Hundreds of thousands of Israelis flee their homes

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Hundreds of thousands of Israeli citizens have fled their homes since the start of the war between Hamas and Israel on 7 October.

By Roberto Paglialonga

They have left their homes in Sderot, Ashkelon, and other small villages in the southern region of Israel, just kilometres from the Gaza Strip. Others have moved from the north, from another hotspot on the border with Lebanon, amid multiple gunfire exchanges with pro-Iranian Hezbollah militants. Like in the city of Kiryat Shmona, located in the Hula Valley at the foot of Mount Hermon, where the few remaining citizens (about 2,000 out of a population of 25,000) – according to the “Yedioth Ahronot” online site – hope to flee “before the missiles fall like rain.”

Some fled spontaneously, most others followed the “Rachel” evacuation plan prepared by government authorities. They are all internally displaced Israeli refugees who are suffering the consequences of a war that erupted following Hamas’ attack on October 7th as it infiltrated Israeli territory during Shabbat. The overall numbers are not consistent: estimates range from 200,000 to 330,000 people (the highest estimate is from the Israel Democracy Institute think tank), including many families with children. It’s not easy to quantify them, especially because many left voluntarily before the evacuation plan was implemented.

Apart from those taken in by relatives or friends, the displaced have mainly found refuge in hotel rooms and other accommodations scattered throughout the country (a total of 234), which should be paid for by the government. However, at this moment, the Ministry of the Interior has not yet transferred the required 200 million shekels for food and accommodation. Other services, such as education, welfare, or individual support from psychologists and social workers, fall under the responsibility of local councils and municipalities. Faced with this situation, several hoteliers are contributing from their own pockets. (Under normal circumstances, this would be a high season for tourism with significant income for the sector and for the country’s economy). According to the Ministry of Tourism, hotel rooms are almost fully occupied, leaving approximately 25,000 people still waiting for accommodation. In Eilat, a city of some 50,000 inhabitants, 60,000 refugees have already arrived. Non-profit organizations assist the municipality, but they are also planning the construction of specific refugee camps. Yoram Laredo, head of the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) at the Ministry of Defense, stated, “As the next step, if it continues like this, we will have to turn to schools and public institutions; we hope not to reach that point.”

Thus, the humanitarian situation risks becoming a social and economic catastrophe. People can no longer return to work or to their homes, assuming they are still intact and habitable. Children and teenagers will not be able to resume their school activities for a long time. The government has determined that residents in areas subject to evacuation ordered by the Ministry of Defense are entitled to a daily allowance (200 shekels for adults, 100 for children under 18 years old). Upon all this, not knowing how long the situation will last is an added burden: an emergency is such if it is limited in time, but there is a risk that the crisis could drag on for years.

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Disclaimer: Hundreds of thousands of Israelis flee their homes - Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect point-of-view

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