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Israel Takes Diplomats on Tour along Gaza Border

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SDEROT, Israel – While Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was in Washington this week, his deputy foreign minister, Tzipi Hotovely, was taking foreign diplomats on a tour of Israel's southern border with the Gaza Strip.

"This is my duty, I think, to let them experience Israel to see the real challenges on the ground," Hotovely told CBN News.

Sderot was one of the stops on the tour. Known as the bomb shelter capital of the world, nearly every home and school, even playgrounds and bus stops in this city, have their own shelters. That's because residents have only a few seconds to take cover when the red alert sounds.

One stop: Mishkan Ela, a community center named for a teenager named Ella Abukasis.

Ella was just 17 in 2005 when she was killed by a terrorist rocket. When the red alert siren signaled an incoming rocket, she threw herself over her 10-year-old brother, saving his life. Ella died a few days later from shrapnel wounds.

Israel uprooted about 9,000 Israelis from thriving communities in the Gaza Strip in 2005 in a unilateral pullout known as the disengagement. It was a concession of territory designed to bring peace with the Palestinians.

Since then, more than 15,000 terrorist rockets and projectiles have rained down on civilians in communities close to the border.

"This was my message at the beginning of the day," Hotovely explained. "[In] 2005 when Israel completed the disengagement from Gaza, people believed that Gaza will become a Middle East Singapore, and it was based on a false narrative, false beliefs."  

After the rockets came tunnels dug under Israel's border – another means to launch terror attacks against Israelis.

"It was important for me to show the complexity of a country that has a real battle, a real war with the Hamas organization, but from the other hand is doing everything in order to give humanitarian aid to the population of Gaza," Hotovely explained.

She was referring to the 400 truckloads – thousands of tons – of food, medicine and other goods that pass through the Kerem Shalom Crossing everyday into Gaza, and yet attacks against Israel continue.

"Unfortunately as long as Iran is sponsoring Hamas, we're having…very aggressive actions of Hamas against [the] Israeli population," she said.

Meanwhile, President Trump has yet to unveil his Israeli-Palestinian peace plan.

For decades, previous plans included a demand for an Israeli withdrawal from most, if not all, of the West Bank. But Hotovely said any talk of a pullout from Judea and Samaria is a nonstarter.

"It's about time that the international community will realize that when they're offering the same thing in Judea and Samaria, they're basically offering (a) second Gaza in Judea and Samaria. No Israeli is willing to get rockets on his kindergartens. No Israeli is willing to have another horrible place like Gaza (on) our eastern border," she said.

And in such a scenario, she said, no one wins.

"You have to remember that this is a lose-lose situation because when you're offering this, you're basically offering also to the Palestinians to be controlled again by a terror organization."

Hotovelly, a mother of two young daughters, said all Israelis want real peace.

"We all pray for peace.  I don't think there's anyone in Israel that doesn't want peace, and true peace to happen, but Israel paid too many times a very precious price for having, I would say, big hopes that were not based on reality," she said.

And as long as Iran is backing terror groups on Israel's borders, that won't happen, Hotovely said.

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About The Author

Julie Stahl

Julie Stahl is a correspondent for CBN News in the Middle East. A Hebrew speaker, she has been covering news in Israel full-time for more than 20 years. Julie’s life as a journalist has been intertwined with CBN – first as a graduate student in Journalism, then as a journalist with Middle East Television (METV) when it was owned by CBN from 1989-91, and now with the Middle East Bureau of CBN News in Jerusalem since 2009. As a correspondent for CBN News, Julie has covered Israel’s wars with Gaza, rocket attacks on Israeli communities, stories on the Jewish communities in Judea, Samaria, and the