NJA + WZO Solidarity Mission to Israel

National Jewish Assembly (NJA) / World Zionist Organisation (WZO) Mission to Israel, 8th to 10th January 2024

Blog written by NJA Advisory Board member Garry Abrams and NJA member David Calmonson

 

Dave and I had the incredible opportunity to join the remarkable mission mentioned above. This extraordinary journey spanned three intense and deeply emotional days. Our NJA delegation was rather small, accompanied by a passionate Christian reverend who founded the Christian Action Against Antisemitism group in the UK. In contrast, the American contingent was much larger, consisting of approximately sixty individuals, all influential figures hailing from various domains, including synagogues, media, politics, and Jewish organisations. Surprisingly, most, if not all, were considerably younger than Dave and me.

Our home base for this unforgettable experience was the vibrant city of Jerusalem. During the mission, we ventured to a diverse range of locations, some marked by recent acts of terrorism, while others served as sources of inspiration and hope. It was a journey that left a profound impact on all of us, and we are eager to share the details of this transformative experience.

The Massacre

We found the attacks on 7/10 to be not only futile but also barbaric and, frankly, devoid of any meaningful purpose. These tragic events shattered the illusions of many who had hoped for peaceful coexistence with their neighbors. In the wake of these attacks, it has become increasingly clear to the vast majority of Israelis that the so-called “two-state solution” is now seen as an unattainable goal.

The Mission’s Itinerary

We visited the following sites. We have focused on the main venues in terms of commentary and pictures/videos.

Day 1

  • National memorial for Israel’s fallen
  • Mount Herzl
  • WZO headquarters
  • The Knesset

Day 2

  • Ofakim
  • Kfar Aza
  • Sderot
  • Re’im (Nova Party Venue)
  • Gilat Junction
  • Army camp (unknown location)

Day 3

  • Hadassah Hospital
  • Kfar Maccabi (HQ of the Maccabi organisation)
  • WZO Tel Aviv (meeting with Douglas Murray)
  • Hostage Square

The Mission, day by day

Day 1

Memorial for fallen soldiers

During our visit, we were fortunate to be guided by an exceptionally competent and inspiring 19-year-old female soldier. The building itself left a profound impression on us. Each brick bore the name and date of a fallen soldier, totaling 24,000 to date, with the heartbreaking realisation that more names continue to be added daily.

Brick Samples

The Tower of Bricks

 

Day 2

Ofakim

In the southern town of Ofakim, located just 22 kilometers from the Gaza border, a horrifying and indiscriminate act of terror unfolded on October 7th. Sixteen terrorists unleashed a cold-blooded attack that claimed the lives of 55 innocent Israeli citizens, all on the sacred day of Simchat Torah.

One of the heroes was a police officer who fought back and survived. He gave a detailed account of the day and how he had managed to rescue some from the attack.

Click here to read the text of what he told us. (Note that you will need to play the video and pause it in order to read each page)

Kfar Aza

In a harrowing and tragic incident, a kibbutz located right next to the Gaza border bore witness to a nightmarish onslaught. A significant number of terrorists infiltrated the kibbutz, unleashing a wave of unspeakable violence that included murders, rapes, and even the horrifying act of burning people alive. The kibbutz, once a vibrant and peaceful community, was transformed into a scene of chaos and devastation.

Click here to watch a video of one of the streets terrorised by Hamas

Click here to watch one of the houses destroyed beyond imagination by Hamas

Sderot

We visited Sderot, a city in the Negev whose population could easily fill a Premiership football stadium on a particularly low-attendance day. This once-thriving community has experienced the unimaginable – it has been evacuated due to the constant onslaught of rocket attacks that have plagued it for decades. In this town, the threat of rocket attacks was not a sporadic occurrence; rather, it was a grim daily reality. When the warning sirens sounded, residents had a mere 15 seconds to seek refuge in bomb shelters. The events of 7/10 struck Sderot with devastating force, resulting in numerous casualties and extensive damage to the city and its infrastructure.

We had lunch at a new facility set up a few years ago for agricultural research and innovations. https://www.nature-growth.com/ It is currently in use as a sort of ‘We Work’ centre with good internet as there is little available at present in the area. The NJA is proposing to get involved in helping this organisation by brokering ties in the UK for example.

Re’im – The Nova Party Massacre site

We hope and pray that I never visit anywhere again where such awful atrocities occurred. The site of the massacre of 394 youngsters who just went to dance and enjoy themselves. There are lines of stakes in the ground and to each is attached a photograph of the individual (mostly young beautiful people in the prime of their lives).

There were many soldiers there visiting to see it for themselves and also many groups like ours. Ceremonies are being constantly held and spontaneous singing of Jewish and Israeli songs being sung to counter the grief. It is an extremely sad place where terrorists, under the influence of drugs, effectively murdered, raped and pillaged innocent party goers for no discernible reason. Many kidnap victims are from Re’im too.

Click here to view the telling of a story about one of the Nova party victims.
Click here to view just some of the placards with the pictures of some of those murdered at the Nova Party.

Gilat Junction / Compound

This is a special haven for soldiers seeking some well-deserved “R&R” after their challenging service in Gaza. Here, they find a place to relax, socialise, and engage in a wide array of activities designed to rejuvenate them. From getting their hair done to enjoying a soothing massage, the soldiers are offered a diverse range of services to help them unwind. The center is generously stocked with food, new clothing, and various other items, all donated to provide these brave individuals with essentials to take away and cherish.

https://blogs.timesofisrael.com/open-invitation-to-president-herzog-to-visit-gilat-compound/

Army Camp   – Undisclosed Location

In the evening some of the mission visited an Army camp set up in a disused Kibbutz. Donated items of clothing and electronics were distributed to the soldiers here too. We had a barbecue with them and socialised. They were very welcoming and indeed delighted to see UK and U.S. visitors in the middle of a conflict.


Day 3

Hadassah hospital

This expansive facility stands as a testament to harmonious coexistence, with a workforce that includes 40-50% Arab employees, spanning from dedicated professionals to compassionate staff. The patient demographic is equally diverse, encompassing individuals from Haredi communities to Muslims adorned in burkas and hijabs. This vivid illustration of unity refutes any allegations of apartheid, showcasing the genuine coexistence that thrives here.

During our visit, we had the privilege of listening to presentations from the hospital’s CEO and the chief psychologist, who herself has a husband serving in the army. She oversees a team of 120 psychologists who provide guidance to the staggering 50% of Israelis presently grappling with trauma and suffering. One poignant statement she made stuck with us when discussing the treatment of PTSD: under the current circumstances, the ‘P’ in PTSD doesn’t truly represent the situation— the trauma is undeniably an ongoing ordeal.

 

Maccabiah World Union

Our visit to the Maccabiah World Union headquarters was truly eye-opening. The CEO shared with us how the facility had undergone a remarkable transformation into accommodation for evacuees from the South. Beyond providing shelter, the evacuees are encouraged to partake in the sports and leisure amenities and utilise the newly established schools for as long as they need. These resilient residents have now been there for four months, and it’s worth noting that the Maccabiah organisation has shouldered all expenses thus far.

Their vision is ambitious—to host the most significant and grand Maccabi Games in Israel in 2025, surpassing even this year’s Olympics in Paris. So, for those with aspirations of participating, it’s time to begin your training!

Later in the day, we had the privilege of being welcomed at the WZO offices in Tel Aviv, where we engaged in a productive meeting and discussion with the renowned journalist, Douglas Murray.

Our final stop was at Hostage Square, where our journey concluded.

Hostage Square

There are relatives holding a vigil for the kidnapped victims as well as songs which are sung by visitors and long tables are set waiting for the return of the hostages

Many, many photographs are displayed of each hostage taken (and not removed and torn down as in the UK and U.S.!)

Our encounter with a hostage family during this trip was undeniably the most emotionally impactful experience. Sitting down with them, hearing their stories, and sharing their pain left an indelible mark on all of us.

One of the sisters of the captor shared her perspective, expressing that she felt sorry for us in London because of the growing Jew hatred there. It was a moment that struck deep within our hearts, but we couldn’t allow her to feel sorry for us. What they were enduring was beyond comparison to the challenges we face. Their resilience and strength in the face of adversity were awe-inspiring.

This final experience encapsulated the essence of our journey. It reaffirmed the fact that we belong to a remarkable, compassionate, and noble people as Jews. It’s a reminder we must carry with us always. We will never yield to the malevolent forces that seek to harm us, and ultimately, goodness will triumph over evil.

 

General observations

During our recent visit to Israel, we had the privilege of witnessing the unyielding spirit of its people in the face of adversity. The Israeli populace, to a person, appreciated our presence during these challenging times. In their eyes, this is a battle between good and evil, and they firmly believe that they stand at the forefront of this struggle. They are acutely aware that similar organisations, harboring ill intentions, could one day threaten our homes as well.

The resilience displayed by the Israeli people is truly remarkable. Despite the world’s shifting tides, they remain resolute in their determination. They view this conflict as a fight for their very existence, an existential battle they must win. While they hope for peace, they prepare for the possibility of confronting other extremist groups, including the formidable Hezbollah. They understand that this challenge will be even more arduous, but their resolve remains unshaken.

The recent events have taken a toll on the Israeli psyche. The rocket attacks, the loss of lives, and the destruction have left a profound impact. Their confidence and trust have been deeply affected, and it will take time to heal these wounds. However, one thing is certain: their spirit remains unbroken, and they are determined to rebuild and emerge stronger.

The concept of a “two-state solution” remains a topic of discussion on the international stage. Yet, in the midst of continuous threats from extremist elements, the practicality of such a solution seems increasingly remote. How can one pursue a peaceful coexistence when faced with homicidal terrorists at their borders, determined to claim their land at any cost?

At the heart of this complex situation lies the issue of anti-Semitism. Jealousy, prejudice, and misinformation have fueled hostility towards the Jewish people for centuries. For some, this prejudice has a spiritual basis, while others perpetuate baseless conspiracies about Jewish influence. While we could delve deeper into these issues, it’s clear that combating anti-Semitism is an essential step towards achieving a more peaceful world.

Our journey through Israel has left an indelible mark on us. The Israeli people’s unwavering determination to defend their homeland and their commitment to upholding their values in the face of adversity are nothing short of inspiring. We must never forget the profound impact these experiences have had on us as we work together to build a world free from hatred and violence.

 

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