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This past week, a group of 17 activists participated in the ZF’s ‘Israel: The Reality’ tour covering central and southern Israel, accompanied by the ZF’s ever-wonderful Events Manager Dalia Hajioff, ZF Board member Jonny Taylor as well as professional tour guides and drivers.

The packed and engaging programme comprised an extensive schedule lasting 4 days.

Day 1 began with a briefing in Jerusalem’s City Hall by Deputy Mayor Fleur Hassan-Nahoum, who briefed the activists on the Jerusalem city plan for both Jewish and Arab populations. This was followed by a visit to a renowned bookshop in East Jerusalem and then on to Ramallah and the new Palestinian city of Rawabi where they activists were accompanied by Riman Barakat, the founding CEO of Experience Palestine, a company that arranges tours and itineraries for international delegations and missions. Riman has, since early on in her career, been involved in peace-building initiatives around the Israel-Palestinian conflict.

Day 2 saw the activists heading south to Israel’s Erez checkpoint and crossing on the Gaza border where they were briefed by officers of the IDF’s Coordination of Government Activities in the Territories unit (COGAT) who explained the routine and strategy of the IDF towards the civilian population of Gaza. Following this was a visit to Kibbutz Alumim on the Gaza border, as well as to the city of Sderot and the Iron Dome. In Sderot the activists met with Deputy Mayor Elad Kalimi who spoke about the new trauma ‘Resilience Centre’ which is currently under construction and which will be able to better treat the vast number of children and adults who suffer with PTSD from the relentless rocket attacks from terrorists in Gaza. Also included was a visit to “Pets Corner”, a facility where children can unwind and relax in advance of therapy sessions. This facility will be enlarged and improved in the new “Resilience Centre”.

Please note that the ZF are currently running their ‘Smiles for Sderot’ appeal which raises funds for Sderot’s new ‘Resilience Centre’. To find out more or to donate, just click here.

Day 3  commenced with a revealing address from the UK’s Deputy Ambassador to Israel, Mark Power, who spoke about his previous roles including that of Strategic Negotiator on security matters at the JCPOA talks with Iran, as well as his role as Producer at Channel 4 News, sharing his experiences dealing with Israeli news issues involving Jon Snow and Mark Regev, who at the time was Prime Minister Netanyahu’s spokesman.
The trip then headed to Judea and Samaria / the West Bank where a busy schedule ensued, visiting the settlements of Elon Moreh, Har Bracha and Ariel, passing through the Arab village Hawarra.  The group also visited the Barkan Industrial Park where they spoke with Palestinian and Israeli employees. Then it was onto the Christian voluntary programme at the Hayovel vineyard, as well as briefings at the strategic look out points of Pedu’el  and Mounts Kabir and Gerizim.

Day 4 began with a briefing from Major Keren Hajioff, head of Social Media in the IDF Spokespersons Unit who explained the up-to-date situation and her responsibility for the role of the IDF’s social media and digital messaging, which has an increasing importance in the online war of words and electronic campaigns. Then followed a walking tour of Tel Aviv, led by Isaac Dror, Director of the Training and Education Department of the Independence Hall Museum where David Ben Gurion read out the Declaration of Independence on 14thMay 1948. The walking tour visited the Shalom Tower, once the tallest building in the Middle East where the activists were able to look at a model of the first houses in Tel Aviv.

With sincere thanks to the activists who participated in this tour, the drivers, the guides and of course, Dalia H for making it happen and Jonny T for his invaluable insight..