(Editor’s Note: Jason Tudor, GCMC Public Affairs Specialist, blogged all week from Israel. He traveled with the Program on Terrorism and Security Studies field studies trip March 5-11. This is his final entry. Students and many lecturers cannot be identified due to the nature of their professions.)
In wrapping up our trip to Israel, I need to give you the highlights from out final three stops. I also need to summarize the trip. I’ll do both.
First, the Golan Heights:
- We were taken to a number of spots in the Golan Heights, including one spot about 1 km from the Syrian border. From there we could see the United Nations checkpoint. My wireless phone was able to see several carrier companies in Jordan, Syria, Israel and a Palestinian company.
- Our tour guide took us to a number of memorial sites through the region. One of the sites included a memorial to 73 Israeli soldiers that died in helicopter crashes near the Lebanon border in 1997. At the time it was Israel’s worst military air disaster. Our tour guide was also the commander of those soldiers who died.
- Around former battle sites, there are areas surrounded by barbed wire and yellow signs indicating live mine fields. Our tour leader said the fields are simply too expensive to clean up. Fencing them off is the best solution right now.
- We stopped at a border crossing. The checkpoint was at a town called Ghajar under dispute by the Lebanese and the Israelis. There were several humvees that rolled by and the checkpoint seemed particularly stout. Now imagine 85 people just off two large buses with point-and-shoot cameras acting like tourists there.
- You gain a sense of what happened by seeing the country side, the hills and all the check points. Of course, when you combine that with this overwhelming sense of history in that region, it becomes even more real.
Next, near the Gaza strip:
- We were taken to a point on a hill near the town of Sderot. From there, Gaza City was about 2 km west. The fog obscured it that day, but we could clearly see over the border into Gaza.
- The most recent kassam rocket attack was “about two weeks ago, according to our guide from the Gaza trip, Maj. Chezy Deutsch, director of international relations for the Israeli Defense Force Home Front Command.
- Sderot takes many of these attacks because it’s the closest Israeli town to Gaza. It has a population of about 20,000. Its mayor, David Bouskila, talked to the PTSS in a community center auditorium. He said better than 7,000 of the 20,000 residents suffer Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. He said better than 74 percent of the town’s children are affected by PTSD.
- Not surprisingly, there are bomb shelters at every bus stop. The school has a bomb shelter. A local playground has a massive shelter that looks like a massive yellow snake.
- Later, we had lunch about Kibbutz Sa’ad, and received an explanation of life at a kibbutz. It’s certainly not for everyone. My wife, who lived in Israel for a year, explained the importance of the kibbutz to me as Israel started to grow as a nation. She said they don’t matter as much now.
Finally, at the Tel Aviv branch of the Israeli National Police:
- PTSS students were able to look at police equipment, including hardware used by the police’s bomb squad.
- Afterward, we received a briefing about how the police force works and the crux of its efforts reacting against terrorism. Our briefing pointed out that the Israeli National Police Force is a traditional police force, but it reacts to crimes of terrorism and works in conjunction with IDF, fire, and other authorities.
Many of the students on the trip had no concept about Israel and how it worked. So, each experience from the IDF to the police force was eye opening, including their flight on El Al to the country and coming home.
Further, students were out the door at 7:45 a.m. and usually not back until around 7 p.m. at night. Full days filled with counter-terror experts, government officials, and much more.
There, too, is something to be said about moving 85 people who speak three languages 2,000 miles from one country to another. Passports, hotel rooms, visas, transportation, translation, translation equipment, meals, shepherding them from one point to another … the GCMC has an amazing staff of people who make this happen. It’s a surpringly elegant movement, despite it’s sometimes Chitty Chitty Bang Bang starts and stops. There are too many people to name here, however, our Student Liaison Office deserves most of the credit for a fantastic trip that ensured that our PTSS students were able to get the most out of their opportunity in Israel.
Israel provided a once-in-lifetime opportunity for the PTSS security professionals to look at a nation who does that sort of thing 24 hours day- seven days a week with threats abounding at every border.
That wraps it up for Israel. See you for the next trip.