I have just returned from leading the first Liberal Democrat Friends of Israel (LDFI) delegation to the Middle East in over four years.
Unlike the Conservative or Labour Friends of Israel, we do not have substantial funding, nor any paid professional staff, and thus the feat of arranging and leading a delegation was quite a challenge. However, with the help of LDFI volunteer Sam Barnett, our vice chairman, Jonathan Davies, the Israeli Embassy in the UK and friends like Danny Myers, Arnold Roth and Bicom’s Israel office, the trip was made possible and a great success.
LDFI president, Sir Alan Beith MP, who noted that “there isn’t a single Jew in my constituency” was one of three MPs to join the delegation, which included a peer, a target seat candidate and a member of the Lib Dem Leadership Programme.
The delegation’s day started at 8 am and often finished by 1 am the following morning. We visited the rocket-ridden town of Sderot in the south, the Golan and Lebanese border in the north and most places in between. Our delegates had lunch with a senior Fatah operative in Ramallah in the West Bank, visited Yad Vashem, the Weizmann Institute and met the father of a teenager who was murdered in the 2001 Sbarro Jerusalem bombing.
We toured the security fence with the fence’s architect and we ate in a Druze village. We heard the government line, the Palestinian line, and over Friday night dinner in Jerusalem, we heard the ordinary Israeli citizen’s line, which was varied and diverse, much to the surprise of the delegates.
Our delegates, some of whom had previously visited Gaza with Christian Aid and CAABU, all came back grateful to LDFI for giving them the “balance” they needed. They all expressed appreciation that the issues many thought were black and white were actually more like shades of grey, and sometimes even impossible to interpret.
The trip confirmed that the power of seeing things firsthand cannot be underestimated. I just hope we don’t have to wait another four years to take our next delegation!