We met with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert immediately following his meeting with US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. The prime minister was very strong, very confident and very determined. He explained that Israel seeks a paradigm shift vis a vis Hizbullah in Southern Lebanon, and that they will not halt their military action until this is achieved.
We found Israel's citizens totally in support of this. When Defense Minister Amir Peretz was campaigning for office, he wanted a NIS two billion reduction in defense spending so there would be more for social welfare. Now he is defense minister and purports that there must be much more for defense and much less for social welfare.
This is where the American community must come in. Our system moved nearly 7,800 kids from the North to safe summer camps in center of country. The northern cities will need a lot of extra resources to recover from this crisis, and the Jewish Agency for Israel has reopened its Victims of Terror Fund. Our system also moved 1,200 olim from the North to safer locales in the middle of country, and new olim are still arriving every day.
We arrived at a place in the heart of Haifa where a missile had hit just one hour earlier. We dug out ball bearings from a destroyed car and realized up-close that these rockets are made to kill and terrify. The enemy doesn't care about protecting the Lebanese people. They want to kill Israelis and spread chaos. The rocket launchers are in homes and mosques and schools.
Israel is committed to stop them. At the apartment building where a Katyusha hit, we were briefed by the chief of police. When he finished, a man on the sixth floor stuck his head out and yelled to us: "Don't worry about us - Israel is strong!" We responded with cheers. The mayor of Haifa thanked us for coming at a time when 30 to 40 percent of the residents have left, and asked us tell people to come visit them.
Yesterday our group packed cartons full of toys and games for children in bomb shelters. This war is a citizens' war. They are the front line. Their boys and girls in uniform are fully engaged and putting their lives on the line. We are not heroes for being here; the average man on the street is the hero.
Our responsibility is clear. Our advocacy, our presence and our resources are needed. As always, we stand with Israel - now and forever.
Steven B. Nasatir is the president of the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago, who visited Israel last week with a United Jewish Communities Solidarity Mission.