Michal Muszkat-Barkan is a natural leader. The kind of person who can rally the troops and knows exactly how to get help where it’s needed.
A professor at the Hebrew Union College, Muszkat-Barkan had spent the past 10 months organizing protests against the Israeli government’s plans to weaken the country’s judiciary – an issue that split the nation down the middle and caused a seemingly never ending political deadlock.
She was determined to keep going until Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu drops the plan, which she believes is undemocratic. But her priorities drastically shifted when Hamas militants launched their mass killing spree from the Gaza Strip on Saturday.
She is now working on the cause that has brought the divided nation together: the war effort.
“We feel that our government is not doing its job and we have a lot to say about that, but we won’t say that now,” she said.
“Now, we are all devoted to create resilience in society and help wherever it is needed,” she told CNN at a Jerusalem performance art school that has been transformed into a volunteer hub.
The horrifying images of suffering inflicted on hundreds of civilians by Hamas have shocked horrified people in Israel and across much of the world.
As of Friday morning at least 1,300 Israelis were killed in the attack by Hamas while more than 1,500 Palestinians have died in retaliatory strikes on Gaza.
As Israel grieves and goes on the offensive, some of the deep, long lasting divisions have been put aside.
Israel formally declared war on Hamas on Sunday and began hammering Gaza with heavy bombardment and air strikes, pounding the militant group but also deepening the ongoing humanitarian crisis for civilians in the densely populated enclave.
As talk of a possible ground invasion intensifies, it is becoming clear that many in Israel are preparing for what could be a long war.
The group Muszkat-Barkan is helping to organize, Jerusalem Emergency Command, is formed of hundreds of volunteers from several civil society organizations, including her protest group, Safeguarding our Shared Home. Some are working to connect evacuees from the attacked communities with families who can house them. Others are organizing car sharing for reservists who need to get to their bases.
One big room is now a makeshift call center receiving requests for help, while the theater has been turned into a donations warehouse.
Muszkat-Barkan said most of the help is going to people who have been impacted by the attacks, their families and to soldiers. Israel has called up 300,000 reservists – one of the largest mobilizations in the country’s history – and many are still lacking equipment they need.
“Soldiers need many things and they get some of it from the army, but they can ask us for other things, like warm clothes, power banks,” she said.
No bottled water
In Ashkelon, an Israeli city that lies just a few kilometers north of Gaza, the war feels much more imminent.
The streets are deserted, shops and restaurants closed. Sirens warning of rocket attacks from Gaza wail through the city multiple times a day, every day, prompting the few people still out and about to run for cover.
Nissan Gampel owns a small grocery store near the city’s normally bustling marina. He told CNN his customers have been buying a lot more cigarettes and alcohol in the past few days. “People smoke more when nervous,” he said.
His shop has run out of bottled water amid a nationwide shortage that was sparked by panic buying after the Israel Home Front Command recommended people should have at least three days of essential supplies ready at home.
Gampel said he is prepared for the possibility of a major escalation in the conflict and ground incursion into Gaza, saying he believed it was necessary in order to defeat Hamas.
On the other side of the city, the Ashkelon Barzilai Medical Center is also ready. The hospital has received a large number of victims from the attacks on Saturday. It has stopped non-emergency treatment and started adopting extra security measures. The maternity department has been moved to a safer location and has asked for donations.
Outside, scores of volunteers were manning tables full of refreshments for the hospital’s staff who have been working round the clock.
Shahar Biton, one of the volunteers, has been there since Saturday, offering snacks and encouragement to doctors, nurses, families of the injured and anyone else who needs it.
“We were sitting at home feeling hopeless and wanted to do something useful. So we came here, and we asked, how can we help. And they have been working 24/7, so we want to make them happy,” said Biton.
She said she was aware she might be in front of the hospital for a long time, if a ground operation is launched. “I don’t know how long it will take,” she said.
Tzvi Shore, a 31-year-old IDF reservist, is also preparing for what could be a long conflict. He said he believed an Israeli incursion into Gaza was inevitable.