To celebrate their 40th wedding anniversary, Howard County couple Richard and Fern Babkes spent a week in Israel from April 16 to 23. While many couples might commemorate such a milestone by shopping in Tel Aviv, exploring the Negev or basking in the scenic beauty of the Sea of Galilee, the Babkeses had something else in mind.
Their trip, which coincided with Yom Hazikaron and Yom Ha’atzmaut, was a weeklong mission with Honest Reporting, an organization that aims to defend Israel from media bias. The Babkeses said in an email that “the focus of this mission was to educate participants about the complexity of the challenges facing Israel so they might better respond when confronting unfair media bias demonizing or simply misrepresenting Israel.”
When asked later in an interview why they decided to celebrate 40 years of marriage by diving into such heavy subject matter, Fern replied, “I came to realize that we know many kind people and people with very good intentions that are very critical of Israel. I realized they are getting a very incomplete picture of what is going on.”
Richard agreed, saying of the mission, “It was an intellectual exploration” meant to combat the “unfairness of certain reports that establish a moral equivalent, or worse, between Palestinian attitudes and culture and Israeli culture.”
The Babkeses had been to Israel twice before, but under very different circumstances. They provided the JT with their mission itinerary full of outings and presentations, few of which one would consider relaxing.
On the second day, the group met with Esther Wachsman, the mother of the late Nachshon Wachsman, who was kidnapped by Hamas in 1994 and held hostage for six days. The incident ended in a failed Israeli rescue attempt, during which Nachshon was killed by his captors.
After the conclusion of Shabbat on April 21, the Babkeses and other groups listened to a presentation by Kay Wilson, the survivor of a terror attack from December 2010 in which Palestinians killed her friend Kristine Luken and left Wilson with serious injuries as the result of 13 stab wounds.
“She told a very moving story where she was in the hospital, and she said the last thing she remembered hearing before the two doctors put her under was one doctor saying to the other, ‘Here, Muhammed, here’s the knife,’” Fern said, getting a little emotional, “She said, ‘An Arab doctor saved my life.’”
Not all events dove so deep into traumatic experiences. On April 19, Israel’s 70th birthday, the group took a tour of Independence Hall in Tel Aviv before traveling to Jaffa Port to watch an air show by the Israeli Air Force. Still, for the Babkeses, the trip left them quite aware of what they considered a tragic plight of the Palestinian people by the Palestinian Authority and Hamas.
“This trip wasn’t about demonizing the Palestinian Authority. It helps us understand the complexities of the situation there,” Fern said. “We saw tremendous humanitarianism amongst the Israelis and learned unfortunately about how the Palestinians are really victimized by their own government officials, meaning Hamas and the Palestinian Authority.”
Richard, a physician, cited the group’s trip to the Ziv Hospital in Safed as evidence of Israeli compassion. The hospital treats Syrian victims of war, with the Israeli government providing victims with wheelchairs and prosthetics after suffering injuries.
The JT spoke with the Babkeses as ongoing protests in Gaza coincided with President Donald Trump’s relocation of the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. The nearly two months of protests have resulted in more than 100 Palestinian protesters being killed by Israeli snipers.
The Babkeses reiterated several times during their interview that the death of anyone, Israeli or Palestinian, especially women or children is horrifying. However, their experiences in Israel have given them a strong shift in perspective, believing that much of the media is not covering this story fairly by asserting that these began as peaceful protests.
“I think there is a disservice done to the public when the media says these are peaceful protests and Israel is killing unarmed peaceful civilian protesters,” said Fern. “That is a horrific lie. You’re not helping them understand the victimhood of the men and women being use as human shields by Hamas.”
Richard said of the mainstream media, “It looks like morality equates now with victimhood. Whoever has more deaths is right. There were more Germans killed than the British in World War II. That didn’t make the Nazis moral or right.”
The Babkeses are hopeful to use their experience to help others understand the complexity of the situation in Middle East and highlight the efforts that the Israeli government is making to bring peace, even while Hamas is intent on destroying the state of Israel.
“The media really needs to focus on the human rights abuses of Hamas and the Palestinian Authority towards their own people.”