Learning the lessons of war

Derek Montague
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Labrador MP has to shelter from rocket attacks in Israel

While the rest of Canada is hearing about the ongoing conflict between Palestine and Israel through media outlets and Internet sites, Labrador MP Yvonne Jones got a first-hand experience this summer.

Yvonne Jones during her visit to Israel

Between July 6-14, Jones and a contingent of other Canadian officials, including Humber-St.Barbe-Baie Verte MP Gerry Byrne, were in the Jewish State to witness what was happening.

The Canadian delegation arrived at the invitation of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs.  For more than a week they traveled to cities like Tel Aviv and Jerusalem to get a better understanding of life in Israel.

But during their visit, Jones and others unexpectedly found themselves in the middle of rocket attacks from Hamas. On four separate occasions, Jones had to scramble for cover as sirens blared out warnings to citizens. For Jones, who had never been to Israel before, it was an eye-opening experience.

“… I could never, even in my mind, prepare myself for what was happening in that country at this particular time,” said Jones.

“On one occasion, we actually had to pull the bus off the road and get off the bus and into a ditch … and just as we did, the missiles went off in a field right directly across from where we were.”

The first time Jones heard the alarming noise was July 8 in the City of David. She was in a crowd of nearly 200 people gathered to watch an evening light show. When the sirens began wailing, indicating a rocket attack, Jones was caught off guard.

“The sirens went off, and I had no idea what these sirens meant. Up to this point, we had not been briefed on what to do in case of a siren, or what it would mean,” said Jones.

“We thought we were fairly safe in Jerusalem, because there had been very little rocket missile attacks that were reaching that distance …”

Fortunately, Jones was sitting alongside Canadian Sen. Salma Ataullahjan, a native of Pakistan, who recognized the sirens immediately.

“She had been through two civil wars in Pakistan and she was with me, and as soon as the siren sounded, she grabbed me by the hand and pulled me,” recalled Jones. “And everybody was running and I said, ‘What’s going on?’ She said, ‘That’s a siren of war.’”

Security escorted the group to an ancient crypt that is used as a bomb shelter when needed. The space was jammed with people waiting for the threat to pass. There was barely enough room to fit everybody into the crypt.

Throughout her eight-day trip, Jones got to witness the tension that many Israelis carried with them in their lives. People could be working and doing their daily routine when, at a moment’s notice, they have to run for cover.

“While you can walk around one hour and it looks like everything is normal — people are going to work, people are going to school — in the next hour, you can practically see everything empty out,” said Jones.

“When the sirens sound, people take cover. They’re really aware of what’s happening in their country and they’re always on guard.”

While Jones’ experiences were rooted in the Israeli point of view, she and members of the delegation also learned about what’s happening in Palestine, where day-to-day life is filled with uncertainties.

A group of Palestinians spoke to the delegation about the price being paid by civilians in the Israel-Hamas conflict.

“They were briefing us in terms of how Hamas works and how the country functions, what the governance structure is and where local people are, how they’re caught in the middle of a dispute that has been launched by Hamas in Palestine and so many civilians are being killed,” said Jones.

After learning about the plight of many Syrian civilians also caught up in that country’s civil war, Jones has come to feel that Canada should take in more Syrian refuges.

“I’ll be doing whatever I can to encourage the government of Canada to reach out a hand in friendship to help so many of these women, children and men who find themselves caught in the middle of bombs, and missiles and gunfire every day,” she said.


Organizations: Hamas, Centre for Israel

Geographic location: Israel, Jerusalem, Jewish Tel Aviv Pakistan David Palestine Canada

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