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Inside the Jerusalem Emergency Command Centre

Ittay Flescher
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Inside the Jerusalem Emergency Command Centre

Published: 27 October 2023

Last updated: 5 March 2024

In the first of a two-part series, ITTAY FLESCHER observes at close quarters how Israelis have banded together to help others in a time of crisis.

"Volunteering is the ultimate exercise in democracy. You vote in elections once a year, but when you volunteer, you vote every day about the kind of community you want to live in.”

I’ve been reflecting about how true this quote is from Marjorie Moore after spending a day volunteering at The Jerusalem Emergency Command Centre that has been operating continuously since the afternoon of October 7, and run entirely by volunteers.

Since the war began, it has assisted more than 25,000 evacuees from the south who have been moved to Jerusalem for their safety, sent 14,000 boxes of military equipment and food to the front, found accommodation for over 3000 people and opened a free “store” of second-hand clothes and toys, which, at any moment, is filled with dozens of "customers" from the south and the north, choosing what they want from thousands of items donated by the residents of Jerusalem.

There were more than 300 people present on the Sunday I volunteered. When I arrived in the morning, I was allocated to the food team where I spent the morning in front of laptops going through request forms filled in by people all over the city, connecting people who need food with individuals and restaurants who are able to donate meals.

Together with the transport team, we delivered over 500 hot meals across the city. I could see the joy and meaning in the faces of the volunteers, observing that the time they were spending as volunteers was helping them cope with the mental challenges of the war as much as it was helping the evacuees.

The Jewish Independent

One of the volunteers, Eitan Stepanov, 28, has regularly been spending up to 10 hours a day at the command centre, which operates out of the Nissan Nativ Acting Studio in central Jerusalem.

Stepanov, who has yet to be called up to the reserves, said he was going crazy at home watching the news and started volunteering as he wanted to contribute, get involved and get things done for those in need. He plans to keep volunteering for as many hours a day because the need is so great.

Reflecting on the types of inquiries he gets and the absence of government services to cater for these needs, he said, "If we weren’t here, nothing would happen for these people in need.”

This sentiment was echoed by Jerusalem City Council member Laura Wharton, who was also volunteering. Having lived in Jerusalem for more than 30 years, she couldn’t recall ever seeing something like size and scale of the operation at the command centre.

“Already 4000 volunteers have signed up here, and they are stepping up where the government has been unable to because they can see how much needs to be done,” Wharton said, adding that many of the people volunteering where the same ones protesting the justice overhaul just a few weeks ago. 

The Jewish Independent

“The reason they were able to organise so quickly is that they used the same WhatsApp groups and social connections they had formed for the protests, to recruit volunteers and spring into action based on the existing infrastructure from the last 39 weeks of demonstrations.”

Another volunteer was Gal Eblagon. Together with Israeli and Palestinian activists, she volunteers out of concern from the impact of the war on East Jerusalem.

Hundreds of thousands of Palestinian residents living beyond the wall in neighbourhoods such as Kufr Aqab and the Shuafat refugee camp have been restricted from going to their jobs in West Jerusalem as checkpoints are closed or run on only minimal staff.

Through the Rossing Centre for Education and Dialogue, Eblagon is working to provide initial assistance to families in need in East Jerusalem. The centre provides basic food supplies and other essential products, distributed through local social centres in various neighbourhoods in East Jerusalem.  “The needs are high and expected to grow,” she told me.


Gaza War Pushes Ideologically Opposed Israeli Groups to Work Together (Haaretz)
For most of 2023, the anti-judicial coup group Brothers and Sisters in Arms was engaged in an almost civil war with ultra-Orthodox groups and the politicians representing them in the Netanyahu government. The war in Gaza has unified the two sides in a fight against a new foe

Photos: Eitan Stepanov

About the author

Ittay Flescher

Ittay Flescher is the Jerusalem Correspondent for The Jewish Independent. For over twenty years, he has worked as an educator, journalist, and peacebuilder in Melbourne and Jerusalem. He is the co-host of the podcast ‘From the Yarra River and the Mediterranean Sea' and the author of the upcoming book ‘The Holy and the Broken.’ He is also the Education Director at a youth movement that brings together Israeli and Palestinian teenagers who believe in building equality, justice, and peace for all.

The Jewish Independent acknowledges Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the Traditional Owners and Custodians of Country throughout Australia. We pay our respects to Elders past and present, and strive to honour their rich history of storytelling in our work and mission.

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