Gerry Byrne found himself in the midst of conflict in Jerusalem Tuesday night, but it is the experience in the place where he and some other Canadians found refuge, and not the situation, that has left a mark on him.
The Liberal MP for Humber-St. Barbe-Baie Verte is part of a Canadian delegation that has been in Jerusalem since Sunday. Labrador MP Yvonne Jones is also part of the group which is examining the Palestinian-Israeli relationship to draw conclusions about the potential for successful peace arrangements.
The members of the delegation, which also includes some other MPs and senators, are guests of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs.
On Tuesday evening the group had finished up an extensive program that included a visit to the Israeli Knesset. Byrne said they held meetings with senior officials representing the Israeli government and other organizations, and with those who understand the Palestinian authority.
The group then went to visit the Tower of David, a roughly 2,700-year-old citadel in the Old City of Jerusalem.
“It’s always been a fortress, a place of relief,” said Byrne. “So, last night it turned out to be a place of relief for us.”
At about 10:30 p.m. Jerusalem time air-raid sirens started to sound in the city warning residents of the threat of a rocket attack and notifying them to move to designated fallout shelters.
Byrne said reports that he, Jones and some others in the delegation were taken to a bomb shelter are incorrect.
The group they were part of was taken to a crypt in the bottom of the tower.
About 150 people waited out the attack in one of the 10-foot wide, solid stone-walled structures built to protect its inhabitants from foreign attackers.
If he was asked if he was afraid, Byrne said “the answer is I was definitely concerned. But you draw your own emotions from those around you as well, and everyone around me was very calm, and cool, and collected and level headed about it.”
Byrne said there was a process to follow and the people in control just followed it.
And he never felt any concern or tension.
“Everyone was civil and level headed, and at no point in time did I ever feel that there was a safety issue within the bunker itself,” he said.
“There were Jews, there were Muslims, there were Christians. They were all in that room waiting for the air-raid sirens to be turned off, for the danger to be declared past.”
When the OK was given to leave the shelter about 15 to 20 minutes later, the group carried on with its evening.
As he spoke to The Western Star by phone at around 6:30 p.m. Israeli time, just after 12:30 p.m. Newfoundland time, on Wednesday, Byrne said there were still reports of attacks happening within the area, but there had been no other warnings for the city to take cover.
“This is relatively unusual, because Jerusalem has not been the target of Hamas rocketing attacks for several years,” said Byrne.
He said the rocket capabilities of Hamas and Hezbollah are limited and do not include the use of guided missiles.
“They’re fired by Hamas into either residential areas or built up urban areas,” said Byrne. “They’re not targeted. They’re not strategic.”
To combat the rockets, the Israeli military has perfected a rocket interception system known as the Iron Dome.
“We’re told that the Iron Dome successfully took out two rockets in the vicinity of Jerusalem,” said Byrne who had heard two very loud “thuds” while headed for the shelter. He said they likely were interceptor rockets taking out the missiles that were possibly fired from the Gaza Strip.
As for the rest of the trip, Byrne said the group has no concerns about continuing on.
“We have no intentions of leaving.
“We’ll follow closely the advice of the Canadian consular services here. We’ll also follow the advice of the Israeli government. But no, we’re here, we have a job to do.”
The delegation will move on to Tel Aviv later in the week and will return home early next week