JERUSALEM—Fifty-one pastors from every U.S. state and D.C. touched down in Israel early Tuesday for an unprecedented last minute solidarity mission aimed at expressing their support for the Jewish state's right to defend itself from the terror group Hamas, a sentiment that some say is not shared in the White House.
As Israelis wait to see if another tenuous 72-hour ceasefire with Hamas will hold, the pastors say that they dropped everything to make the journey, which was pulled together several days ago by the Christians United for Israel (CUFI), a pro-Israel organization with nearly two million members.
The emergency sirens in Jerusalem that warn of incoming rocket attacks remained silent all day Tuesday as the pastors landed in Tel Aviv. They immediately traveled by bus to Jerusalem's Old City, where they gathered at the Western Wall to silently issue prayers for the Jewish state, which has been struck by thousands of rockets during the past weeks.
Those who made the trek arrived in Israel with the "intended purpose of showing support for the Jewish people at a time when the nations of the world have expressed unilateral condemnation for Israel’s choice to defend her citizens from terrorists’ attacks," as CUFI leader Pastor John Hagee put it in a letter to each of those pastors attending the trip.
With Israel facing an international backlash for its military campaign in the Gaza Strip, which Israel says has successfully destroyed Hamas' underground tunnel network, the pastors sought to make it known that it still has allies across America.
"In an all too familiar scene, the world once again is condemning the Jews for defending themselves, rather than standing shoulder-to-shoulder with the one democracy in the Middle East." Pastor Victor Styrsky CUFI's eastern region coordinator, told the Washington Free Beacon. "I am moved, however, that even during a time of such gridlock in Washington, we were able to see Democrats and Republicans come together to ensure that the Iron Dome can continue to shield the innocent civilians of Israel.
During the four-day trip, the pastors will meet with top Israeli Defense Forces brass and senior officials in the Netanyahu government.
Following the Tuesday afternoon trip to Jerusalem's Western Wall, the pastors immediately traveled to Mount Scopus in northeast Jerusalem, where they gathered before the city's scenic skyline, including the famous golden Dome of the Rock mosque, to issue prayers of support.
"Vanquish Israel's enemies!" invoked one pastor to calls of acknowledgement from the others.
CUFI executive director David Brog told the Free Beacon that the trip is partly about exposing Hamas' cynical public relations campaign to convince the world that it is not a brutal terror group.
"We flew into an Israel that is strong but mourning the loss of soldiers and reeling at the ease with which Hamas' cynical tactics are working in a gullible world," Brog said. "It means more than I realized for a delegation like ours to arrive at this moment and demonstrate that there is a very large constituency out there that not only understands but actively supports Israel's struggle against terror."
"But our mission doesn't end when we return home on Friday," Brog added. "Then our work really begins. Armed with what we've learned and seen in Israel we need to go forth and make the case for Israel in our communities and churches like never before."
CUFI has been publicly flexing its pro-Israel bona fides in recent weeks, starting with a massive media ad buy in major newspapers aimed at exposing Hamas' desire to kill Jews across the globe.
The group also started a petition urging Secretary of State John Kerry to stop pushing a ceasefire deal backed by Hamas' top financier, the Qatari government.
The pastors symbolize robust U.S. support for Israel at a time when the Obama administration has sought to distance itself from the Jewish state, according to insiders familiar with the trip.
"The vast majority of Americans recognize that Israel is defending its citizens against a terrorist organization—one that hides behind Palestinian civilians as it launches rockets at Israeli civilians," said one senior official with a pro-Israel organization. "It is a shame that at best the Obama administration’s statements of support for Israel have been halfhearted, and at worst, the president has simply failed to deliver a full-throated defense of the Jewish state."