Sen. L’Italien visits Israel with 10 Massachusetts senators

I was fortunate to be invited on a 10-day visit and study tour of the beautiful and amazing country of Israel in December along with 10 other Massachusetts senators. Our visit, which was hosted and paid for by the Jewish Community Relations Council of Boston and led by Senate President Stan Rosenberg, was from Dec. 3 to Dec. 13.

The tour was designed to give us, as legislators, an in-depth look into the political, security, and economic challenges and successes facing Israeli society and this region of the world.

As articulated by Senate President Stan Rosenberg, the challenge for our group was to take off our “American glasses” and try to absorb what we would see and hear from the people who live in this part of the Middle East from their perspectives.

Israel has experienced particular success in the area of start-up companies in the high-tech industry, and as such we spent a good deal of time exploring this area in search of ideas and relationships to bring back to Massachusetts. We visited many companies, including some with existing Massachusetts ties, that want to do business with Massachusetts and Massachusetts companies.

We also received many insights into Israeli’s vast and complex security operations, which I believe will be instructional and invaluable for us as legislators as we face the prospect of having to direct more and more of our state budget and resources for security in the coming years.

We were introduced to many perspectives of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, in an attempt to reveal for us the deeper layers and intricate nuances of this age-old dispute. This was done by providing for us a diverse selection of speakers and organizations on all sides of these complicated and emotional issues.

A summary of our trip written by Senate President Stan Rosenberg provides a brief sampling of some of the people and groups we heard from and places we visited, including…

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Group photo of Sen. L’Italien and other senators standing by the Mediterranean Sea in the ancient city of Jaffa near Tel Aviv.

Bethlehem Mayor Vera Baboun, who explained the frustrations of trying to govern her West Bank municipality that is largely bordered by Israeli controlled areas.

Rami Nazzal, a Muslim Jerusalemite, who works in the West Bank as a New York Times contributor and painted a picture of a Palestinian society that is both struggling to survive in some corners while economically prospering in others.

We traveled to Moshav Netiv Ha’asarah, a community wedged against the security barrier near the Gaza strip, to hear from residents about the daily security challenges they face, like making the difficult choice to demolish half of their community playground in order to make space for yet another security room, commonly known to us as a bomb shelter.

The group had a discussion with Colonel Benzi Gruber on the ethics and dilemmas of the battlefield, a gripping presentation on the extensive efforts made by the Israeli Defense Force to avoid collateral damage for humanitarian and ethical reasons, but also for strategic ones.

Despite the often muddled depiction that we were presented, we were not lacking for moments of inspiration and hope for the future. We were encouraged by Professor Dalia Fadila, the first woman appointed president of an institution of higher education in Israel, about her efforts to empower Israeli Arabs, especially women, through education.

We talked with the parents and administrators of the Yad BeYad (Hand in Hand) Bilingual school, who are dedicated to bringing together Jewish, Muslim and Christian children in a positive and natural learning environment.

Click here to view a summary report on some of the cities, places and groups we visited…