Witnessing a war of survival

Wiesenthal Center mission sees devastation, discovers courage as it distributes $615,000 to citizens in need.

wounded soldier 88 (photo credit: AP)
wounded soldier 88
(photo credit: AP)
Words alone cannot adequately explain what we saw and what we experienced during our humanitarian mission to stand with our brothers and sisters in Israel in their moment of great need. The mother standing over her wounded son in Sheba Hospital in Tel Hashomer, her eyes unable to hide the fear that her son may have come home from Lebanon alive, but the shrapnel that cut through his spine may never allow him to walk again. A young soldier we met in the hospital's lobby on our way to visit the wounded from Lebanon. He was a member of the elite special units that were the first to respond to the Hizbullah attacks. His job was to locate and spot the Hizbullah positions for the air force. Hobbling on his crutches, he was leaving the hospital to attend the funeral of his two friends from his unit who did not make it. These brave young men and women are Israel's best and brightest. They did not have to die. It was not their war. It was a war forced upon them by those who want to destroy the Jewish state. The northern cities we visited - Nahariya, Kiryat Shmona, the holy city of Safed, where the kabbalists and mystics sought solace, are today virtual ghost towns. The bustling cafes of the beautiful port city of Haifa are deserted, the life sucked out of her by the cruel barrage of rockets deliberately aimed at civilian population centers. On Wednesday, we arrived in the seaside resort town of Nahariya, which has absorbed more than 400 rocket attacks. We arrived at City Hall for an 11 a.m. appointment with the mayor when the sirens sounded. We were told to immediately go down to the bomb shelter, three stories below, where we found emergency personnel and calm, efficient volunteers gathered and manning the phones and computers. We later heard the Katyusha rocket hit an apartment building just a few blocks away. Our group included a cardiologist and an Auschwitz survivor. Both were visibly shaken, as we all were by what had just occurred. But for us, it would soon be over - our funds had been distributed and our bus was now leaving soon for the relative safety of Jerusalem. For those left in the northern cities, there is no choice. This is what has become their daily struggle. We saw it all - the hospitals that were deliberately targeted and hit, a classroom in Sderot which was struck just minutes before the young students were scheduled to arrive. We toured the devastated streets of the Old City of Safed and helped the staff of Yeshivat Hesder in Kiryat Shmona deliver fresh food to families entering yet another week in bomb shelters. This is a war for Israel's very survival. A war targeting its civilian populations. A war that no country would tolerate. A war that Israel must win. These sentiments were driven home in the story that the cabinet secretary told our group during our meeting in the Prime Minister's Office: Mrs. Michaeli, a mother who had been living with her five children for weeks in a bomb shelter, demanded from a government representative who visited, that she needed to speak with the prime minister urgently. When Prime Minister Ehud Olmert heard the request, he phoned the woman. She said to him, "Mr. Prime Minister, conditions here are unbearable. There is no air, the facilities are unsanitary and I'm living here with my five children. But I called to tell you do not stop - keep doing what you're doing - there is no other way for all of us!" Rabbi Marvin Hier, dean and founder; Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean; Rabbi Meyer H. May, executive director, of the Simon Wiesenthal Center.