February 26th, 2017
Note: AJC Berlin Director Deidre Berger and Public Affairs Officer Fabian Weissbarth are accompanying a delegation of German Politicians and Journalists in Israel.
After a long night enjoying the vibrant nightlife of Rothschild Boulevard, there were some sleepy faces on the early bus to our helicopters for the trip exploring Israel’s Northern and Southern borders. Some were flying in helicopters for the first time, and the excitement was palpable.
We were fortunate with the weather, and the views were spectacular. The pilots did a good job explaining the narrowness of the borders. When we arrived at Mount Bental, we were greeted by Brig. Gen. (res). Nitzan Nuriel who shared his long experience and insights about the security threats emanating from Syria, Lebanon and Iran. He emphasized in particular the considerable of future conflicts again with Hezbollah.
We were deeply impressed by our visit to Ziv Medical Center in Safed, where we learned about the hospital’s quiet people-to-people diplomacy, caring for more than 700 wounded Syrians, over the past 4 years both adults and children. The engagement of the doctors and medical staff was inspiring. We were able to speak with several patients who shared their experiences and the difficulties getting to Israel, which is a far superior option for medical treatment.
We had lunch in an Arab Christian village with an Arab former member of Knesset, Dr. Hana Swaid. We learned about Israel’s Arab community, particularly the Arab-Christian minority, and their growing economic success. He highlighted discussions within the Arab-Israeli community about Palestinian identity vis-a-vis the Jewish majority and stressed the many possibilities of coexistence.
We then took an impressive helicopter flight along the coast to the border with Gaza. We received a comprehensive overview from Col. (res.) Grisha Yakubovich of Israel’s struggle with Hamas, whose fighters, including affiliated groups, have shot missiles on to Israeli territory for nearly two decades. Additional provocations, including kidnappings, have led to several armed conflicts between Israel and Hamas. As a former head of civilian coordination activities for the Israeli military in the territories, he described in detail the extensive economic, humanitarian and security efforts made by Israeli authorities to stabilize living conditions for the Palestinians.
Yael Raz-Lachyani, an educator who has lived in the kibbutz with her family all her life, described what it is like to live in a state of constant fear and discussed at length the multitude of coping mechanisms, especially dealing with children. When a four year old child was killed in 2014 by a missile from Hamas in Gaza, one-quarter of the kibbutz residents moved away, while others wondered if the kibbutz could continue at all. Yael explained that when you only have three seconds of warning before a missile hits, it is impossible to offer reliable safety. This information made a deep impression on the delegation members.
The group was moved to learn how the people of Nahal Oz fought to save their community by creating programs that would attract new families and younger residents to settle in the kibbutz. A great success was the establishment of a pre-army program for high school graduates, which helped to create a more active community for everyone. The visit with Yael showed our participants the determination of Israelis to continue with everyday life despite the constant threat of terror.
At our final morning in Tel Aviv, participants expressed their appreciation for the numerous insights and perspectives gained during their visit to Israel, with some already planning a return visit.
The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Project Interchange.