Blog Post 1 - EU Diplomats and Members of the European Parliament

November 2nd, 2017

The seminar kicked off with an introduction to Israeli politics and society at the historical Sarona neighborhood by Amichai Magen, senior lecturer at the Herzliya Institute. Amichai’s tour d’horizon covered everything from Israel’s high tech expertise to its Arab minority and security challenges at its Northern border. Listening to a brief overview of Israel’s successes in improving the economic integration of its Arab community and its achievements in innovation and entrepreneurship, one participant noted that Israel does not get enough credit for these accomplishments in Europe and that Israel is “being treated unfairly.”

This set the stage for the following day’s first full day program, which was both intensive and emotional. AJC Jerusalem Director Avital Leibovich further elaborated on Israel’s security challenges, both in the south by Hamas controlling Gaza and in the North with Hezbollah in Lebanon but also in Syria now and Iranian troops in Syria. Participants were concerned to hear that both Hamas and especially Hezbollah may soon start another war. This was especially of concern given that Hezbollah’s much larger and more powerful arsenal of some 120,000 missiles means that the next war would be much more devastating for both sides.

Our participants appreciated the insights into the links between Iran and Hezbollah in Lebanon and Syria and the threat that this represents for Israel. One participant commented that only now, after listening to our experts, he could finally understand why Israel is so deeply worried about Iran. The general perception in Europe is that the threat comes almost only from extreme Sunni movements. The participants acknowledged that Europeans underestimate the threat posed by the Iranian regime and how its blend of radical Shiite ideology also spreads terror and instability in the region and beyond.

After these two lectures, we proceeded to the Gaza Border, just a one hour drive from Tel Aviv. Kibbutz Nahal Oz resident Yael Raz Lachyani told participants about life for ordinary Israelis under the constant threat from Hamas and missile bombardment.

Participants were rather surprised about how near to the border people live and the dangers they face on a daily basis. They asked many questions to try to understand what keeps parents with children living such a dangerous life. In a very emotional and authentic way, Yael explained how important the attachment is to her land and to her roots, and that this is simply her home. And, she emphasized, what also keeps her in her home is the hope that one day there will be peace with the Palestinians, and life will be back the way it was in the 1970’s and 1980’s when there was no security fence and Gazans worked in Israel and Israelis shopped in Gaza. “When that day comes, I want to be there and show it to my children.”

One participant remarked that people like her who live in a Kibbutz that is the target of rockets are “national heroes.” Impressed with the resilience of the Kibbutz members, he underlined how important the message is they sent by not leaving their homes, namely that Hamas terror will not succeed.

After lunch, we continued our program with a discussion with Col. (res.) Grisham Yakubovich about the IDF’s challenges to guarantee the supply of all material and humanitarian supplies to Gaza, even as it is controlled by a terror organization and even during war time. Col. Yakubovich stressed how due to Hamas’s misappropriation of funds and the infighting between the Palestinian Authority under Abbas and Hamas, critical infrastructure in Gaza, such as water resources, sewage treatment and energy supply, have been neglected and could cause a serious crisis in Gaza in only a couple of years.

We came back to Tel Aviv tired after a long and emotional day, but an animated discussion with journalist Haviv Rettig Gur energized the group again. Haviv explained to us the situation of the very partisan press in Israel and that for foreigners to rely on only one publication will not give them a balanced picture of the country.

One of the MEPs said that it is totally unfair how Israel is treated in the European Parliament and in the European Commission.

Another MEP commented how MEPs rarely hear about Palestinian incitement and violence.

We ended this fascinating day with a night tour of Tel Aviv and a great dinner at the Tel Aviv harbor.

The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Project Interchange.