NSWJBD/Honest Reporting Israel Mission Days 7 & 8

December 4, 2013 by  
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20 people, 31 points of view, 8 days, over 20 destinations and 12,000,000 kilojoules.

From Lynda Ben-Menashe, Community Relations Manager NSW Jewish Board of Deputies

It’s very hard to capture in words the depth of the experience I have just had on the JBD’s second Israel Mission with Honest Reporting. We billed it as a study tour and that it was. Each day we examined up close and personal heavy issues like Settlements, Security, Human Rights, the Peace Process, Bedouin in the Negev, BDS, Media and Lawfare.

Linda Galley, Dr Harvey Belik and Lynda Ben-Menashe

Linda Galley, Dr Harvey Belik and Lynda Ben-Menashe

Missions are intense. Ours was especially so, challenging long-held conceptions and misconceptions and provoking emotional responses in everyone, even unexpectedly. Over our last two days we took an incredible full day trip up the Jordanian and Syrian borders with IDF Major Eliot Chodoff and met Dr Michael Harari (more below) and heard from MK Rabbi Dov Lipman; Common Ground Chair Boaz Nol; IDF Colonel Bentzi Gruber; Daniel Seaman, formerly of the government Press Office and finally, Prime Minister’s Office Spokesman Mark Regev.

Here’s a brief overview of just four aspects of our Mission overall:

The security barrier

Lynda Ben-Menashe at the Syrian border

Lynda Ben-Menashe at the Syrian border

We all know why it’s there. Construction began in 2002 after almost 1,000 Israelis had been blown up in the horrific suicide bombings of the Second Intifada. 96% electronic fence and only 4% wall – most of us already knew these statistics too. One of the things we didn’t know was that more than half of its ‘gates’ – border checkpoints – are now staffed not by the IDF, but by private security firms. We knew it had reduced terror attacks to almost nil.

But we weren’t prepared for our emotional responses to two things: the sight of Palestinians passing through those border checkpoints (at the time we visited, returning home to Kalkilya from work inside Israel) and the commentary of the young IDF commander of the whole West Bank area, who told us about the emotional toll doing his job along the barrier and inside the West Bank takes on him and on his soldiers.

Hebron and Gush Etzion

People have strong views about ‘The Settlements’. In our group we had the usual spread, and most of us were prepared to have our own confirmed. But that’s not what happened. People who went in expecting to reject the case made by the ‘hardliners’ in Hebron were moved by the thoughtful commentary of our guide, David Wilder and the spiritual experience of sitting inside the Cave of the Machpela. There I saw a safe made by my own old-time Israeli family, Goldman, reminding me of my own family’s presence in Hebron since the earliest times and the murder of an ancestor in the 1929 massacre.

Ex-New Zealander Michael Lawrence challenged the views of many when he presented the lucid case for the settlements of the Gush and took us to see his own beautiful town, Neve Daniel. He didn’t avoid discussion of the extreme and violent minority of ‘Price Tagger’ settlers, whose actions tar everyone and are condemned by all the others.

And this was characteristic of the Mission as a whole: we didn’t avoid the tough questions. We saw the good and the bad. We saw Israel in all its colours and doing so made us stronger, not weaker. We set out to better inform ourselves and we came away both better informed and more determined to put the case for Israel in all its nuance.

Peace Now

Peace Now was a case in point. Most of the group did not agree with the viewpoint expressed by Melanie Robbins, the speaker from Peace Now. But all of us learned something from her. It might have been a fact or figure, or a level of respect for her group’s sincerity or a recognition of their essential Zionism. Even if many felt Peace Now’s energy is misdirected and their focus neglectful of the impact of the PAS’s incitement to genocide on ‘prospects for peace’, we all came away enriched by the experience of engaging with them.

Israel treating Syrian patients

By now you probably know the story of Israel’s humanitarian work treating Syrians, mostly children, who scramble across the border with the most horrific injuries. You know because the wife of Australia’s Ambassador to Israel wrote about it in Israel’s press and also because we took journalists on our JBD Journalists Mission to meet Dr Michael Harari and they wrote and spoke about it in our local media.

Our group met Michael too and he left all of us both shaken and inspired. An incredible person, Michael was born and trained in Melbourne. He is of Egyptian and Syrian Jewish background, so he speaks Arabic. His main point about treating the Syrian patients was how unexceptional it is. First he said they are just human beings and patients – the hospital makes no distinction that they come from an ‘enemy nation’. Second he said the hospital, like Israeli hospitals generally, is full of Arab patients – and that the staff at Ziv is in fact one third Arab, one third Jewish and one third Druze. This means there are dozens of Arabic-speaking specialists including psychiatrists, social workers and medical clowns to help the children. We got to Michael through my friend Dr Harvey Belik, another ex-Melburnian who spoke to our group the next day about his own work as part of Israeli teams who’ve brought care to Haiti, Ethiopia, African migrants in South Tel Aviv and now The Phillipines.

Meeting Michael Harari was a definite highlight for me. But here were so many highlights. Dave Sharma, the Australian Ambassador over dinner at the incredible Spoons restaurant in Jerusalem, run by ex-Aussie Hila Solomon; Colonel Bentzi Gruber, who spoke to us about the IDF’s Ethics in the Field and made the toughest man in our group cry; newly-elected Yesh Atid MK Rabbi Dov Lipman, who described the massive civil rights, education and electoral reforms being introduced; Suleiman Khatib, Palestinian jailed by Israel for ten years and founder of Combatants for Peace; and Boaz Nol, nephew of JBD Executive member Roma Shell, who inspired us with his group’s plans for Israel’s future based on grassroots social action.

Every organization’s Israel Mission is incredible. Our JBD-Honest Reporting Israel Mission is different in that it is a study tour only and not a fundraiser. But most of all, it is a life-changing experience that brings together Jewish and non-Jewish participants from all along the political and religious spectrum in an atmosphere of intellectual inquiry, deep respect, commitment to Israel – both people and state – and also tremendous fun.

All of us left Israel with increased knowledge, skills, commitment to speaking up for Israel – and at least 3 extra kilos each.

For information about the 2014 JBD-Honest Reporting Mission, email benmenashe@nswjbd.com


7 Responses to “NSWJBD/Honest Reporting Israel Mission Days 7 & 8”
  1. Otto Waldmann says:

    ……….and here is the key question:

    Visiting Israel is the greatest , most fantastic experience.

    A tour designed to inform the participants at a scale described in all the accounts posted here, would be organised with the purpose to prepare the participants for their dissemination of the facts observed, information received, contacts at high levels ( and the time those high level experts spent ).
    Now, which of the participants are actively involved in the specific fields of mass media etc. which would, naturally, benefit from the programme ??
    Were the participants selected for the specific schedules of information dissemination !!?? How many of them represent specific entities engaged in the process described !!??
    The fact that officers of the NSWJBD take part in the mission would have as a purpose the establishment of a structure with the purposes described. Is that, however, a fact ??!!
    Are we, therefore , dealing here with a tourist enterprise with a difference, the difference being that specific media orientated objectives have been organised !!?? If so how many of the participants will be working UNDER the guiding spirit of the same NSWJBD in making the tour a MEDIA and INFORMATION propagation success !!??
    The missives on this site are of relative value, because what we have learnt is 100% stuff all of us, concerned with the situation in Israel, know very well already. We do not need so acutely to read the personal impressions of almost anyone, no matter how well they can articulate their impressions on paper. The stuff about the security wall is no news, the situation on the Israel border with Jordan etc., again, is not burning stuff I could not wait to “find out “.
    Bottom line:
    How was the “mission” organised in terms of attained information dissemination structure, dynamics and individual expertise and existing functional structure for efficient use back home, in Australia !!!???
    If the Board of Deps. cannot answer this question they will re-confirm my opinion which I’d rather not repeat here…………….

    • Lynda says:

      Hey Otto – you haven’t followed up on my offer to meet. I did say please call me this week, but instead you just posted comments here about what you wanted to order at the Gelato Bar. Of course I can answer all of your questions about the Mission – if you are serious to discuss, please do call the office and make that appointment. It would be far more productive than your simply continuing to make critical comments here on J-Wire, but possible less satisfying for you. The choice is of course yours. Shabbat Shalom.

  2. David says:

    I must complement Honest reporting for the extraordinary work they do. I was honored to a part of their mission, here in Hebron. Not all groups are willing to ‘brave’ such places as Hebron, and it is to their credit that we had time for an in-depth discussion, as well as a tour. I have no doubt that such events occurred in many other places too.
    The only way to really begin to understand the complexities of the issues here is to see them and to hear directly from the people involved, on all sided of the political spectrum. Trying to comprehend via CNN and the NY Times doesn’t cut the cake. Reading is important, but first-hand experience is supreme.
    I thank Honest Reporting for making this possible and to the participant, who are the real winners of this mission.
    David Wilder, Hebron

    • Lynda says:

      Hello David – thanks for your comment here. I’d love to introduce Otto Waldman and Paul Winter to you so you could have a proper chat. Like us, they could learn a huge amount from you. As promised I will send my family nformation to you as soon as I can. Warm regards, Lynda

  3. Paul Winter says:

    Well, since we know why the security barrier is there, why was there an emotional response to “Palestinians” passing through? No-one is forcing them to go into Israel. The Arabs chose to murder Israelis and still try to do so in response to the PA’s death cult and hatred of Jews. So if their pride is wounded by dhimmi Jews impeding a their Muslim betters, then tough; better a dejected mohammedan than a dead Jew.

    Now I wonder why the military commander of Judea and Samaria and soldeirs under his command (there is no such thing as the West Bank) are distressed. The implication is that the barrier upsets the Arabs and that upsets the IDF. If that is the case why not say so? And if it is not the case, why comment in such a way as to create the impression that puts the blame on Israel’s policy of preserving Jewish life?
    It is true that people have strong views on “settlments”. My view is that national development of the Jewish homeland by pioneers is the duty of all Jews who live there. The pity is that the government is restricting growth to areas inside developments in response to international pressure. Pressure is now being applied by the international community to stop even that expansion – natural growth. The last time such a demand was made of Jews was under the Nazis when a Jewish woman falling pregnant was a capital offense is some regions.

    Oh diddums, price taggers are such an embarrassment. When Jews are murdered by snipers and rock throwers and those deeds are glorified by the mohammedans, why are Jews who insult Islam, but do not kill or even hurt a mohammedan, regarded as wrong doers? This PC appeasement nonsense is wrong and has proven to be futile to any but those in denial.

    If anyone learned anything from Peace Now, then they are hopeless dreamers or anti-Zionists. Peace Now is a pack of losers who refuse to face reality: the Arabs do not want peace or a state, but only the destruction of Israel and the return of the Jew to the status of the dhummi.

    I suggest that the group takes a cold shower and returns to Israel to wake up to realities on the ground.

  4. Eleonora says:

    “Great to hear you are all having tremendus fun and gained weight. Will we also hear when you actually deal with the problem in the media regarding “Honest Reporting”? All the networks and papers still report the same Bleep.

    • Lynda says:

      Hello Eleonora, thanks for your enthusiasm. It sounds like you are an avid monitor of “all the networks and papers”. If you are interested to contribute to “actually dealing with the problem” you may wish to contact us at the Board of Deputies – to contribute your media skills and expertise, maybe do one of our Talking About Israel courses next year or join next year’s joint Mission – basically to achieve maximum effect with your constructive criticism.

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