Well, things have really changed. When we went to sleep Monday night, the feeling was the cease-fire would be extended. In fact, throughout Tuesday, the reports were that an extension was near. Needless to say no one was really surprised to hear that Hamas had done it again and broken another cease-fire.
Tuesday, August 19
The day began with a briefing by Keith Mines, political consul, United States Embassy. Things got heated as Mr. Mines was strongly questioned as to why our government, particularly the President, could not simply say no government would tolerate the years of missiles that have rained down on Israeli citizens. Mr. Mines responded that we do say that but that we would hope that Israel would take greater care to avoid civilian casualties. He went on to state that the "U.S. would never bomb any area suspected of having civilians."
After that we proceeded to Tel Hashomer-Sheba Medical Center, where we were joined by 50 leaders from Great Britain. The fact that over 100 people from two countries came together to visit wounded Israeli soldiers strongly demonstrates the centrality that Israel plays in our lives, regardless of where we live. One of the soldiers that we met was a lone soldier from France. Despite his extensive injuries, his goal was to return to his unit. He said he would not want to trade places with anyone despite being injured.
We then met with students from the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya. The moment Operation Protective Edge began, the students set up a 24-hour special media center. The material they produced was outstanding. This center will continue making the Israeli case even after the war ends.
We concluded with a visit to the family of Etan Barak, who was killed during the fight with the terrorists after they came out of the tunnels. His parents and sister told us of a young man who matured in the army. While he loved life, particularly music, he took his role as an officer very seriously. They noted that for the past six months he had hardly been home because he felt he needed to focus on his task. His family related that the night before he was killed, his unit and commanding officer told them that he picked up his guitar and got the entire unit to sing and relax. His parents and sister felt a sense of comfort that he spent his last hours in song. May his memory be a blessing.
Wednesday, August 20
Alon Ben-David, senior correspondent for Israel’s Channel 10 News, addressed the group. During his presentation we had a Red Alert. Alon noted that if Israel killed Deif, it would be a game changer. He also said that the attempt would, in his opinion, increase the violence. He also stressed that he has never seen such motivation and determination among the soldiers.
We then spent the day in the south around Sderot. We saw the incredible work of the Israel Trauma Coalition. We watched how a therapist worked with Ethiopian children to help them cope with the Red Alerts. These children have been in Israel for less than one year. In fact, while we were there, a Red Alert occurred.
We also met with members from Kibbutz Kfar Aza. They shared with us that despite the constant bombardment they have suffered for years living on the Gaza border, their response was life. They are proud that the number of people living on the kibbutz has increased by 30 families over the past 2 years. Yet, it was heartbreaking when they shared with us that a 14 year had experienced 650 Red Alerts. What parent wants that for their child?
We then had the opportunity to speak to students and teachers from the Shaar Hanegev High School. First, a comment about the building. This is a campus that was built to function outside and inside without having to deal with the interruption of missiles. For example, there are no windows facing Gaza. All the buildings that connect have overhangs that provide protection when moving from building to building.
What was again poignant was talking to the very handsome, articulate 17-year-old Avi, who spoke about his feeling of not wanting to hate. That while he knows that Hamas is his enemy and they once again ruined his summer, he cannot allow himself to hate them. He truly believes that one day they will be neighbors. He also shared with us that he loves going to school here mainly because he can have a day without interruption from missiles.
What we have seen on this mission and the people that we have met and spoken to only reinforces that Am Yisrael Chai, the people of Israel live.
August 21, 2014