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Mission to Israel - Report back

About 20 people – the majority of them members of Sydney’s Jewish community, plus a number of West Australians and Americans  - are currently participating in the inaugural NSW Jewish Board of Deputies-HonestReporting Advocacy Mission in Israel. This unique, eight-day study mission is being led by Board of Deputies President Yair Miller and HonestReporting CEO Joe Hyams. The mission has evolved from the Board’s popular Talking About Israel course, with the majority of mission participants having graduated from the course. Reports will be filed daily by participants, beginning with the first two.

js_honest reporting pic day 4

Day 4

By: Marilyn Immerman

We departed the hotel promptly a 8.45am for our trip into the West Bank to Gush Etzion, which consists of a bloc of settlements organised into one regional council. They are built on land which has been inhabited by Jews for centuries and is particularly holy because it is on the actual "Path of the Fathers", dating back to biblical times.

The aim of our visit was to gain a deeper understanding of the issues with regard to the settlements, which some argue are the chief obstacle to peace. 

Our guide was Yarden Frankl, who is on the staff of HonestReporting and lives in the religious settlement of Neve Daniel. This beautiful settlement, consisting of 500 families, is named after a convoy whose members were killed while making their way to the Gush in order to assist the Jews in their struggle against the Arabs in the months preceding the War of Independence. We entered through the checkpoint which we were told is there more to deal with the problem of theft than out of fear that a terrorist may try to infiltrate. It appears that many Palestinian Arabs enter on a daily basis to work there, and the entire settlement has been built through their labour.

Another long time and very passionate resident of Neve Daniel, David Shire, gave us his personal perspective on the controversial issue of the settlements. He brought along his Palestinian Arab friend, Jihad, to answer our questions and to demonstrate that the settlers and Palestinians have friendly relations. We were told about a local mall where they all shop together. Jihad has spent time in a Palestinian prison for so-called collaboration with Israeli Jews. He was confined in a very small cell where he was forced to drink water from the toilet. He is very anti the Palestinian Authority, accusing it of being incompetent, and he claims that the vast majority of his fellow Palestinians would far prefer to live in Israel. However, they are too afraid to speak out for fear of being labelled traitors.

Visiting the West Bank and seeing the intricate way in which the Jewish settlers and Arabs live amongst each other showed us how difficult it would be to separate the two groups and how much more badly off the Arabs would be if they were prevented from working for the Jews. Boycotting goods coming from the West Bank would, in fact, do the Arabs much more harm than good - something that the pro-Palestinian advocates of BDS do not seem to grasp.

At Kibbutz Kfar Etzion we viewed a film relating the tragic story of how this community was destroyed in the Arab Riots of 1936 and was then rebuilt, only to be destroyed again by Arabs during the War of Independence. This was after a protracted struggle in which the settlers fought bravely not only to protect their land, but also to defend the road to Jerusalem. In 1967 the children of these settlers returned to rebuild Kfar Etzion.

Over a delicious lunch at Gavneh the matter of the settlements was hotly debated. One important insight gained was the need to separate the two issues of the legitimacy of the settlements on the one hand and the possibility of withdrawal from them (for reasons such as the high cost of defending them or simply for the sake of peace) on the other hand.

In mid-afternoon we set off for the Old City and met our guide, who lives with his family in the Jewish Quarter. As we wound our way through the narrow, cobble-stoned streets he pointed out various sites and described what it is like to live in such a unique environment. We lit candles, bringing in the Shabbat and then wended our way to the Kotel, where we witnessed the joyous dancing of hundreds of young yeshiva students. We also bumped into a group of 31 Year 10 students who arrived today on a tour organised by the Board of Jewish Education in Sydney. After time for prayer and contemplation at the Kotel, we were served a 5 course dinner. Some guests included a young man who was born in Kuwait, was brought up thinking he was a Muslim Arab and only recently discovered that he is, in fact, Jewish because his maternal grandmother was Jewish. He has since spent time studying at a yeshiva in Israel. 

After witnessing the spiritual bond that religious settlers in the Gush have with the land and then experiencing shabbat in the Old City, many of us came away at the end of the day feeling quite uplifted.

Marilyn Immerman is a participant on the mission.


Day 5

By: Paul Mortley

The tour so far has been both challenging and rewarding, and today was no exception. The day started with a lazy morning and ended with some intriguing guess speakers.

Shabbat in Israel is an experience to be had. From the start to the finish, participating in the traditions and feeling the change with the city of Jerusalem, has been such an education. Within the group there is a variety religious and nonreligious, and interfaith. While some went to synagogue, others visited with friends or family, I started my day by heading to Mt Scopus where my church is located. At the completion I walked back to Jerusalem to join back with the group to share lunch. 

js_NSWJBD_Khaled_Abu_Toameh_033 - Version 2  The first speaker to address us today was Khaled Abu Toameh (left). Khaled is an Israeli Arab who works as the West Bank and Gaza correspondent for the Jerusalem Post and the US News and World News. Khaled gave us a good insight into the thinking and understandings of Arab peoples in the region. This analysis covered topics on Palestinian citizenship, elections and the comparison of the situation of Israeli Arabs and Palestinian Arabs, within the confines of Israel/West Bank and Gaza, and that within other Arab nations. 

The topic of Arab citizenship and elections covered the idea that when Israel annexed East Jerusalem the Palestinians would have automatic Israeli citizenship forced upon them, thus they would be prevented from entering any Islamic country or attending Islamic universities. The decision was made by the Israeli Government that they would be permanent residents with the opportunity to take Israeli citizenship if they desired, which many did. The election topic was also brought up, many people using it as an argument against Israel.

Khaled’s response was that Israel is not stopping Israeli Arabs from voting in Israel, neither are they stopped from voting in the West Bank and Gaza, where they also have their own parliament. 

Khaled also compared the situation of refugees in Lebanon and Kuwait to that of Israel/ West Bank. Where Israel has offered citizenship, education through Jewish or Palestinian based schools, plus home ownership and many other benefits, Lebanon and Kuwait and many other Arab nations have left the refugees in refugee camps and not offered them any of the benefits Israel offers.

The next speaker was Catherine Bodenstein, who works with the Christ Church and is a conduit between Christians, Jews, media and government. She works on a voluntary basis and has been doing this for around four years. Catherine’s insightful talk helped give an understanding of what other faiths are doing to promote and educate about Israel. Catherine also shared a moving story about two of her friends who were involved in an anti-Israeli attack, sadly resulting in one of her friends dying from injuries.

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The third speaker was Professor Gerald M. Steinberg, President, NGO Monitor and Political Science Department, Bar IIan University.  This was a very interesting talk on NGOs, human rights and the campaign to demonise Israel. Professor Steinberg identifies where the money that is used to fund anti-Israeli campaigns comes from and then works to stop or educate those funding these groups. 

We participated in a Havdalah ceremony, a wonderful cultural insight. This was a relaxing, insightful and educational day. There is always so much work put into everything that we participate in on this tour, I am looking forward to the upcoming days.

Paul Mortley is from Perth. He studied International Politics at Murdoch University and majored in Security, Terrorism and Counter-terrorism. He currently works in Youth Justice. He describes himself as a Zionist-leaning Christian. 


 To read about Days 1-3 CLICK HERE





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