IT was a jam-packed week of unforgettable daily encounters with Israelis and Palestinians from all walks of life, but what happened on the first day in Jerusalem, and towards the end in Beersheba, left the deepest impact on the eight participants of the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies’ (JBOD) 2018 Journalists’ Mission to Israel.
Speaking at the Sydney Jewish Museum upon returning on October 30, the group praised the decision to begin the mission for the first time with a visit to the Western Wall on a Friday night, followed by a Shabbat family dinner.
Sydney Morning Herald senior reporter Nick O’Malley described that experience as “mesmerising” and said “it really instilled in me, in what is a majority secular society, just how deeply spirituality is interwoven into the fabric of the place”.
Digital producer at the Daily Telegraph, Danielle Pogson, said it was “amazing to witness so many people dancing in carefree joy at the Western Wall”, and to find out this happened on a weekly basis [Shabbat] in a city too often portrayed in a negative light in news reports.
“It was so valuable to see for myself the close proximity of religious sites – and the multi-ethnic co-existence – in Jerusalem, which is a real credit to Israel as a whole,” Pogson said.
Most agreed that inspecting damage inflicted on a family’s home in central Beersheba, hit by a Hamas-fired missile the morning before on October 17, was the most eye-opening part of their tour.
Elizabeth Daniels, producer on Ben Fordham’s radio program on 2GB, said sirens had woken the residents of Israel’s fourth-largest city up at 3:33am.
“A mother had ushered her three children from their upstairs bedrooms into their home’s bomb shelter just seconds before the rocket crashed through the ceiling,” Daniels said.
“The home was destroyed, she saved their lives, and probably averted a whole new war in Gaza.
“After seeing the devastation that a single rocket can make, we visited Sderot, where 600 rockets have been fired at in the last six months and residents have just 15 seconds’ warning of an incoming rocket.”
The mission was supported by the JCA Haberman Kulawicz Wolanski Fund, led by JBOD CEO Vic Alhadeff, and included visits to Yad Vashem, the Knesset, Tel Aviv, the Ziv Hospital, Efrat, the Golan Heights and Ramallah.
Participants included Simon King from nine.com.au, Sky News business reporter Leo Shanahan, James Madden and Adam Creighton from The Australian and Kate de Brito from news.com.au.