Eilat struggling to support evacuees

Eilat volunteers provide clothes for evacuees credit: Eilat Municipality
Eilat volunteers provide clothes for evacuees credit: Eilat Municipality

Over 60,000 evacuees from the Gaza border have fled to Eilat and mayor Eli Lankri says without a government budget, services will collapse.

Red Sea resort Eilat has 50,000 residents and since the outbreak of the war more than an estimated 60,000 people have fled to Israel's southernmost city, many of them evacuees from Gaza border settlements, more than doubling the number of people in the city. Until government ministries get their act together, individual initiatives by Israelis and the efforts of the Eilat Municipality are trying to meet the needs of the evacuees but the city's mayor Eli Lankri has warned that without a special budget, Eilat will collapse under the strain.

Revital Levy-Stein of the Eilat Civil Aid Headquarters, which is comprised of protest organizations, recalls that already on the Saturday night of Hamas's murderous attack, the organization's volunteers came to Eilat to receive the flow of people fleeing to the city. She says, "People fled for their lives and paid with their own money because the state still had not evacuated them. It was only towards the end of last week that an official evacuation began, and then all the hotels in the city began filling up with evacuees," she says.

Evacuees come from Gaza border kibbutzim, such as Re'em and Ein HaShlosha, as well as from Sderot and the nearby settlements. The government is paying for evacuees living up to four kilometers from the Gaza border. Residents living between four and seven kilometers from the border have also been evacuated with state funding, but for a limited time, and those further away pay for themselves or from donations.

"From hosting in homes to haircuts for dogs and laundry"

Levy-Stein says, "Big families with many children arrived here, at best with a small bag and in most cases just the clothes they were wearing, and we want to give them everything. In addition, many families arrived here who evacuated themselves, because they were beyond the evacuation line established by the state, like Ashkelon for example.

"Many families can't to buy food in a restaurant for the whole family. The women who came here from the Gaza border settlements did not have lingerie. We raised a donation and opened a store for them. In another case, a psychiatrist came in to explain that an autistic boy was simply falling apart in his hotel room, and we had to arrange a PlayStation for him so he could have a play routine. Four elderly women from one of the kibbutzim arrived here without electric buggies and were given wheelchairs, so we raised a donation to arrange buggies for them. It is naturally difficult for the large institutional systems to handle these cases."

Iris Cohen, director of the Eilat Community Center explained that after assistance in taking in the evacuees, they try to provide social and communal solutions in their hotels. "Enrichment activities, cultural shows, sports activities, and the like. As part of a national network of community centers, we have a connection to the logistics center of the national community centers company, which responds to the needs of our communities, and we are mobilizing partnerships and resources to actually establish here a dedicated community center for all evacuees. It is also planned to operate a youth complex on the boardwalk, as we do in the summer, and many other activities for all ages - from babies to the elderly. We are preparing for activities for a very long time."

Dina Ben Yakir, one of the heads of the Eilat Civil Aid Headquarters, explains that all the city's residents have mobilized to volunteer, and trucks leave from the organization's headquarters at the Tel Aviv Expo center to Eilat, where a logistics center has been established."

The municipality estimates there are 60,000 evacuees in the city, for whom a municipal aid center and logistics centers have been set up to collect donations, and thousands of hot meals have been prepared. There is psychological assistance centers in 19 hotels, staffed by municipal social workers and psychologists from the municipality, along with the health insurance funds and volunteers from all over the country. Medical centers have also been established in the hotels and sports halls in the city have been allocated to the Home Front Command, which is supplementing the forces already in the city.

Mayor Lankri has written to Minister of Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, "So far we have done this from the municipal budget and donations, but the hour will not be far away when the city of Eilat will collapse under the burden. I am turning to you and asking for special assistance for the city."

Following the letter, ministry officials came to Eilat and assessed the needs, but so far there has only been promises. The Ministry of Finance told Globes that "the Ministries of Finance and the Interior are putting together an aid package for Eilat and the other local authorities that have taken in a significant population, in order to immediately respond to the expenses needed."

The National Emergency Authority said that "within the programs to evacuate and give relief to residents from the south and north of the country, a broad and complete response has been given by various government ministries, including the Ministrioes of Health, Welfare, Education, Transport, the Population Authority, National Insurance Institute and Property Tax/ Compensation Fund The emergency plan requires each of these parties to provide a professional response to each of the residents who are in hotels and guest houses across the country now, including in the Eilat.

"In Eilat, as well as in other places, there are many civilian groups working to help citizens. They do so out of a personal mission but do not replace the professional entities."

The highest occupancy ever in the hotels

Mayor of Eilat Eli Lankri told Globes, "I knew that if we didn't act and take responsibility, nothing would happen, and the whole city rallied. Eilat's residents and people from outside the city have delivered donations to logistics centers and professionals provide solutions in the field of mental health in the hotels, and there is no end to the needs."

Eilat Hotel Association CEO Itamar Elitzur said that occupancy in the hotels is the highest it has ever been. "There are several types of evacuees in Eilat and there is a lot of overbooking of the rooms that host them because they want to keep families together. Many of the people who were evacuated are also people with slightly more unique needs, such as those from nursing homes, people with disabilities, etc."

He added, "We are always hosting, but never before at 100% occupancy and under such conditions. There is an entire city here that has mobilized and is giving to people who came here with nothing and the needs are growing."

Published by Globes, Israel business news - en.globes.co.il - on October 22, 2023.

© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd., 2023.

Eilat volunteers provide clothes for evacuees credit: Eilat Municipality
Eilat volunteers provide clothes for evacuees credit: Eilat Municipality
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