Northern Israel Residents Still Struggling from Economic Hardships of the Lebanon War: How Ameinu Partner Yedid is Making a Difference

Categories: Israel

Residents of northern Israel are still recovering from the Second Lebanon War. Low-income residents were especially vulnerable during the crisis, as they lacked the resources to flee their homes and fund temporary shelter in the south. Many residents – especially from the most disadvantaged communities of elderly or new immigrants – spent the month in dilapidated bomb shelters with no ventilation, no fans, no bathrooms and, in some cases, no food.

In the wake of the war, low-income northern residents are still struggling to recover from property damage, physical and psychological injury, spiraling debts and violations of employment rights. Already existing economic hardships were greatly worsened by the war, and many low-income northern residents are at risk of being imprisoned for non-payment of debts.

YEDID has received emergency funding to provide social and legal assistance to traumatized northern residents, including opening temporary Satellite Offices and implementing special community projects to promote regional healing and coexistence.

Temporary Satellite Offices
YEDID has launched four temporary Satellite Offices – in Carmiel, Nahariya, Acco and Tiberias – and has secured space for a fifth in Kiryat Shmona. In addition, YEDID has engaged two lawyers (one half-time and one full-time) to provide legal assistance to northern residents. The two lawyers are based at YEDID’s Center in Haifa, and travel throughout the north meeting with clients and training staff and volunteers.

All of the five temporary Satellite Offices have received donated office space and are staffed by half-time Coordinators. YEDID has provided intensive training to Coordinators and volunteers in client care, maximizing community resources, YEDID’s Legal Department, and effective use of the media to assist clients.

Individual Assistance
Individual client assistance is primarily focused on issues related to post-trauma, debts and repossessions, National Insurance Institute (social security/welfare) benefits, food insecurity, and consumer fraud. In addition to providing direct assistance, YEDID is making a documentary video based on interviews with YEDID clients to raise awareness of the ongoing suffering of low-income northern residents.

Housing Rights: The war created immediate and long-term housing needs for low-income Israelis. For example, low-income people whose houses were badly damaged need temporary housing until their homes are repaired; YEDID is helping clients find alternative housing, including whatever assistance the government is providing. Furthermore, many people who fled to the south were not aware that they needed to apply immediately for compensation for damage to their homes; YEDID is assisting them to submit all of the necessary applications and, when necessary, file appeals. YEDID has also been assisting the wave of people who are facing foreclosure procedures because their places of employment went bankrupt because of the war.

A common client case involves a client who has received an unrealistically low property damage compensation award from the government. The government assessment process is notoriously lacking in transparency, and claimants are usually not even provided with a copy of the assessor’s report on their property. In the frequent cases in which claimants feel that their award is too low, their main recourse is to hire a private assessor, something that is impossible for low-income people. This entire process delays their property repairs and makes it impossible for them to return to a normal life.

Employment Rights: YEDID is educating clients as to their employment rights, such as how to collect their salaries and where to turn if their rights have been violated. Although the law requires that employers pay workers who were unable to work during the war, many employers are unable or unwilling to comply, and many working people are turning to YEDID for assistance. For example, in Acco, several clients from the same company are seeking assistance because their employer has offered to pay them 50% of their war-time salaries, in flagrant violation of the law that dictates that he is obliged to pay their full salaries. YEDID is working to compel this employer to fulfill his legal responsibilities.

Small business owners are also coming to YEDID for assistance as they now face bankruptcy as a result of the war.

Consumer Fraud: Many northern residents, especially elderly and new immigrants, were cheated by unscrupulous businesses during the war and are turning to YEDID for assistance. For example, one disabled elderly client fell victim to consumer fraud when he purchased private nursing care at an exorbitant rate. To add insult to injury, during the war his caretaker fled to the south, leaving him alone and in danger. The nursing care company has refused to reimburse him for the time during which he did not receive care. YEDID is helping him to negotiate with the company and if need be will start legal proceedings.

Coping with Post-Trauma
YEDID has documented a high degree of post-trauma among northern residents. Often a client who approaches one of YEDID’s Satellite Offices for assistance with a problem displays some level of repression of the causes of the problem. For example, many people have serious problems with debts as a result of the fact that they did not receive their salaries in July and August (the months of the war). They come to YEDID for assistance now that they are facing mortgage foreclosures, repossessions or even debtors jail, but are unwilling or unable to make the connection between their current situation and the war. This creates a situation in which YEDID staff and volunteers need to work harder than usual to determine what war-related needs remain.

To respond to this need, YEDID is implementing an empowerment and support program for volunteers and victims of trauma through our Satellite Offices. This program will help low-income residents cope with both short- and long-term trauma due to the war by ensuring that they receive the psychological, social, and economic assistance that they need, and will include volunteer training and practical trauma support groups.

The volunteer training program will focus on how to assist low-income residents, how to identify individuals who may be suffering from trauma and not realize it, typical problems suffered by these individuals, and organizations and government institutes that can provide aid, services and benefits. Because our volunteers come from the community, they are the most qualified to provide services in a culturally sensitive way.

The Satellite Offices will also implement practical support groups for people suffering from trauma. Rather than focusing on psychological support, YEDID’s groups will give practical assistance to people in accessing services and benefits available to help them overcome trauma, manage war-related debts and rebuild their communities.

Promoting Coexistence
This summer’s war has left the north in a state of post-trauma, as residents struggle to rebuild their lives and find the emotional and practical resources to continue. The already fragile balance that existed before the war between the region’s Arab and Jewish populations has been destroyed. In the wake of the war, these communities are extremely polarized, and intensive intervention is needed to prevent this stance from becoming permanently entrenched.

Understanding that the most positive way to enable both populations to process their feelings and overcome their anger and fear is to facilitate direct communication and constructive activity between members of both groups, YEDID has been actively engaged in creating opportunities for dialogue between Arab and Jewish residents of the north.

Mothers have an identity and a relationship to the conflict that transcends politics, creating a potential for real communication, connection, and action. YEDID’s Citizen Rights Center in Nazareth has launched a project called “Mothers Talking Peace,” which brings together a group of 20 mothers, Arab-Israelis from Nazareth and Jewish-Israelis from Upper Nazareth, to share their feelings about and experiences of the war. Each of the 10 meetings takes place in the context of preparing a meal for all participants. Rather than try to create artificial consensus, the mothers are exploring the range of emotional and political responses evoked while sharing the basic unifier, food.

Children Healing Children
Children are especially vulnerable to post-traumatic stress, as they lack both the perspective and emotional maturity to process their experiences. The most effective way to enable children to work through their feelings and overcome their fear is to provide them with emotional, social and creative outlets for their feelings. Children are uniquely able to connect to their feelings without the burden of a lifetime of prejudices and stereotypes. YEDID has held community projects which bring together groups of children and encourage them to express their feelings about and experiences of the Second Lebanon War.

The project targets children between the ages of 12 and 13 with the goal of encouraging them to open up and speak about their experiences during the war from an emotional, physical and mental point of view through: 1. Expression of feelings through arts, crafts and creative games and movement; 2. Discussion and development of coping mechanisms; and 3. Enlisting them as volunteers in their schools and communities.

YEDID has held these projects for children in Safed, Sachnin, Tamra, and Ebalin. At first school staff expressed doubts about the need for the project, saying “The war is behind us; why do we have to talk about it?” They were quickly surprised to realize that this was the first and only chance for most of the children – some of whom had lost family members or had their homes destroyed – to talk about what they had experienced during the war. The art work they produced following the discussions were very emotional, and they all expressed gratitude at being given the chance to talk about their experiences.

Children’s War Relief
Sderot has been under daily attack from Kassam missiles for years and residents live in constant anxiety. At the same time that Sderot is one of Israel’s most besieged communities, it is also a community lacking in the resources fully to meet the needs of its residents. Residents with resources have left Sderot, leaving behind the most economically at-risk residents to live with the fear that they or someone they love will be wounded in a missile attack. During the summer YEDID organized full-day enrichment field trips to take low-income children to safe places outside of Sderot. These activities protected children physically by taking them out of the range of the Kassam missiles, as well as psychologically, by giving them a desperately needed reprieve from the terror of war.

The trips targeted children aged 11-14, especially from the city’s significant populations of new immigrants from the Former Soviet Union. YEDID focused on this age group because youth at this age are especially vulnerable to long-term psychological and social problems as a result of ongoing trauma. In addition to providing immediate relief, YEDID was seeking to prevent longer-term problems such as delinquency, dropping out of school, and substance abuse.

Community Organizing: YEDID is part of a coalition of organizations called “The Northern Star” that developed a report on difficulties faced by northern residents as a result of the response (or, all too often, the lack thereof) of government and local municipalities to their needs during and after the war. This report was presented to the State Comptroller and will be incorporated into the report which he will be issuing in the near future.

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