Thursday marked the second day of our ‘Israel Advocacy Program’. On Wednesday, we heard from different people who were well-educated on the history and politics of Israel, who gave us insight into why Israel is the way it is. We also learnt how to advocate for Israel and were equipped with facts and information that we will be able to use in cases where we need to stand up for Israel all around the world. The next day was a practical and interactive continuation of this.
We began the day the usual way, wake up, breakfast, prayers and a bus ride to our first stop of the day. We arrived at the Gush Etzion Visitor Centre, which no one knew much about. We sat down to watch an informational film about the kibbutz which we were in, yet the relevance of what we were seeing was still unknown. After this, we moved into a theatre and started to watch a ‘professionally’ acted recount of the history of the kibbutz. As the story of the founders played in front of us, we slowly started to see that we were sitting at the forefront of the Israeli Independence War of 1948. The heart-breaking and heart-warming story of the kibbutz founders showed us some of the many sacrifices people were forced to make in order to establish a Jewish state. This moving experience set up the rest of the day.
As we had just learnt about the first Arab-Israeli war, our next activity was going to listen to and have discussions with Arab and Israeli speakers. The aim of this was to open our eyes to the bigger picture and expose us to different perspectives of Israel’s political situation. We began by hearing a settler, who shared facts, ideas and his views with us, similar to the ones that most of the group would have had to start with.
Subsequently, his business partner, a man living in the West Bank who identifies as a Palestinian came to speak to us. Although some of his opinions were new and not easily accepted by certain students, it was very interesting and eye-opening to hear the same story from a different perspective. Question time came, and the audience did not hold back. Many relevant, interesting and clever questions were asked in a mostly respectful way. Altogether It was an intense experience but as a whole bettered our knowledge and gave us a more rounded understanding of Israeli politics and history.
Juxtaposing our peaceful interaction with an Arab, our next stop was a counter terrorism and security training academy. We began learning Krav Maga, a hands-on military self-defence system developed for IDF soldiers. We were taught basic techniques to protect ourselves against being stabbed or attacked during our time in Israel (or in Sydney I suppose).
Next, we got handed helmets, bulletproof vests and loaded guns and entered the battle field. They may have been paintball guns. There was blood, sweat and tears (not joking) but by the end, Israel had gained some prospective soldiers for 2020.
After a quick nap and shower for most, we left for the Old City of Jerusalem for our last activity of the day. We had dinner and then began our tour of the underground tunnels next to the Kotel. Through 3D models and interactive online designs, we were shown what was once the Beit Ha’ Mikdash. We were shown a time lapse of the changes occurring in the Old City over time, and walked the tunnels spanning the length of where the temple once stood. The engineering and architectural wonders of this structure built thousands of years ago was almost unbelievable and the whole thing was amazing to see.
This day was filled with many different and unique experiences. We learnt many interesting things through watching, listening and doing which contributed to the perfect balance of learning and fun. Personally, I learnt many new things that have changed effected my views but also strengthened my connection with the Land of Israel and has broadened my understanding of the place ya Jews call ‘home’.