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Americans Heart Israel

Americans heart Israel

Roy Ashton might be considered a “typical southern male” in the United States. He is a Mississippi resident, a father, and a husband who attends church regularly and considers himself to be patriotic. Although active in his church, he was not particularly interested in traveling to the Middle East. In fact, the only countries that his church mentioned when speaking of missions work were Asian countries in the Far East. But, like many church-going American southerners, Roy eventually became informed of the importance of Israel’s security to the pro-democratic free world and to America’s national security, as well as the biblical significance of protecting Israel, and he had a change of heart. He decided to travel to Israel and to learn about how he could help Israelis to handle emergency situations.

I met Roy this past week in Jerusalem when I was invited to attend a training session of the Emergency Volunteers Project. EVP was founded in 2007 with the purpose of training individuals and groups to assist and support Israeli emergency service organizations in times of emergency, as there invariably are here.

EVP’s main headquarters is in Jerusalem, and perhaps what’s most special about the EVP is the number of non-Israelis who are recruited to participate. A majority of those non-Israeli participants are Americans.

During a counterterrorism conference a couple of weeks ago, I witnessed the incredulousness of a former Israeli ambassador to Egypt as he expressed disdain and skepticism about America’s position toward enforcing red lines on Iran and preventing them from attaining a nuclear weapon.

Despite America’s history of pro-Israel policies, a surprisingly growing number of Israelis feel the same as the ambassador, and it is unfortunate that the Obama administration’s lackluster performance on the issue has exacerbated this feeling.

Israel’s security and America’s defense of it has long been a non-partisan issue in America. Both Democrats and Republicans have long maintained that America should remain an unyielding ally to Israel. Yet, the Obama administration has attempted to make that issue just as partisan as tax policy and entitlement reform. The Democratic National Convention actually erupted over whether to include a policy plank claiming Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, and it was only changed to include it once President Barack Obama and his operatives feared the media exposure and pro-Israel backlash within their own party.

However, the EVP’s recent training event can be seen as more representative of how Americans feel about the protection of the State of Israel as a whole and more deeply, about the heart that Americans have toward individual Israelis. The attendees traveled to Israel on their own American dime to learn how to assist Israeli emergency personnel in case of a crisis, but why? Why would citizens of one country spend their own money to help another country solve its problems?

I had to ask — although I already knew the answer. It is commonly said that “America stands with Israel,” but this is deeper.

Americans love Israelis.

This extends beyond public and international policy. Many Americans — especially Christians — feel a moral obligation, a sense of honorable duty to band together and pray for the safety and well-being of Israelis as a people.

It’s more than facts and figures. It’s more than the concept of Israel being our “haven of democracy in the Middle East.” For many Americans, it’s biblical. Not only is there the element of Israel as a Holy Land, but there is the unwavering conviction that this Holy Land is inhabited by God’s chosen people. This means that Israeli life should be cherished and the population viewed as individual precious people and not figures on a map.

This sentiment can’t be measured on a Republican and Democrat scale. It’s heart-deep. So, no matter how much Obama snubs Israel and disrespects Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Americans at their core will always stand with the people of Israel.

I observed hours of the first day of training with the EVP and caught up with a few of the Americans there. Gail Giaramita of Lake Cormorant, Mississippi is a nurse and a Christian who joined the EVP because she “… love[s] Israel and stand[s] with Israel.” She passionately explained that she is a member of a group that prays for the protection of Israeli citizens weekly.

That is the same group that Charlotte Bridgewater of Southaven, Mississippi is a part of. She came to Israel “… not for a vacation but to help.” Both ladies met Mark Cox, also of Southaven, Mississippi, during the trip. When asked why he spent money to travel to Israel for EVP training, he said, “I always had a heart toward Israel. I couldn’t afford it, but God opened the [financial] door, so I felt I was assigned to it. I am deeply concerned about the situation that I see Israel in. The imminent events will likely be catastrophic.”

Catastrophic indeed as echoed by Eitan Charnoff, the 22-year-old EVP spokesperson and representative for the EVP to the United States.

Eitan is a Jewish American who was raised in Potomac, Maryland, but sojourned to Israel for a deeper connection with his Jewish heritage. He recently completed his undergraduate studies at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya and will be drafted into the Israeli army in a few months.

The name Eitan means “strong” and it is fitting for the young man. One five-minute conversation with the athletic Eitan is enough to make me believe I am speaking with a future prime minister. “Israel is facing a very complex situation,” said Eitan. “The largest is from Iran with the most obvious threat coming from their [potential] development of nuclear weapons but also the geopolitical situation that has occurred from the Arab Spring. So, one of the potential threats is a result from the deterioration in Syria and the potential that their chemical and biological weapons can fall into the hands of terrorists. Another threat is that [Lebanon’s] Hezbollah will attack Israel to distract the world from what’s happening in Syria. There are over 50,000 rockets pointed at Israel — many of which are pointed directly at the center of the country. It is this increasing threat and uneasiness that re-emphasizes the importance of Israel’s security not militarily but in terms of protecting the civilian population.”

And how will EVP aid this effort? They recruit, train and prepare anyone around the world with the heart to help, so that if Israel is ever in another dire situation, people all over the world are immediately equipped to work with Israeli services to save lives.

The problem, according to Eitan is that “Israel has some of the best emergency services in the world, but because it is such a small country, there aren’t enough of them.” Thus, the need for volunteers from other countries, and the ripe opportunity to pick people from the American field of “true believers” who are eager to protect Israel.

EVP CEO Adi Zahavi co-founded the organization on this concept. Zahavi, who comes from a family of ambulance drivers, began driving ambulances when he was only 15 years old. During the Second Intifada and particularly the 2006 Israel-Hezbollah War, Zahavi noted the lack of manpower among Israeli relief forces.

“I saw the [situation] through the eyes of emergency personnel and noted the need for help from outside of Israel in case of war. We needed volunteers ASAP who were actually trained … I looked to the U.S. first because I knew that we needed people who were pro-Israel for this kind of [undertaking].”

People like Patricia Del’Marmol of Sacramento, California, who saw the kiosk to sign up for the EVP when she attended this year’s Christians United for Israel summit in Washington, D.C. “I’ve previously volunteered for the Friends of the Israel Defense Forces and picked grapes in Har Bracha and Shiloh as a volunteer. I saw this as an opportunity to help the people of Israel.”

American firefighters and ambulance personnel travel to Israel to learn how to work in those fields under the Israeli system so that they are ready at a moment’s notice.

At the same time, the Patricia Del’Marmols, Charlotte Bridgewaters, Mark Coxes, Gail Giaramitas, Roy Ashtons, and other “every day” American citizens are trained by qualified officials such as Ty Flewelling, the medical attaché to the U.S. Embassy in Israel. “The U.S. Embassy supports EVP and disaster preparedness plans,” said Flewelling. We’re involved from a grass-roots level up to the highest levels of government in Israel in disaster preparedness.”

This grass-roots effort includes training to be a first responder; in first aid; spotting suspicious activity; and in search, rescue, and recovery, including digging bodies — both alive and dead — from rubble; as well as working in shelters to provide food and clothing to disaster victims whose homes and possessions have been destroyed.

As much talk as there is in America about the Obama and Romney campaigns’ grass-roots operations to get out the vote in the upcoming November election, I wonder how much thought either of them has given to the type of grass-roots operation Charnoff, Zahavi and Flewelling are preparing for?

One thing is certain: Whether the presidential candidates have noted the efforts of the EVP, they should start now because the heart of Americans is and always will be toward a safe and secure Israel.

Princella D. Smith is an American freelance contributor for Israel Hayom. She was a communications staffer to former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and has also served as a communications director on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. She is currently a graduate student at the Lauder School of Government, Diplomacy & Strategy of the Interdisciplinary Center (IDC) in Herzliya, Israel.