When Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich came back from his recent trip to Israel, he felt a strong emotional reaction to what he saw in the area known as the Gaza envelope, particularly the city of Sderot.
“Imagine growing up and living in a place where you have to have an indoor playground, because you only have 15 seconds to reach a bomb shelter if a terrorist fires a rocket,” Brnovich said. “I get emotional just thinking about how young kids have to grow up with bomb shelters because they face the threat of terrorism every day.”
Brnovich visited Israel from Nov. 13 to 18. Although his initial reason for the trip was to speak at an international financial technology conference in Tel Aviv, he thought it was a good opportunity to see more of the country. With the help of the Jewish National Fund, Brnovich saw another side of life in Israel — the Gaza envelope, which surrounds the Gaza Strip and is continually attacked by Hamas rockets.
According to JNF, the Gaza envelope region has been attacked by more than 200 rockets this year alone.
Brnovich was interested to meet the Israelis in the region who face the dangers of rocket attacks every day. He saw the effects of the attacks firsthand as he witnessed the devastation in the area.
A self-proclaimed student of history, Brnovich wanted to see some of the southern region of Israel that he reads so much about, specifically some of the sites where famous military operations had taken place. One of the stops on Brnovich’s trip that left an impact on him was a visit to the Black Arrow Memorial, which commemorates the 1955 military operation of the same name. While there, he also saw a charred, wrecked bus that had been attacked by a Hamas rocket just a few days before his visit.
What impressed him most, however, was the resiliency of many of the Israelis living in the region. Brnovich said the residents were kind, welcoming and informative. He also noted the juxtaposition between the dangers of the rocket attacks and the attitudes of the Israelis who face them.
“It didn’t seem to faze anyone there,” he said. “It was just something that they had gotten accustomed to.”
When Brnovich went to Sderot, he was able to visit the JNF-sponsored Sderot Indoor Recreation Center. JNF spent $5 million to convert an abandoned 21,000-square-foot textile plant into the indoor playground and community center. It opened in 2009 and has provided a secure area for families and children to play.
At the indoor playground, Brnovich met the director of tourism for JNF USA in Israel, Shahar Hermelin, who gave the Arizona official a tour of the facility and was excited to show him the positive effects and history of the playground. Hermelin brought more than 1,000 people to the playground as part of the tour.
Hermelin said Brnovich was interested in learning as much as he could about the structure of the playground and how it was designed. Brnovich was shown every inch of the facility and how it was built to withstand rocket attacks.
“Learning about the day-to-day life on the Gaza was an eye opener for him,” Hermelin said. “What I tell everyone I take to the Sderot playground is that when you go home, you need to remember that there’s this tiny corner of the world where kids need to be in an indoor facility just to be kids.”
Hermelin hopes that Brnovich’s visit will help raise awareness about the attacks. However, he wanted to make it clear that many residents of Sderot and in the Gaza envelope describe the area as being “99 percent heaven and only 1 percent hell.”
Brnovich said he hopes to go back to the country soon, not only to learn more about the nation, but also because there are great similarities between Arizona and Israel.
“A lot of issues Israel faces, like water, farming and agriculture, are the same issues we have here in Arizona,” Brnovich said. “One of the things that I have learned is that the world is a lot smaller place today, and there are things that we can learn from Israel that can help us here as a state.” JN