Now back in Los Angeles, I'm more convinced than ever that my shuttle journalism peacekeeping mission to Israel was a great success. Let it be noted for the record that:
a) The rocket fire ended just before I arrived on Aug. 12 and resumed shortly after I departed on Aug. 19, and
b) It cannot be proven that my stories evoking sympathy for Israelis in the western Negev were not the prime reason for the lack of fighting while I was there. Maybe, just maybe, my emotion-wrought journalism reached the depths of the hearts of the fighters in the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, Hamas's "military wing."
As part of my peacekeeping trip, I spent the night of Aug. 13 at Kibbutz Nir Am, which is next to Sderot and about 3,000 feet from the Gaza border. Some friends of mine from Los Angeles invited me. They were on a solidarity mission with their rabbi, Avraham Zajac, who runs the Chabad SOLA synagogue in Los Angeles. That evening, we kibbutzed it up, grilling some chicken, enjoying pickles and hummus, and sipping on some nice cease-fire scotch, courtesy of Johnny Walker. That night, in fact, was the one point where I feared my peacekeeping efforts may fail. As a 72-hour cease fire came to an end, Hamas launched a few Qassam rockets into Israel. The trail of those rockets was visible in the horizon as we drove into the kibbutz. As we sat around the picnic table that night, we could also hear the distant booms of Israeli airstrikes. It was not to last, though, for too long, as a five-day cease fire agreement was quickly reached.
Earlier that day, my two buddies, their two buddies and Rabbi Zajac greeted Israeli troops who were stationed at their desert staging areas outside Gaza, spent time with an Ethopian-born Israeli woman whose husband was killed in Gaza three weeks ago, visited injured troops in hospitals and spent around $5,000 at stores in southern Israel to help with the local economy's dramatic loss of business. Here are the stories I wrote from Israel and below are some photos from the brief journey:
PHOTOS: Aug. 12
Hours away from landing in Israel, two young American Jews making aliyah look downright excited
Israeli President Reuven Rivlin and Jewish Agency chairman Natan Sharansky greet hundreds of new immigrants
Left to right: Yuval Zimmerman, Eric Zimmerman, Rabbi Abraham Zajac, Eran Weiss, Omri Cohen and Basi Zajac (front)
Parents in Sderot relax as their children safely play inside a JNF-built indoor recreation center
Even in the middle of a cease-fire, store owners in Sderot closed early due to a lack of business