(Editor’s note: Pittsburgh native David Eisner, while on a family trip to Israel last week, took time to join a short mission of American Jewish leaders to the war zone. What follows are excerpts from an extensive email Eisner wrote in which he recounts his
Today, I joined Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, and a small mission of leaders from three religious movements, federations and Zionist
In addition to briefings and meetings with most of Israel’s top political and military leaders, as well as Egyptian diplomats, we visited victims of the terror and war of the past days and years.
Today’s activities were focused on visiting — and giving comfort to — some of the residents, soldiers and victims who have suffered so much this past week and, in many cases, several years.
The [Israeli] government seems to believe that they accomplished their major goals of “de-capitation and deterrence” (though, admittedly, success of deterrence is only judged in the rear view mirror), and that the risk/reward of doing more was not there. They also believe that [Egyptian President Mohamed] Morsi passed a critical first test of his leadership; when faced with the conflict between his ideology and reality, he chose the realistic path (no doubt with much pressure on him and his aid package from the United States).
In Ashkelon, we met with Mayor Benny Bakni in his situation room. While he supports the government and army, most of his constituents believe the cease-fire deal was the “same agreement we signed four years ago.” In fact, two weeks after the 2008 Operation Cast Lead, rockets hit an Ashkelon grade school (thankfully, on Shabbat). Today, an hour before we arrived, a rocket was fired at Ashkelon. Most buildings, including hospitals and schools are not secure; children and adults have 20 to 25 seconds to get to shelter.
At the hospital, Barzilai Medical Center, which is six miles from Gaza, we met some of the doctors and patients, including a man (David ben Yocheved) who lost his leg from shrapnel while running for cover earlier this week.
We left Ashkelon, drove past Sderot, on our way to Beer Sheva. There, we visited the Soroka Hospital, which serves as the tertiary hospital for 1 million people, including (ironically) serious cases from Gaza.
We met with the director general and deputy director general of the hospital in their situation room. They had to closed eight operating rooms, and converted closets to operating rooms. Dozens of soldiers came to the hospital to help to move patients. … The hospital operates a day care center, so doctors and nurses could come/stay.
The hospital usually has two to 10 residents of Gaza as patients at any given time, though Hamas needs to approve care — and use it as a weapon (reward and punishment). This past week, the hospital had 299 war-related patients (one-third stress and two-thirds physical, including 60 soldiers).
We visited several patients. The most memorable was 19-year-old Doron ben Ilana, from the Golani Brigade, who had a missile explode near him and got a leg full of shrapnel. He said that he and his “friends” (i.e., comrades) were ready and anxious to clear out the terrorist swamp of Gaza. I also spoke to his mother and girlfriend.
These people in southern Israel have suffered so badly for so long. It is impossible for any of us to even imagine what it must be like.
From Beer Sheva, we drove back to Jerusalem where we were welcomed by President Shimon Peres at his residence. We spent over an hour with the president. He continually expressed his gratitude for our visit to Israel. Ever optimistic, Peres spoke about the possibilities that the situation may present. He also expressed his gratitude to the U.S. government — President Obama in particular — for the support it had shown.