For many Israelis, last week’s winter storm was a blessing. At least five straight days of rain, and then snow, turned a large portion of the country into a winter wonderland.
Schools were cancelled, businesses were closed, and children and adults alike were outdoors building snowmen, having snowball fights and making snow angels. Overall, it was just a relaxing break from reality in a country where vacations are few and far between.
And let’s not forget that one of our main sources of drinking water, the Kinneret (Lake of Galilee) rose to its highest point in years, some say ending a drought which has been prevalent over the past five years.
Unfortunately, not everyone was able to celebrate. In the gated community of Bat Hever, home to a diverse population of 1,500 families – both religious and secular, situated near Netanya, and whose eastern border is literally the security barrier between Israel and the Palestinian Authority city of Tulkarem, last week’s storm was nothing short of a humanitarian disaster.
The extreme precipitation caused the nearby Shechem River to overflow its banks. The pressure of the rushing water on the Tulkarem side pushing up against the security barrier broke a gaping hole in the structure, sending a high-current river of over one million cubits of rushing water mixed with mud and sewage flowing into Bat Hever within an hour.
At first families who saw water seeping into their basements and ground floors got out mops thinking it was just a natural result of the rain. But then the water kept coming, and rising and rising inside their homes, reaching nearly 2 meters high in certain neighborhoods.
One resident, a 60-year-old man who was outside at the time that the rushing river came through the community, fearing that he would be swept away in the current, put his arms around his outdoor pergola and held on for three straight hours, until he felt safe to let go.
While perhaps not on the level of Hurricane Sandy in the US, the damage was devastating.
- Over 400 homes sustained some form of damage.
- 180 cars were swept away or destroyed.
- 60 families lost everything, and their homes are uninhabitable. These families are currently renting apartments or living with family and friends around the country. It’s estimated that it will take more than a half a year to renovate their homes.
- Public parks, sports fields, the basketball courts, and hockey rink were completely destroyed beyond use.
The community’s secretary (mayor) Yair Ari, who gave me a tour of the disaster site, and who has barely slept since the storm, working around the clock to help the families in need, says that rough estimates indicate the damage will amount to over 50 million NIS.
According to Ari, the community is currently in negotiations with the government, specifically with the Prime Minister’s office, to discuss the greatest amount of compensation possible in order to help the families in need.
The hardest hit families says Ari, are not only those who lost their homes, but those whose insurance policies for one reason or another will not cover the loss (Ari explains that some families may only have had either property insurance, but not homeowners insurance, or vice-versa). Also several families, after paying off their mortgages were completely uninsured, never imagining a disaster of this kind in a quiet, suburban gated community, which Ari explains is nearly crime-free.
Despite it all, Ari is grateful to the people of Israel from near and far who have pitched in as volunteers to help. Neighboring communities arrived with “economica” (chemical cleaner) to help clean houses from the mud and sewage. Neighbors also opened their homes to the now homeless as they sought long-term temporary living options until their homes are repaired.
Dozens and dozens of bags of clothing, blankets, sheets, shoes, kitchenware, space heaters, etc. were donated to those affected.
I personally must thank friends new and old from communities including Gush Etzion, Jerusalem, Beit Shemesh, Ramat Beit Shemesh, Kochav Ya’akov, Maa’le Adumim, and even Migron, for filling my car to maximum capacity and giving me the opportunity to drop off some of these items in Bat Hever. It was truly appreciated.
In addition, clothing companies including Fox, and companies that sell cleaning products and materials were gracious enough to donate inventory towards the cause.
The next step in the long road to recovery is assisting those who lost so much monetarily. Here is the information on how to donate in Israel through the community’s foundation:
Emek Hever Region – Central Cultural Fund
Account number: 41860057
The community is also currently trying to figure out how to accept tax-deductable donations from abroad. Once I have that information I will share it.
While it will take some time, I’m confident after spending a few hours in Bat Hever, meeting with community leaders and residents and witnessing their resolve first-hand, they will overcome their version of Hurricane Sandy.
Anything that you can do to raise awareness, or assist financially would be greatly appreciated.
Photos of some of the damage can be viewed below.