July 24, 2024
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July 24, 2024
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World Zionist Organization Makes Solidarity Mission to Israel

Mark Levenson, right, with Mark Regev, senior advisor to the Pprime minister.

Day 1

I am honored and privileged to be participating in the executive committee meetings and solidarity mission of the World Zionist Organization in Israel this week.

The emotional highlights of day 1 included the presentation of the prestigious “Herzl Prize” award to Hernan Feler, leading and courageous Argentinian sports broadcaster, who has used his “pulpit” to publicly and repeatedly campaign (including at the start of every futbol broadcast) for the release of the Israeli hostages being inhumanely held in Gaza, including his aunt Ofelia, who thankfully was released in one of the hostage swaps for terrorist prisoners.

Also, the emotional and heart-rendering presentation by Rav Doron Peretz, head of World Mizrachi, on the status of his two sons, both soldiers; one, Yonatan, who was severely wounded in the Hamas massacre on Oct. 7 and the other Daniel, who was taken hostage to Gaza and remains there to this day, 74 days into the war. Once Yonatan sufficiently recovered from his wounds and was able to leave the hospital, the question faced by the Peretz family was whether to proceed with Yonatan’s scheduled wedding (before he went back into Gaza) or hold off on the wedding pending the prayed-for return of his hostage brother. The family chose to proceed with the wedding, but the tears did not abate.

We also received detailed, informative and up-to-date briefings from both Lt. Col. Peter Lerner, IDF spokesperson for international media, and Mark Regev, senior advisor to the Prime Minister and former Israel ambassador to the U.K., who gave chizuk on achievements to date.

May the rest of the week bring positive developments.

Mark Levenson with WZO Chairman Yaakov Hagoel in Kibbutz Kfar Azza.

Day 2

Day 2 of the executive committee meetings of the World Zionist Organization was, if possible, even more intense and emotional than the opening day.

We traveled down to the Gaza periphery for a fact-finding tour, visiting the destroyed kibbutz Kfar Aza, wearing the proper protective helmets and Kevlar vests. It was extremely difficult and challenging to see, smell and traverse. The inhumanity and senseless and gratuitous destruction and torture won’t be easy to forget. Comparisons to the butchery and savagery of the Nazis and Holocaust are accurate. Fortunately, all the very loud and repetitive overhead blasts and booms exploding were from the IDF. There were also several Iron Dome missiles that knocked out the incoming Hamas rockets above us.

I had last visited Kfar Aza with a New Jersey political delegation (including the late, great Sen. Frank Lautenberg) on what turned out to be 9/11. Then, we had traveled to the dangerous Kfar Aza to comfort the Kfar Aza residents in light of the then 2001 terrorist attacks. Instead the Israelis, that day and week, ended up comforting and consoling us Americans.

We also visited the Nova music festival site where 364 were massacred, including the brother-in-law of our chairman who was there serving as a paramedic for what he thought would be medical emergencies. Despite the lengthy and exhaustive planning of Hamas, Hamas didn’t know of the music/peace festival until they had crossed the border, airborne on gliders and with waves of ground terrorists and came across the festival. The diversion to massacre the festival goers may have diverted a deeper incursion into the center of Israel.

We then visited the absorption city of Ofakim, where 50 residents and two soldiers were murdered by Hamas. The city spokesman walked us through and pointed out every house, bomb shelter and spot on the road where each of the 52 were killed. (It’s not that large a city.) There were also heroic efforts by many of the outmanned and outgunned civilians and residents who managed to kill 18 terrorists but lost their lives in the process. We also visited a kindergarten where we gave out holiday gifts to the adorable children who are always now guarded and in lockdown.

Our next stop was actually uplifting. Tzomet Gilad (Gilad Junction), where a large volunteer center serving 15,000 meals a day to active soldiers and providing physical therapy, haircuts, some medical services, and books was set up almost immediately after the Oct. 7 massacre and the start of the mobilization of the IDF reserves. Several hundred volunteers a day work in shifts in an amazing display of volunteerism. We also volunteered for a short while, although the only thing I was qualified to do was fill popcorn into bags and cups. But I felt I was doing something.

We then spent the evening in “Hostages Square” in Tel Aviv where we had very emotional meetings with hostage families and saw the dedicated and intense daily efforts on behalf of the hostages and in support of the hostages’ families. We spent considerable time with Danny Meron, the father of hostage Omri Meron. Danny (the father) was a paratrooper who served in the 1967 Six-Day War in Jerusalem. Danny lost his wife 32 years ago and hostage Omri and his wife and daughter are his only family. At 10 a.m. on Oct. 7, Danny heard and believed his whole family was killed. Totally bereft, at 6 p.m. on Oct. 7, he was told his daughter-in-law and granddaughter had actually hid for 10 hours and somehow survived but his son was taken hostage to this day.

We were there to try to comfort Danny yet Danny wanted to express his deep appreciation for all the support and efforts of everyone involved who are doing their utmost to “Bring the Hostages Home.”

Another day and evening not to be forgotten.

Day 3

Before I start with my last (for this trip) update, I would like to sincerely wish all my Christian friends and all Christian friends and supporters of Israel as merry, happy and joyful a Christmas as there can be this year along with wishes for a peaceful, hopeful and better 2024.

The last day of the executive committee meeting and solidarity mission of the World Zionist Organization had very emotional, uplifting and inspiring moments. It did end with the brutal remembrances and scenes of what happened on Oct. 7 and why we came to bear witness.

Our first stops were to the North to the wonderful and welcoming Druze village of Yanuh-Jat, where we came to pay a “shiva” call to the family of Alim Abdallah, one of the first Hamas terrorist victims after Oct. 7. Alim was a beloved Druze commander in the IDF who served in the IDF for 23 years and was to have had his retirement party the day before he died. Lt. Col. Abdallah, the deputy commander of the 300th Baram Regional Brigade, was killed in a gun battle along the Lebanon border on Oct. 9 while he was responding to an infiltration alert. Kind, sincere, modest and a leader, Alim was beloved by all and was among the best of the best. (An equally beloved, heroic and even more senior Druze commander Salman Habaka, also from Yanuh-Jat, was murdered a few weeks later.)

Brother of Druze Commander Lt. Col. Alim Abdallah alongside picture of Alim

The Druze are an incredibly important part of the beautiful mosaic that is Israel. Fiercely proud, loyal and dedicated citizens of the state of Israel, the Druze are among the best and most skilled of the (thank God for the) IDF. Over 400 Israeli citizens from the Druze village that we visited were mobilized in the days after Oct. 7. All told, over 10,400 Druze were among the 360,000 Israeli citizens that answered the call to Miluim or volunteered.

Our visit was emotional and meaningful to us and we were in awe and so inspired by the words of his wife, brother and mayor of Yanuh-Jat, Musi Sa’ad, and the presence of his sweet mother. Alim leaves behind three beautiful children including the apple of his eye, his 8-year-old son. May his memory and the memory of all those who have died in this necessary war be for a blessing.

Our next stop worth noting was to the Meshakim clothing and uniform factory where up to a 100 dedicated women (now) work daily double shifts so as to sew 11,000 IDF uniforms a month. Talking with them and seeing their work ethic, efficiency and speed was incredibly inspiring.

We then traveled to an Israel air force base where, amid the din of aircrafts taking off and more overhead booms, we were able to learn about and see the vast array of aircraft which help defend the state of Israel and play such an integral part in the war effort. The pilots are trained to be “wheels up” within five minutes of the siren. Several who briefed us had returned a few hours earlier from a dangerous and risky operation where they played a critical role in rescuing a number of wounded soldiers.

All these inspiring and uplifting feelings and emotional relief from a tough week crashed down to the reality of what transpired on Oct. 7 and why we were in Israel when we made our final stop of the evening, at the Nova festival memorial exhibit at the Expo Park in the Tel Aviv Convention Center.

Escorted by Ofir Amir, the severely wounded founder of the Nova festival and producer of the exhibit who barely escaped death and is not currently fully abled, we were given a gripping, frightening and depressing account of the horrific attack at the Nova festival which killed 364 people and the kidnapping to Gaza of 40 more. Objects recovered after the massacre were used to recreate the festival site, including stages, sound and lighting systems, toilet booths riddled with bullet holes, burnt out cars and table upon table and endless coat racks with personal items of victims.

Depressingly, it evoked for me the feelings of sickness, disgust and anger that I felt when visiting concentration death camps and Holocaust museums. The only difference being that instead of shoes, I saw tables of sneakers; instead of proper dress hats, I saw sports and concert caps; and instead of suitcases, I saw knapsacks and backpacks.

The exhibition’s purpose is to be the first memorial to all the people who died at the festival and to not forget the hostages still cruelly and barbarically being kept prisoners in Gaza. I suspect each of you who visit this exhibit and memorial will have your own personal reaction.

Mark Levenson is on the Executive of the Jewish Agency for Israel; a member of the presidium of the Zionist General Council; vice president of the American Zionist Movement; and co-chair of the New Jersey-Israel Commission. Mark is also on the executive committee of Teach New Jersey and on the board of the Religious Zionists of America. He is a long-time activist for Israel and frequently speaks and writes on the topic.

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