Jake Berger (right, in blue and white striped t-shirt) - his personal highlight of the trip was meeting a beneficiary of charity Save A Child’s Heart
Israel – for whatever reason – is a fiercely discussed topic on UK university campuses. So this summer, as Freshers’ Week loomed, I wanted to get prepared with all the facts, ready to be part of the debate.
The StandWithUs UK Israel Summit 2013 was aimed at students who felt that an educational visit to Israel would help deal with some of the complicated issues first-hand, speaking face to face with people at the heart of them. It is all very well reading media stories about the West Bank or the controversy over Israeli settlements, but seeing the situation on the ground gives you another perspective.
Over a week we had talks ranging from a meeting with a senior diplomat in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Jerusalem, to a briefing from an intelligence analyst on the border with Syria about the on-going civil war there and how it could affect Israel.
The discussions gave us an inside view of what really goes on in Israel as opposed to the doom and gloom that we read about in the newspapers or see on television. This in itself will help us to discuss Israel with confidence with fellow students come the start of term.
A personal highlight was a visit to the amazing charity Save A Child’s Heart in the Wolfson Hospital. We met a woman there from Gaza City and her four-month-old daughter, who had just received life-saving heart surgery. Her words were very powerful and had a profound effect on me. She said: “Here we are not treated on the basis of race, religion or colour, only on the basis of humanity.”
We also paid a visit to the children’s house a few minutes away from the hospital, where I befriended a young Venezuelan boy who was recovering from his surgery and keen to play Angry Birds on my phone. Other highlights included a geo-strategic tour of Jerusalem and a briefing from an Arab-Israeli journalist.
As the start of university life approaches it is clear that many people will be unaware of the truly incredible things happening within the Jewish State, and I am under no illusions – I realise that there is extreme opposition for Israel and I will need to put forward Israel’s case. But what I took out of the trip most of all was that I now have the ability to not only be a defender of Israel from the extremists, but to be an advocate for peace. Even if it just means sharing some of my experiences with newfound friends, that will be worthwhile, won’t it?
Jake Berger studied at the Manchester Grammar School and will begin a degree in Psychology and Philosophy at St Catherine's College, Oxford in October.