle of the wounded soldier, whether the problem was the absence of Defense Ministry funding or a construction ban, and in the event of the latter, how the crowdfunding would solve the problem.
“Ofra is a community that was established by the state,” Yoni HaYisraeli replied. “The Housing Ministry planned and funded the construction in Ofra decades ago. As a result of past errors, part of the land there is defined as ‘private,’ and not state land. At some point the state will have to solve this problem. Until then it won’t be possible to obtain building permits.”
Ofra was indeed built with the consent of the government, but most of the land that Yoni HaYisraeli claims was mistakenly defined as private is in fact owned by Palestinians. That, according to a report by the right-wing nonprofit organization Regavim that was submitted to the Knesset last year. Regavim, which was directed by Knesset member Bezalel Smotrich (Habayit Hayehudi) until last year’s general election, found that 530 homes in Ofra were built on land owned by Palestinians. According to Ofra’s website, the community has some 650 households.
“We cannot wait for the state to solve the wider problem,” said Yoni HaYisraeli. “The Defense Ministry knew of the problem months ago and yet it instructed us to move forward with the renovation plans, the materials lists and the bids. The last committee session that was supposed to give the approval announced that without a building permit it would be impossible to fund the expansion of the parents’ home. This is an exceptional humanitarian case of the highest order. We assume that with a bit of goodwill and responsibility a solution can be found by which the state takes responsibility for returning the soldier to his home and for his full rehabilitation.”
In a response, the Defense Ministry said its disabled soldiers’ rehabilitation department “has attended to Yehuda and his family with sensitivity and devotion since he was injured in Operation Protective Edge. The department does all it can in all areas, including assistance beyond the letter of the law. However, in the case of the family’s request for the addition of a residential unit to the parents’ home, regrettably the family does not meet the preconditions under which such aid can be considered, even going beyond the letter of the law. In addition, the rehabilitation department offered the family a variety of alternative solutions. The Defense Ministry continues to search for solutions together with the family in order to assist in Yehuda’s rehabilitation.”