Israeli town welcomes fleeing Ukrainian Jews

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NOF HAGALIL, ISRAEL (AFP) – In a parking zone beneath his municipality workplace in northern Israel, Nof Hagalil mayor Ronen Plot juggled cellphone calls as volunteers unloaded blankets and garments donated for refugees fleeing struggle in Ukraine.

“Nof Hagalil is built on immigration,” stated Mr Plot, 67, who arrived in Israel almost 50 years in the past from Moldova. “We will absorb as many people as we can.”

After the Russian invasion started, Mr Plot posted on Facebook, inviting Ukrainian “olim”, or Jewish immigrants, to his town and urging residents to pitch in.

“If a big immigration wave arrives, we’d be happy to take part in the Israeli effort,” he wrote.

Under Israel’s “law of return”, anybody with at the very least one Jewish father or mother or grandparent is entitled to citizenship.

Among these responding to Mr Plot’s invitation was Mr Chaim Gershman, who reached Nof Hagalil final Thursday (March 3) together with his spouse Ora and their 4 kids. His mom Nelja, 60, arrived a day later.

Mr Gershman stated he had only one hour to pack, as Russian bombs fell on his group close to Kyiv. He left carrying work garments from fixing a faucet.

“At first, we didn’t believe a thing like this will happen and we thought it was fake,” stated Mr Gershman.

He stated when he arrived in Israel, he selected Nof Hagalil due to the mayor’s posts. “I saw a man inviting, saying come to our city, we’ll welcome you,” he stated.

Mr Plot stated his group gives a well-known setting as a result of greater than half its 50,000 residents converse Russian.

Shops promote Belarusian herring and Georgian glowing water, and avenue indicators are translated into Russian.

The mayor stated he positioned 600 empty lodge rooms and 300 vacant residences to deal with the Ukrainians who’re exhausted.

“They endured a lot of misery, they are hungry and tired and it’s awful,” he stated.

The Gershmans fled the Kyiv-area town of Anatevka, constructed within the picture of the fictional Jewish village made well-known within the musical “Fiddler on the Roof”.

Escorted by police, the household drove 17 hours to succeed in the Moldovan border, solely stopping as soon as for 10 minutes amid explosions.

“We left everything we had, our whole lives,” Mrs Ora Gershman, 35, stated.

Now, the household of seven sleep in two adjoining rooms in Nof Hagalil’s Plaza Hotel. The kids have enrolled in class, whereas the mother and father organise paperwork and seek for everlasting lodging.

Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett has averted forceful condemnation of Russia’s invasion, stressing Israel’s sturdy ties with Moscow and Kyiv.

Mr Gershman stated he didn’t “understand how one can stay neutral when it is clear who the aggressor is”.

“Putin has said they will only attack military targets but at the moment they are bombing without distinction,” he stated, referring to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The authorities say as many as 100,000 “olim” and their households may arrive from each Ukraine and Russia, evoking an earlier wave of about 1,000,000 individuals who immigrated from the collapsing former Soviet Union.

Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked estimated on Sunday that about 15,000 Ukrainians may attain Israel by the tip of March, with 90 per cent unqualified for “return” rights. She stated that was an unimaginable fee for the nation of 9.4 million individuals.

“We are the insurance policy for the Jewish people,” Ms Shaked, of Mr Bennett’s non secular nationalist Yamina social gathering, informed Israeli public radio.

Israeli residents who host non-Jewish Ukrainians who are usually not their rapid family members should put up a ten,000 shekel (S$4,145) deposit per traveller, returnable after they depart.

Minister of Diaspora Affairs Nachman Shai wrote on Twitter: “Such a demand at this time is inhuman and immoral and prevents refugees fleeing the war and without family in Israel from seeking refuge here.”

Ukraine’s ambassador to Israel Yevgen Korniychuk informed reporters on Monday that an settlement had been reached on deposits for non-Jewish refugees and thanked Ms Shaked, with out offering specifics.

The arrival of Jews to Nof Hagalil touches a historic nerve.

It was constructed as a Jewish town within the Fifties on land appropriated from the neighbouring Arab metropolis of Nazareth. Israel’s founding prime minister David Ben Gurion aimed to “Judaize” the Galilee, which was inhabited principally by Israel’s 20 per cent Arab minority.

Arab residents of Israel are the descendants of Palestinians who remained throughout Israel’s 1948 struggle of independence, whereas greater than 700,000 others fled or had been pressured from their houses. Israel has not allowed most Palestinian refugees to return.

With time, Arab residents have moved into Nof Hagalil, and immediately they comprise a few quarter of its inhabitants.

One of them is Mr Saed Diab, 39, the banquet supervisor of the Plaza Hotel that’s internet hosting refugees. He stated he donated hand-me-down clothes for the brand new arrivals.

“I was in Kyiv on holiday just before the coronavirus. Nice city, good people,” he stated. “I’m sorry for what’s happening to them.”

Follow The Straits Times’ stay protection on the Ukraine disaster right here.

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