"Of all the informative meetings while in Israel, being witness to a terrorist attack in motion offers a unique perspective like no other," Tweeted Liberal MP Gerry Byrne.
Around 9 p.m. Israel time on Tuesday, Byrne and a group of Canadian parliamentarians were forced to take cover in one of many bomb shelters across Israel when a siren warned of missiles fired from Gaza headed for Jerusalem, the nation's capital. While all emerged safely, the experience -- and the knowledge that several missiles landed in the city's vicinity -- will not be soon forgotten.
As Conservative MP Bob Zimmer told CTV: "I think for us as Canadians we take peace for granted at times, and to experience what a Jerusalem citizen -- an Israeli citizen -- has to experience not on an everyday basis but on a regular basis makes you appreciate being Canadian." Gerry Byrne also added via Twitter: "I saw Israelis -- Jews, Muslims, Christians -- gathered in one room waiting out the attack without hatred on their lips."
The group, comprised of five MPs and two Senators, was an all-party delegation on a fact-finding mission to Israel hosted by the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs. After a careful analysis of the heightened security situation, the delegation agreed to proceed with the itinerary with the single adjustment of moving a meeting with a leading Palestinian academic and pollster from Ramallah to Jerusalem.
Every CIJA trip participant is provided access to a broad spectrum of opinion within Israel, engaging in open and wide-ranging discussions with Israeli parliamentarians, journalists, academics, and other experts -- both Jewish and Arab. However, no matter however insightful and informative, those discussions cannot communicate the severity of the situation faced by millions of Israelis who are forced this week to take shelter from missile barrages stemming out of Gaza. Whether acquiring its target or shot down en route, every missile fired at Israel achieves the primary objective of Hamas: to terrorize Israelis.
Nor can meetings with experts adequately convey the very real challenges and suffering experienced by innocent Palestinians forced to live under Hamas rule, who are no less victims of Hamas' reckless aggression than are Israelis under missile fire.
However, the siren wails and their dash to a bomb shelter provided our parliamentarians with a glimpse into the world of insecurity faced by far too many in the region. Moreover, it reveals one of numerous paradoxes of life in Israel, a country remarkably like Canada in a neighbourhood that could not be more unlike Canada's.
Events such as those of the past week make it clear that Israel is a modern, liberal democracy in an ongoing state of war with neighbours that openly call for its destruction and replacement with a strict Islamist state, similar to the theocratic regime we see in Iran. The actions of Hamas, a terrorist group, cannot be viewed in isolation from the broader rise of ISIS, Al-Nusrah, and Al-Qaeda, all of which -- despite their differences -- share the same violent vision for the Middle East.
As we saw firsthand through the eyes of our all-party group, whether identifying as Left, Right, or somewhere in-between, one cannot fail to recognize the serious challenges facing Israelis in a region as hostile and volatile as the Middle East. As the Canadian Jewish community prays and hopes for an end to Hamas' missile fire and a return to a state of calm and stability that benefits people on both sides, we must echo Mr. Zimmer's poignant remarks: being Canadian is among the greatest gifts in an often-dangerous world.