Visiting delegation in Jerusalem during rocket attacks
StoryMetropolitan King County Councilmember Larry Phillips received a very unique perspective on the turmoil in the Middle East as part of an international delegation that was in Jerusalem at the start of the rocket attacks into Israel from Gaza.
“Seeing firsthand the challenges facing Israel today has been an intense, extraordinary and compelling experience,” said Phillips. “Spending time with a wide variety of Israeli and Arab leaders representing the many voices of the region has deepened my understanding of the issues they face, and just how elusive effective solutions remain.”
Phillips was part of a bipartisan delegation of prominent American city, county, and state officials who spent a week in Israel for intensive dialogue and briefings through Project Interchange, an educational institute of the American Jewish Committee (AJC). Phillips was joined by State House and State Senate leaders, as well as County Commissioners representing the states of Colorado, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Michigan, Nebraska, New Mexico, Ohio, and Washington.
The seminar, funded entirely by Project Interchange and not taxpayers, provided policymakers with a first-hand understanding of Israel, its rich and dynamic society, and often-times complicated reality. The trip included meetings with influential figures across the political and social spectrum, including senior Israeli, Palestinian, and Israeli Arab leaders. The delegation traveled to Ramallah, where they met with Palestinian Authority Prime Minister, Dr. Salam Fayyad. In Jerusalem, the delegation met with Mark Regev, international spokesman for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
The delegation traversed much of Israel, including Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, the Northern border, the Dead Sea, and Ramallah for a first-hand look at Israel. A scheduled visit to Sderot, an Israeli town just three kilometers from Gaza, did not take place, due to the barrage of heavy rocket attacks from Gaza into Israel. As a result of the rocket attacks, the delegation experienced warning sirens in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, but dealt calmly with the situation.
Despite the intensity of the circumstances, the seminar proceeded, with briefings and site visits ranging from Israel's strategic environment to the country's position as a worldwide high tech leader, to sharing best practices on fostering economic development and the absorption and integration of immigrants.
Unique site visits and meetings included the EMC Center of Excellence and its anti-fraud command center and the Microsoft R&D Center. Several sessions dealing with diversity issues, including civil rights, minority communities, and the rule of law took place, as well as sessions on fostering bilateral high tech and economic initiatives.
“During this difficult period, Project Interchange was honored to host this important delegation of prominent American officials to Israel,” said Sam Witkin, Executive Director of Project Interchange. “These officials represent a diverse set of states and constituencies from across the United States, but they share a common interest in job creation, high tech innovation, and immigrant and minority communities. They were also witness to the complex realities and challenges facing Israel. We hope that this educational experience provided a platform for deeper understanding of the opportunities and challenges facing the region.”
Councilmember Phillips (back row 2nd from the right) with the Project Interchange/AJC delegation of U.S. officials during a briefing part of a week-long educational seminar offering first-hand exposure to the complexities facing Israel and the region. During the seminar, delegates toured the Western Wall Tunnels, accompanied by the Chief Rabbi of the Western Wall