CHOPPER BLOGGING Over Gaza and the West Bank
We took off from the city airport in Hersilya on a very hot Wednesday afternoon. The temperature was 38 degrees outside which means it was hovering around 100 degrees Fahrenheit. The pilot told us that the air conditioning would kick on after we lifted.
It took several minutes for the chopper to lift off.
Calev Ben-David was our guide. Calev was a journalist for over 20 years including a stint as managing editor of The Jerusalem Post. His column “Snap Judgement” had hundreds of thousands of readers around the world. Today Calev works for The Israel Project guiding visitors to Israel on Intellicopter Tours.
Calev Ben-David on the microphone in back next to Nir T. Boms, a writer for the Washington Times, and Scott Johnson from Powerline get ready for take off.
The Israel Project website says that through its Jerusalem office, TIP operates helicopter tours over Israel called “Intellicopter” tours. The two-and a-half-hour guided helicopter tours give reporters a feel for the situation on the ground in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza. The tours educate journalists about security threats and how Israel manages the security threats from the West Bank and Gaza. The tours concentrate on the security fence and barrier wall.
The Israel Project have flown hundreds of journalists from more than 140 media outlets on the “Intellicopter” tours, including top journalists from the United States, England, France,Germany, Russia, Italy, Latin, America, Australia and Asia.
Our small group of four US bloggers, an Israeli journalist working with the Washington Times, a America’s Voices in Israel representative, two pilots from the IDF, and our two tour guides took off from Herziliya.
It was a surprisingly smooth ride as we head east towards the West Bank and over the Israeli city of Kfar Saba that is only separated from the Palestinian town of Qalqiliya by about half a mile. It was surprising to see the Israeli-Palestinian towns nestled so close to each other.
In this shot the Palestinian town in the West Bank is on the left and the red roof homes in the Israeli town are on the right. A separation wall was built between the two towns.
One thing that surprised me a bit was that the “apartheid” wall, as Jimmy Carter might be inclined to call it, does not span the whole West Bank. The wall is built up between Israeli and Palestinian towns. Once you get outside the towns the wall becomes a fence again. In fact, 97% of the separation barrier is a fence system and not a wall.
In the above photo you can see the wall ending just outside the Palestinian town in the West Bank. The wall is built high enough so that no one can shoot down on traffic or civilians on the Israeli side.
Since September 2000 over 25,000 terror attacks took place inside Israel, most of them directed at civilians. Over 1,060 civilians including women, children and babies were killed in the attacks according to Israeli Ministry of Defense.
This spectacular shot shows the barrier wall and a lookout point for Israeli soldiers on the West Bank. The wall is 8.5 meters (28 feet tall).
Here is a long section of the wall on the outskirts of a Palestinian town. After the wall was built in 2003 there were only 3 “successful” terrorist attacks inside Israel in 2004. There was a drop by over 90% in the terror attacks compared to previous years.
What has also helped tremendously in the reduction of terrorist attacks on Israel are the checkpoints set up inside the West Bank where the movement of the Palestinian people is monitored and managed.
After we flew across Israel to the West Bank and down to Jerusalem, we flew back across the country towards Gaza.
We landed in the town of Sderot near the northern tip of Gaza and drove over to an army post not far from the fence separating Gaza from Israel. It was at this post that Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit was kidnapped by Hamas in June 2006. Hamas dug a 3 kilometer long tunnel under the separation fence and behind the post that this photo was taken from. During the morning attack, two IDF soldiers were killed and three others wounded, aside from Shalit, who himself suffered a broken left hand and a light shoulder wound after his tank was hit with an RPG. Israeli forces believe that Gilad and his captors walked back over this field and disappeared inside this Gaza town. Gilad Shalit has not been seen since that morning.
We then drove into the nearby town of Sderot. In the first six months of 2006 after Israel withdrew completely from Gaza, there were 500 Qassam rocket attacks on Sderot. The city started collecting the rockets and has them stashed
out back of the police station.
After our drive through Sderot we headed back to the chopper for a nice sweaty picture in the sun before we flew back north near the coast to Tel Aviv. The tour took two and a half hours and we traveled over a large part of the country.
MORE… Scott Johnson wrote more about our trip to Gaza and a view from “the fence” at Powerline this week.