As missiles rain down across Israel, civilians continue to evacuate northern and southern communities. Some 200,000 Israelis have been displaced since the Hamas invasion of October 7.
Orna, 55, from Sderot, which was targeted by terrorists during the massacre, has relocated to the Vert Hotel in Jerusalem, along with 360 other displaced persons.
“The [Sderot] municipality sent us a team to assess our psychological, educational and material needs,” she told the JC.
“We are in the process of opening a school and already have some classes running at the hotel, as well as a kindergarten for the young.”
Elad, 24, also relocated from Sderot to the Vert with his wife and two children. Their apartment building was struck by a Hamas rocket on October 7, leaving them homeless. “Thankfully, we weren’t in our house during the massacre. We were spending the weekend at my in-laws just outside the city,” Elad told the JC. “We’ve been at the Vert for over two weeks now. It hasn’t been easy on anyone. We’re lucky to have amazing volunteers visit us every day to lift our spirits.”
Lydia Weitzman volunteers with the Alynu organisation, which has helped integrate Ukrainian refugees into Israeli life and is now handling the needs of displaced Ethiopian-Israelis from Sderot and Ashkelon who are being rehoused in cities such as Tel Aviv and Netanya.
“Many hotels in Netanya are housing evacuees who came with absolutely nothing,” said Weitzman.
“We organise all sorts of activities — arts and crafts, football training and yoga sessions for women, anything to help relax the adults and keep the children amused.
“Because some decided to relocate before the order went out, they are struggling to pay for housing. Others don’t want to go to hotels. We are sourcing apartments for them. British nationals who own vacation homes in Netanya were happy to make their properties available.”
Batel, 33, from Ofakim, was confined to her apartment until last week, when Alynu was able to find her a residence in a building in Netanya.
“You sit around with other displaced people and hear accounts of horror stories all day from the victims,” Batel told the JC. “I know these stories. I was there [during Hamas’s terror assault]. We lost 56 people in Ofakim. It’s just not healthy for children to relive this experience over and over again.”
Yasmin, 33, from Sderot, who also relocated with the help of Alynu, remains devastated over having to leave her community. “We feel homeless. My children are not learning in school. It’s like somebody took us out of our own lives and now we have to start from scratch.
“Some of us left without shoes,” she explained.
Avia Magen is managing director of Fattal Hotels Israel, which owns 272 hotels across Israel, the UK and Europe, operating brands such as Leonardo, Herods and NYX.
She said that Fattal is currently hosting “around 20,000 evacuees from border communities in the south and north”, but that the hotels were reaching full capacity.
As hotels, apartment complexes and even schools in central locations quickly fill up with internally displaced people, tent cities are being erected, including in the Tel Aviv suburb of Ramat Gan.
Eli Lankri, mayor of Eilat, revealed that a tent complex is opening soon that will be able to house 400 people. The city’s hotels are packed to capacity with refugees. The government is footing the bill for refugees ordered to evacuate their communities or made homeless by rocket fire.