Tag Archives: Holy Land

Where is outrage at Hamas?

By John Kanelis / johnkanelis_92@hotmail.com

Allow me this brief rejoinder to the criticism that’s being leveled at Israel over its airstrikes against the terrorists who have been launching rockets into civilian neighborhoods.

The Israeli air force has been hitting Hamas strongholds in reaction to the rockets that have flown into Bethlehem, into Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Askelon.

Critics have blasted the Israelis because some of their strikes have killed civilians. Make no mistake that I am horrified, too, that civilians have died in these strikes against Hamas. I detest the loss of innocent life in these military exchanges.

But where in the hell has been the outrage aimed at Hamas … which aims its rockets deliberately at civilian targets?

I had the high honor of touring Israel a dozen years ago and I saw up close the building requirements that Israeli homeowners must face. Those requirement mandate reinforced bomb shelters in every home, given that the nation sits a spitting distance away from forces bent on the destruction of their country.

The latest exchange in Israel must come to an end and I pray that it will. Israel, to my way of thinking, has shown incredible restraint in dealing with Hamas and other terrorists who take direct aim at women and children in their effort to destroy their country.

Heart bursts with conflicting emotion

By John Kanelis / johnkanelis_92@hotmail.com

Twelve years ago this week I had the honor of beginning a marvelous journey through one of the world’s holiest — and deadliest — regions.

I accompanied four young West Texans to Israel on a Rotary International Group Study Exchange; once we arrived, we hooked up with another team of GSE members from The Netherlands. Today we are sharing our heartache at the video we all are watching from our homes as Israelis launch air strikes in retaliation of the rockets launched into sacred places by the terrorist group Hamas that governs Gaza.

You see, our journey through Israel took us to the doorstep of Gaza. We visited the Western Wall in Jerusalem. We toured all the quarters of the Old City. We walked along the Via Dolorosa where Jesus Christ strode 2,000 years ago, and we prayed on the Mount of Olives.

Now the region is being threatened once again by the horrifying terror that falls from the sky. Hamas is dedicated to Israel’s destruction. That is a fact. I will not argue the point in this brief blog post about why Hamas has decided to launch rockets into Israel.

I am going to express worry about the men and women we met along our marvelous journey. Are they safe? Have they been caught in the crossfire?

My friends with whom I traveled for those four weeks in Israel know of the love I have for them. I also have much love for the many people we met along our way through that holy place. We shared meals with them, we toasted them, we danced with them, we shared our life stories with them.

I am praying for their safety and for an end to the violence that keeps erupting in that holy and sacred land.

These are far more than mere ‘friends’

This blog features commentary on “politics, policy and life experience,” but you likely know that already. I want to talk in this post about the third of those items.

I want to share a life experience with you in two parts.

The first part involves an event that occurred 10 years ago this month. I had a wonderful chance today to relive that moment with four of my best friends in this whole world.

I want to back up just briefly to a time prior to that experience.

The Rotary Club of Amarillo, of which I was a member, is part of a West Texas district that runs from the top of the Panhandle to the Permian Basin. In 2008, the district leadership paired up with another district in Israel. Rotary International, the worldwide governing body of the civic organization, had established a program called Group Study Exchange. It charged each district that took part to select a team leader to take a group of young professionals to the partner district.

That year, our Rotary district decided it would send a team to Israel. It needed a Rotary member to lead that team. I applied for the position. I interviewed for it. The committee that heard my pitch — along with those of three other Rotary members — selected me to lead that team.

My first task was to select four non-Rotary members to join the team that would travel to Israel for four weeks in May and June 2009. I completed that task. I selected three young women and a young man to make that journey. They are pictured with this blog post.

Fernando, Aida, Katheryn, Shirley and I then trained for several weeks. We learned the customs of Israel. We sought to acquaint ourselves with the nature of the country that seems to be in the news almost weekly. Often, the news is grim, filled combat, turmoil and assorted forms of violence in that volatile region of the world.

We were sufficiently trained over time. Then we took off from Amarillo’s airport. These four individuals would meet with professionals in Israel, share experiences and knowledge with them. Thus, the name of the program was brought into play.

We spent four weeks traveling through Israel, seeing the country from top to bottom — Nahariya to Eilat and everywhere in between; we sampled their cuisine; we visited holy sites; we stayed with families that opened their homes to us; we saw a marvelous nation up close and in a way that most foreigners never get to see it.

After a month in Israel, we came home. We went our separate ways. We have stayed in touch, however, over the past decade.

Which brings me to the second point of this blog post.

We have maintained friendships unlike any other I have ever known in my nearly 70 years on this good Earth.

And today, we gathered at the home of one of our team members to salute each other, to remember that marvelous journey, to express our love for each other and to revel in what I believe is the rare fete of continuing the relationship that began when we met as total strangers a decade ago.

In my more than 20 years in Rotary, I have met many Group Study Exchange team members and team leaders. They all tell me the essentially the same thing: Their relationships ended when their tours ended. They went home and rarely have shared any time together upon their return.

That’s not nearly the case with this group of friends my wife and I have made. Today capped off one of the most remarkable life experiences either of us have ever known. We don’t see each other nearly as often as we did immediately after returning from the Holy Land. That doesn’t matter. We still know what each other is doing. We maintain an interest in everyone’s lives. We still cheer each other on, we offer emotional support when the needs arise and we still communicate via various messaging platforms available to us.

The best part of this experience? It’s far from over. Our lasting friendships won’t allow it to end.

Praying for Israeli friends


I know I’m not the only person on Earth to whom this happens.

You hear of disaster striking a far-off land — and it happens to be somewhere you’ve visited, where you have developed a lot of friends; you have a certain familiarity with this place and you worry yourself to near sickness about your friends’ well-being.

Fires have exploded in Israel. Flames are torching communities where I was able to spend a good bit of time in the late spring of 2009.

Haifa, Zichron Ya’achov, Karmiel, Modi’in. I know all those places. I now am in an official state of worry over friends who opened their homes to me and to my traveling companions.


I was there in May-June 2009 as part of a Rotary International Group Study Exchange team. We toured the country from stem to stern; from Nahariyah in the north to Eilat in the south. From the Med to the Golan Heights. We peered into Gaza and saw bomb damage in places like Sderot and Ashkelon.

And, oh yes, we saw the holy sites in Jerusalem, Nazareth, Galilee, Caesarea, Masada and Tel Aviv.

Now I am worrying about Miri, Lennie and Selma, Oded … you name them. They all became part of my life for four weeks. They well might be in danger now as fire whips through these communities.

The Israelis are good at a lot of things. I am hoping they know how to fight these wildfires. Rest assured, they’re getting help from Russia, Greece, Italy, Turkey and Cyprus.

All I can do from this place far away is to wish them Godspeed and pray that my friends remain safe.

Marking the end of a life-changing journey

Sixty-five years of living has brought me many blessings … and the occasional curse.

I want to mark one of those blessings with this blog post.

Six years ago today, I bid so long to four young people with whom I’d spent four marvelous weeks in the Holy Land. We were there as part of a Rotary International Group Study Exchange. I am a member of Rotary and I had the high honor of accompanying these four individuals to Israel.

The link I’ve attached to this blog gives you a slight hint of what we experienced. We went to many of the locations noted on the video.

But this post really isn’t about that. It’s more about them, my dear friends, who traveled with me the entire length and breadth of one of the world’s most fascinating countries.

Aida, Fernando, Shirley and Katt all hail from West Texas. One of them has moved to Dallas, but we stay in touch. We all do. They’ve become four of my best friends.

The GSE is designed to acquaint young professionals with colleagues abroad. It’s also designed to recruit young Rotary members, to keep the service organization alive and vibrant.

Our journey began at Rick Husband Amarillo International Airport on May 9, 2009. It ended on June 7, 2009 when we bid adieu to three of our team members at David Ben-Gurion International Airport. One of them stayed behind in Tel Aviv.

We’d laughed and cried together. We enjoyed sumptuous food. Prayed together on the Mount of Olives. We stayed in Israeli hosts’ homes, met their families and were treated to sights and sounds the usual tourist doesn’t get to see.

We peered into Gaza, stood on the Golan Heights, and swam in the Red Sea, the Dead Sea and the “Med” Sea.

We walked where Jesus walked in Jerusalem and where he preached near Galilee. We toured churches, synagogues and mosques.

I cannot possibly list all of what we saw, heard and felt.

We made new friends with members of another GSE team from The Netherlands that traveled through Israel with us. I’m still in touch with a couple of that team’s members.

It was one of those life experiences that you just cannot quantify. You can’t put a price on what one learns on a journey such as that.

I was delighted to have taken that journey with those four young people.

My time in Israel didn’t end at Ben-Gurion airport. I stayed on another week with my wife, who’d flown over to join me. We acted like typical tourists, staying at a B&B in Jerusalem. I got to show her some of what I’d experienced.

Would we return to Israel? In a heartbeat.



Hamas testing the limits of hope

The fighting in Gaza between Israel and the Hamas terrorist organization that has picked a serious fight with our nation’s strongest Middle East ally is testing my once-unshakeable optimism that there can be a peaceful solution to this ancient conflict.

It’s Hamas’s fault.


Hamas has rejected an effort led by Egypt to broker a ceasefire. It has fired more rockets into Israeli neighborhoods, killing an Israeli resident overnight. Israel has responded with more air attacks. It is threatening now to invade Gaza with ground troops and armor.

It baffles me beyond my belief that Hamas would pick this fight. I am acutely aware of the ancient tensions and the dispute that goes back almost to the dawn of recorded history between Arabs and Jews in the region.

While other Arab nations and political groups have declared a sort of peace with Israel, Hamas and some others have continued to insist that Israel has no place in the region. They are fundamentally wrong in both a political and historical sense.

I don’t proclaim to be an expert on Israel, but I’ve had the high honor of spending five weeks in that country. I have spoken with dozens of Israelis about this on-going war with Arab terrorists. The only conclusion I can draw is that Israelis — on the left and the right — simply want to live in peace with their neighbors.

Hamas sees it differently. They want Israel wiped out. They contend the land occupied by Israel is Arab land. Hamas wants it for Arabs and will fight for it.

I won’t argue here what I understand to be God’s view of who belongs in the region.

Israelis and Arabs can live side by side in this place. Indeed, they do so within Israel’s territorial borders. Nazareth, one of the holiest cities in the Holy Land, is now 80 percent Muslim. Mosques and churches stand next to each other, on the same block as synagogues.

Yet the fighting continues. It has flared again because Hamas has launched rockets into Israeli neighborhoods.

The Israelis say they’ll do whatever it takes to put down this violence, even if it takes more violence. That’s the nature of the place they call home.

My hope for an eventual peace remains. However, it’s getting a little shaky.

Can His Holiness work a miracle in Holy Land?

Pope Francis’s tour of Israel and Jordan is getting some hearts fluttering.

It’s not just that the head of the Catholic Church is making his first trip to the Holy Land. It is that this man who’s been dubbed a “rock star” on the world stage might be able to move Israelis and Arabs closer to a peace deal.


The Holy Father will deliver a Mass in Bethlehem on the West Bank. Just a hunch, but he’ll pack the place with worshipers. His predecessor, Benedict XVI, delivered a Mass in Nazareth in 2009. I had the pleasure of touring the amphitheater built for that event. He drew an overflow crowd in a city that is now 80 percent Muslim. Yes, they came from all over Israel to hear it, but I think you get my point, which is that the pope represents something quite special to folks of all faiths.

Peace talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority have broken down. PA President Mahmoud Abbas struck a deal that gave Hamas — a notorious terrorist organization — a role in governing the Palestinian Authority, which Israeli Benjamin Netanyahu said correctly was a non-starter for Israel.

Hope is emerging that Francis might be able in private talks to persuade the two sides to resume talks. Indeed, there must be a path to peace and it well might take someone with Francis’s global stature to help the two sides find their way toward that path.

He’ll be there only for a brief time but, hey, miracles can occur in an instant.

Looking back on an incredible journey

The world, or at least about a fourth of it — the Christians among the world’s people — is getting ready to celebrate the birth of a baby who would come to symbolize salvation, grace and victory over death.

My own thoughts at Christmas every year since, oh, 2009, have turned to an amazing journey I was honored to take through the Holy Land. I was given the honor in May-June 2009 of accompanying four young people on a Rotary International Group Study Exchange trip through virtually all of Israel. Fernando, Aida, Shirley and Katt have become four of my closest friends and I cherish them more than they know.

We spent four weeks there traveling from Nahariya to Eilat, to Tel Aviv, Sderot and Ashkelon, to Nazareth and Caesarea, the Dead Sea and Masada. It was an amazing time. Then, after the exchange had concluded, I spent another week with my wife who had flown over to join me as a tourist. We spent the bulk of our time in Jerusalem, visiting holy sites.

But I think of that journey now every year at Christmas time and remember the things we saw along the way.

* Nazareth and the Church of the Annunciation, where the angel told Mary she would give birth to the Son of God.

* Bethlehem, where my wife and I visited the Church of the Nativity and the Shepherds Field.

* The Temple Mount, where Jesus preached.

* The Mount of Olives overlooking Jerusalem and Via do lo Rosa where Jesus walked.

Easter, of course, marks the end of Jesus’s life on Earth and the resurrection we celebrate.

This day, though, is to remember his birth.

I’ve believed my entire life in all that is holy about this holiday. However, being able to see those places up close and to walk the paths trod by Jesus himself makes it special beyond all measure.