NSWJBD/Honest Reporting Israel Mission Day 1
Rachel Lustig and Lynda Ben-Menashe report from Israel….
Welcome to Israel by Brig.Gen (Res.) Yosef Kuperwasser
by Rachel Lustig
Brig.Gen (Res.) Yosef Kuperwasser presented us with a comprehensive summary of events leading up to the present situation in Israel. I’ll attempt to summarise his incredibly detailed one hour presentation, here…
For many years Israel’s main threat was existential. By 1973 we were able to convince our neighbours that using standing armies to dislodge a Jewish sovereign presence wouldn’t work. The PLO switched to terrorism as the main means to replace Israel with a Palestinian state. After the 1st intifada came the Oslo Agreement, yet PLO leader Yasser Arafat continued with terrorism as though nothing had happened!
The ongoing battle is the fight against terrorism. Israel has managed to send a message to the Palestinians that terror won’t work, and the proof of Israel’s victory in this respect is that there’s been no 3rd intifada. The strength shown by the Jewish nation has had a major impact.
What is the Palestinian goal? Having a Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital, with the ultimate aim of reaching Haifa & Jaffa. According to Kupferwasser, the reason there’s no peace and no Palestinian state - despite the territorial offers made by Israeli leaders including Olmert’s 98% of the West Bank plus parts of Jerusalem – is that all offers have been conditional on recognising Israel as the nation state of the Jewish people. Refusal to allow any Jewish presence in the land is the main issue, which most people don’t understand. Kupferwasser says this is because of what he calls ‘dishonest reporting’.
Israel, a Spokesperson’s Challenge in a Digital World, Lt.Col. Avital Leibovich
by Rachel Lustig
Lt.Col. Avital Leibovich comes across as calm and confident, and obviously knows her stuff. She explains that the digital arena is a separate war zone. People have about 3000 visual encounters per day, and the average person only retains approximately 15 of those images. The media war is all about the strength of the picture.
The IDF It releases information in 6 languages, via a blog which reaches 95 million people worldwide: http://www.idfblog.com , Twitter: https://twitter.com/IDFSpokesperson and a Youtube channel: http://www.youtube.com/user/idfnadesk .
In 2012, social media hardly reported the fact that 700 rockets were fired from Gaza into Israel. Now it’s down to about 33 a day. How often is it reported in the media that Palestinians are treated in Israeli hospitals at Israel’s expense, or that each day approx. 250 truckloads of goods are sent from Israel into Gaza? Social media becomes the tool for closing the gaps that the regular media overlooks.
Also in 2012, a game was developed by a 20 year old IDF soldier called IDF Ranks. http://www.idfblog.com/idf-ranks-game/. This month IDF Rescue was set up to tweet all about the rescue efforts of the IDF in other countries (eg, currently the Philippines): https://twitter.com/IDFrescue
Tour of the Security Barrier with Lt Colonel Shai Shemesh
by Lynda Ben-Menashe
Lt Colonel Shai Shemesh of the Central Command leads approximately 500 men and women, mostly concentrated in the Wild West Bank. He looks the part: fit, burnished and dark-haired, but with a few strands of silver belying his apparent youth. He represents an indeterminate Israeli ethnic mix which turns out to include Indian, Iraqi and Polish. He is one of the third generation of men in his family to have fought to build and defend this land.
Lt Colonel Shai Shemesh leads indeed. He leads with courage and commitment – with passion and compassion. He moved me to the point of tears because he reminded me that behind all the theoretical talk of facts and figures and policies and plans, there are a million human stories.
Shai spoke in depth about his mission: the protection of the civilians of the West Bank, both Israeli and Palestinian. The maintenance of peace between uneasy neighbours. The prevention of crime and terror. A ‘simple’ mission which can only be achieved through the mastery of a million complex details monthly, daily, hourly and minute-by-minute.
He took us to the Eyal Crossing at Kalkilya, ten minutes from Kfar Saba, and gave us facts:
- he said that 100,000 Palestinians enter Israel each day with work permits and a further 100,000 enter without permits in search of work. Or on their way to committing acts of terror, like the boy from Jenin who this week stabbed to death an Israeli soldier boy on a bus near Afula
- about half of the checkpoint crossings are now administered by private security contractors, not the IDF – because this checking work, exactly like airport security checking anywhere in the world, is a job for security professionals
- every IDF action is filmed using cameras mounted on soldiers’ helmets or weapons or operated by communications personnel – filmed so the soldiers’ behavior can be monitored by the commanders and used for training purposes or presented as evidence in case of claims of wrongdoing. And each night Shai trawls the Facebook pages of the Palestinian towns and villages and individuals under his command to understand the perspectives of the local Palestinians on what has gone down that day.
- about 17% of the population of the West Bank is Jewish – close to 500,000 people, over 80% of those living in the legal ‘consensus’ settlements including 12 suburbs of Jerusalem, but the rest in illegal ones: caravans on windswept hilltops, makeshift buildings which Shai’s men are periodically charged with dismantling. Without diminishing its importance, Shai gave some context and balance to this issue of ‘illegal settlements’, reminding us that there are also illegal Palestinian settlements in the West Bank – houses and structures built without permission from the PA. And illegal Bedouin Arab settlements inside Israel too, in the Negev. He reminded us of the nuance in this discussion, so often conducted in only black and white.
Earlier, as we had watched the real-time, minute-by-minute movement of Shai’s brigades on the screen behind him, and he had given us feelings too:
He had told us how it makes him feel to enter a home in the middle of the night to arrest a father who may or may not have committed a crime or act of terror – how it makes him feel to wake a mother and terrify children, whose cries sound exactly like the cries of his own children. How the heart always reacts, no matter that what the head understands. How he recognises that a soldier might choose to ‘Break The Silence’ to clear his conscience or simply release some of the confronting emotions such acts inevitably provoke.
Lt Colonel Shai Shemesh of the Central Command, who at perhaps 30 years of age leads 500 men and women, moved me to the point of tears because he is a human being who accepts the heavy, endless responsibility of maintaining some semblance of peaceful co-existence between two nations in an apparently infinite state of conflict. Because he fulfills this mission with astounding mental, physical and spiritual strength and most incredibly of all, without shirking emotional engagement. Shai does this without losing his humanity or overlooking the humanity of the thousands of Israeli and Palestinian men, women and children under his protection.
We in the Diaspora TALK in abstract terms about security and settlements and policies and peace plans. Shai and his soldiers, who are just people – most as young as my oldest child - WALK in dusty boots on stony ground carrying heavy rifles they don’t wish to use so that we can have the luxury of just TALKING.