American Technion Society Detroit leaders visit Israel during the height of the conflict.
As the conflict between Israel and Gaza escalated, American Technion Society (ATS) Detroit leaders Larry Jackier and Scott Leemaster followed the news 24/7 and pledged their support from afar — but still felt the need to do more. Within days, the two put together a Solidarity Delegation to Israel with 15 Detroiters that provided an insider’s account of the current conflict. The trip took place Aug. 10-13, during the height of the conflict.
“We went because we felt the need to be in Israel, to be there physically,” said Jackier, chairman of the Technion International Board of Governors. “Israelis were feeling isolated and alone. When Israel is under attack from every direction — from Hamas and the media — we need to be present. Scott and I weren’t worried about rockets flying.”
Others on the mission included Larry’s wife, Eleanor Jackier, and son-in-law Ron Ferber of West Bloomfield as well as Larry’s sons Seth and Ron. The delegation made several stops during their four days in Israel, the first at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa, where they toured projects to keep students safe, such as the D. Dan and Betty Kahn Technion Protective Shield Fence, and learned what still needs to be done to secure the campus.
About 600-700 Technion students serve on active duty, and 350 are from towns in Israel’s south. The delegation attended a panel moderated by Sara Katzir, director of the Beatrice Weston Unit for the Advancement of Students. The panel included three students serving on active duty and another from Israel’s south who was not called up to serve because of a previous injury.
Katzir and her team help students with the transitions that occur in times of conflict. The Technion, she said, has a high percentage of officers in Israel’s armed forces. And because officers are not allowed to postpone or shorten their reserve duty, abrupt transitions become the norm.
“One day you are studying for an exam and worrying about your average,” she said. “The next day you are on the frontline. And when the war is over, back to studies as if you were never away.”
On behalf of the students, Katzir said, “We know that we are not alone when we see you here and feel your support … Thank you for being here and for listening.”
Ron Ferber was inspired by a meeting with Gen. Amos Horev, former Technion president and one of the fathers of the IDF. Now 90, Horev spoke with delegates about the media’s claims of Israel using an inappropriate amount of force against Gaza.
“We learned that the IDF found 32 tunnels into Israel, each costing $3 million and three years to build,” Ron said. “In Israel, all buildings have bomb shelters to protect citizens, but in Gaza, only tunnels. How is it possible they didn’t build any shelters for their citizens?”
The press coverage of Operation Protective Edge was “turning logic on its head,” said Leemaster, ATS Detroit Chapter president and current national ATS president. “It was disproportionally against Israel when Israel was only defending itself.”
Ron added, “Later in the trip, I watched while the loud speakers that announce rocket fire were being tested. I saw a 70-year-old woman jump the first second those speakers came on. The look on her face told the story.”
After the Technion, the group visited the Neve David Cemetery in Haifa for a brief memorial service at the grave of Sean Carmeli, an IDF Lone Soldier from Texas who was killed in the conflict.
Later that afternoon, the group toured the Tel Aviv offices of defense company Elbit, where they met Technion graduate Haim Rousso, executive vice president for engineering and technology excellence.
Next, the group stopped at Tel Hashomer Hospital with gifts for the soldiers wounded in Gaza.
“We told the soldiers that they are not only fighting for the State of Israel, but also for the entire Jewish people. Their reaction to our visit was incredible,” Jackier said. “We told them that there are many more Americans who feel the same way.”
During the whirlwind visit, delegates met with high-level thought leaders and visited an Iron Dome missile-defense battery in Ashdod; they also met student reservists and Israelis living under threat of rocket fire. Many Technion grads helped to design the Iron Dome and keep it updated.
“Thank you for your help,” he said. “Without the Iron Dome, we would not be where we are today. Iron Dome changed the game.”
In Moshav Netiv HaAssara, located on Israel’s border with the Gaza Strip, the group met with two residents who shared the daily struggles they and others face with constant rocket fire and complex security issues while trying to live their lives. Residents there are lucky to get 10 or 15 seconds warning before a rocket hits. Their biggest problem is the mortar shells fired from Gaza, which don’t trigger any alarms. The week before the cease-fire, mortar shells rained down on that community, where home is often the least safe place to be.
One resident, an immigrant from the U.K. who has lived there since 1982, said when she first moved to the community, thousands of Palestinians lived there and worked there, and both Jews and Palestinians got along. “But when Hamas came to power, that all stopped,” she said.
Leemaster had been to Moshav Netiv HaAsara a few years ago. Since that time, he noticed that the level of stress and anxiety has jumped exponentially.
“One resident could barely keep her hysteria in check,” he said. “That is something that is not covered in the newspapers.”
The delegates also visited Sderot, another town in the south. At the police station, they saw a huge collection of spent rockets that had fallen in the local area. They also visited a children’s playground where bomb shelters in the shape of caterpillars provide safety for children in the event of a code red alert.
On the final evening, delegates heard from Michael Oren, former ambassador of Israel to the United States, who thanked them for coming and for supporting the Technion and Israel. Oren said that while Israelis are prone to holding differing opinions on any given issue, they are now united.
“The Israelis are clear and know what needs to be done — they are not waiting for world opinion,” Leemaster said.
“Right now, there are more Christians than Jews traveling to Israel, and younger Jews seem less supportive of the Jewish State,” he said. “It’s troubling.”
The mission that Jackier and Leemaster put together was not on the calendar.
“It was a sudden decision … to teach us the facts on the ground as opposed to what the media tells us,” Leemaster said.
He added that the Solidarity Delegation has enabled its participants “to be ambassadors of the Technion to the U.S., to come back to our communities and explain the real situation,” he added. “We need to give people the true picture, not what they’re seeing on TV.”