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Until the unexpected war that started in July, the north of Israel was expecting a bumper tourism year. Israelis and foreign tourists were set to enjoy the many faces of the Galilee: the majesty of the hills, the tranquility of the Kinneret, water sports, holiday villages, music festivals and pilgrimages to the many sites that are testament to the history of Judaism and Christianity.
Nobody could expect that the focus of tourism in August would be to visit a war zone or that groups from Israel and abroad would show solidarity with the North by touring the towns and villages that had been under fire or army bases near the Lebanese border.
On Sunday last week, a group of Bnei Akiva students from Italy concluded their northern pilgrimage in Gan Ha'em in Haifa, after a tour organized by Milanese Cheryl Eman. The 17- and 18-year-old students had been to the northern border at Rosh Hanikra and then to Nahariya, where they donated an air-conditioning unit for the Bnei Akiva shelter.
The Italians joined the town's children in expressing their experiences in artwork, finishing the visit with a game of soccer.
Visiting the Engineering Corps Unit 601 near the border, they donated a number of backpacks, met with soldiers in their Puma armored vehicles and found out first-hand how it had been to live in these vehicles for two weeks during the fighting.
Concluding their tour of the North in Haifa, they stood on the Louie Promenade at points where tourists usually say "Wow!" when observing the stunning view of the bay and the city sprawled below. But this group looked at a different aspect of this view as the sites of the missile attacks were pointed out to them.
They left Haifa with a mission.
Stuart Palmer of ICAN (Israeli Citizens Action Network) told them about the importance of public diplomacy and the need to prepare themselves for their time at university. He presented each participant with a set of fact cards and answered questions so that hopefully the public in Italy will be better informed about Israel and our battle for survival.
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