IDF crosses over into Lebanon
July/August 2019 marks thirteen years since the month long 2nd Lebanon War. Ehud Olmert was Prime Minister. George W. Bush was US President. Kofi Annan led the United Nations. The Iron Dome was not yet operational. Those leaders have changed, the Iron Dome is now a superstar, but Iran’s terrorist Hezbollah leader Nasrallah remains. Although threats have increased with missiles and tunnels, Christian support for Israel has multiplied, too, since I co-led a group of 25. I jokingly -well,maybe seriously- named us the “Crazy Christians.”
Here’s our story. At the time, I lived in South Carolina and volunteered with my dear friend Earl Cox, who is now Goodwill Christian Ambassador appointed by PM Netanyahu. In the early 2000s, Earl had founded a pro-Israel outreach we named ISRAEL ALWAYS. Earl has developed multiple pro-Israel initiatives including Front Page Jerusalem Radio. He called me a few days after the Second Lebanon War and began saying, “Arlene, I think the Lord wants us to go to Israel as soon as possible.” My surprised response,”Earl, why would we go now?” His reply made all the sense in the world. “When friends are in crisis, true friends go and stand with them.” Immediately, a full-force organizational whirlwind swept through and in 7 days, Earl, his wife, and I recruited 25 Christians to go with us. Our agenda rested in four words: ENCOURAGE OUR ISRAELI FRIENDS.
The trip was a working solidarity mission rather than a classic tour. We set our schedule day by day as Earl reached out to his extensive contacts to schedule visits and briefings since we had no time prior to the trip. We traveled to Haifa where the mayor welcomed us to his city with a briefing and refreshments at Haifa’s municipality building. He spoke about the harmonious history between Arabs and Jews in Haifa and how “the Hezbollah War is hurting all people in the city.”
Officials at Rambam Hospital then welcomed us with a briefing and allowed us to visit civilians and IDF soldiers alike. We walked from room to room leaving smiles, encouragement,and prayers behind. We learned that Rambam Hospital is staffed by skillful Jewish and Arab doctors alike who treat everyone who comes into the doors of the gleaming, state of the art facility. At Rambam, we also visited their bomb shelter teeming with 75-100 staff children. Beforehand, we managed to run into a store and buy some toys to give out. With their children nearby the Rambam staff could continue treating their war-wounded patients with the assurance that the children were safe.
On another day, we rolled into Tiberias only to find a “ghost-town’ in the usually bustling tourist city loved by Christians worldwide where Jesus spent so much time. The few people we encountered were business owners and security personnel. We finally found an open restaurant and when several staff saw us walk in, they treated us like movie stars. Tears filled their eyes and expressions of surprise and gratitude came pouring out. Even the mayor came to welcome us. Everywhere we went our message was clear and simple. “We are Christians from the United States. We are friends who are here to stand with you.”
We traveled north again to Rosh Pina where an IDF spokesman briefed us. During the briefing we scrambled into shelter when the air raid sirens pierced the air and a Katyusha rocket fell nearby. The IDF Colonel expressed the value Israelis place on human life saying, “I’m sad and concerned to see innocents killed. To protect ourselves against Hezbollah is very complex. Hezbollah recruited poor people and said they would make them strong and happy. Now they are human shields. Not one Israeli is happy about war but Hezbollah is happy when there’s a missile strike. Now Hezbollah is a military monster and it’s impossible to have a clean war. To extract cancer, we must open it.”
A Rabbi Hands out Prayer Cards
In Rosh Pina, everyone in our group faced a serious decision. Earl was determined to go further north to the front lines to encourage the men and women of the IDF standing ready with tanks and awaiting orders. Earl wisely gave us a choice. “You must pray and whatever you decide is fine.” Half decided to go to the front lines with Earl. Half traveled south to Jerusalem returning with a mandate to remain at the Western Wall to pray for our friends, IDF, and all Israelis. I must confess, after a Katyusha landed so close to us in Rosh Pina, I lost my nerve. Our team made it to the front lines due to hiring a brave sharut driver. Imagine the IDF soldiers’ shock to see American civilians there! Yes, “Crazy Christians.” The team walked up and down the lines, giving out small American flags on sticks, offering prayers for safety, and words of comfort. They spent the night in a hotel where media camped out. No one slept while bombs fell most of the night. When the team jumped back in the van the next day to make their descent on curvy roads, Katyushas landed on either side for miles. I assure you, the driver was well paid and earned every shekel and dollar!
When the teams reunited we were all quite relieved. We then visited a senior citizens home in Jerusalem where elderly widows sat waiting out the war, praying for their grandchildren in the IDF and IAF. All had been evacuated from the north.
We hugged the elderly ladies and grasped their hands. Through a translator we shared our message of friendship. Tears sprang to their eyes and we later heard their message back to us: “We are one.” And that is exactly the message we wanted to communicate.”
While the media didn’t report the displacement of Israelis, over a third were either in bomb shelters, evacuated south or left Israel. Even when we rode the buses in Jerusalem we made it a point to announce, “We are American Christians. We are here to encourage you and let you know that we are your friends.”
The day we flew back to the United States, we made a decision to visit Magen David Adom in Jerusalem to donate blood. As you can imagine, there was a blood shortage. When the staff saw 25 of us walk in, they were first surprised and then grateful. It was our privilege to donate our blood to help in some small way for the loss of Israeli life and injury caused by terrorist aggression. It was quite an experience filling out Hebrew language forms—with the help of the bi-lingual nurses.
Prior to—and while I was away in Israel—I received many positive comments on a blog I wrote at the time entitled Israel-Blog. Some sent supportive words grasping the dangers Israel faced. Yet, others sent messages accusing me of hating Arabs. For those who know me, these accusations were-and are-baseless. Both Arabs and Jews were,and remain, under threat from terrorists. I simply hold true to what the Bible teaches from God’s heart, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. God loves ALL people but has a special place and profound role in history for the apple of His eye, the Jewish community and their ancestral homeland.
We were heartened that Haaretz interviewed Earl Cox the day we left Israel so that more Israelis became aware of our friendship. By sharing this story NOW in the month the war began 13 years ago, I hope you will draw encouragement knowing that you have millions of Christian friends worldwide; far more than our tiny group of 25 Crazy Christians who don’t have one regret about our solidarity then or now.