Just days before an attack by a Hamas operative injured three IDF troops along the Gaza border, European ambassadors and diplomats were given a special tour of the region by My Truth to mark five years since Operation Protective Edge.
The group was led by St.-Sgt. (res.) Matan Dansker, who took part in the Battle of Shuja’iyya where 13 soldiers, including Oron Sha’ul, were killed. Participants – representatives from Spain, Belgium, Austria, France and the EU – also learned about Hamas tunnels from an IDF soldier on active duty dealing with the threat.
The tour is part of the effort by My Truth to systematically change Europe’s attitude toward Israel, by presenting a full picture of Israel’s defense against terrorist organizations in Gaza.
My Truth was established following Operation Protective Edge in 2014 by Avihai Shorshan in response to the anti-Israel bias of reports during the war, in order to give voice to the troops that took part.
The organization has documented dozens of testimonies from reservists in recent months describing the use of human shields to carry out terrorist attacks, as well as other human rights violations.
The participants in the tour included the Austrian Ambassador to Israel Martin Weiss, EU Political and Press Attache Erik Jessen, EU Regional Security Adviser Rinas Bendzius, Belgian Minister-Counselor Pascal Buffin, French First Secretary Mathieu Jagour, Spanish Political Counselor Ricardo Anino and Austrian Consul Johannes Koherr.
“When you’re there along the border, it’s not a theoretical issue like when you’re reading it in the newspapers or in Tel Aviv or Jerusalem,” Weiss told The Jerusalem Post after the tour. “It brings it much closer to home when you meet people who live there... you see how immediate it is. And it’s really important to realize how close to home it is.”
Weiss, who has visited the Gaza border region in the past, explained to the Post that the tour gave him the ability to see things he’s never seen before.
“It’s a different feeling when you’re right there,” he said, explaining that it’s another thing to hear it from those who experienced the war between the IDF and terrorist groups in the Strip. “Nobody has the whole truth – the complexity of it is lost most of the time – but these soldiers have their own stories to tell, and it’s a whole other thing when you hear the personal side to it.”
Participants went to several key locations across from the Hamas-controlled Strip, including an observation point at Kibbutz Netiv Ha’asara, where they were given a presentation by a reserve soldier who discussed the political-security history of Gaza and Israel as well as the IDF’s border wall project against Hamas tunnels. The participants were also able to see the short distance between communities in the area and the Gaza border.
Participants also met with a resident of Kibbutz Nahal Oz, Ya’el Lakhyani, and were shown how civilian life can be disrupted at a moment’s notice with incoming rocket sirens forcing them to find shelter within nine seconds.
At Kibbutz Be’erot Yitzhak, the participants met with an active duty soldier who explained the ongoing threat of dealing with Hamas tunnels as well as giving a presentation of the current security situation. They were also able to look out over one of the spots where thousands of Palestinians demonstrate on a weekly basis, as well as viewing a Hamas camp for children for weapon training.
There was also a stop at the Black Arrow Memorial overlooking Shuja’iyya, where a soldier who fought in the battle there five years ago shared his personal story as well as a wider context of the battle including its consequences.
Shuja’iyya is one of the most densely populated areas in the Gaza Strip, with 92,000 people living in an area of six sq. km. The IDF and Hamas’s Izzadin al-Qassam Brigades fought a three-day battle from July 20-23, 2014, leading to the death of 13 soldiers.
Five years later, the body of one soldier killed in the battle, Sgt. Oron Shaul, remains in the hands of Hamas.
“As we mark five years since Protective Edge and the UN and EU biased reports following it, we are today correcting the injustice done to IDF soldiers and to Israel,” said Shorshan. “Bringing foreign diplomats to the Israel-Gaza border paves the way for additional tours, delegations and activities.”