A bipartisan delegation of US officials got some unexpected insights into Israeli reality as Operation Pillar of Defense started and Israel came under intensive rocket fire in the middle of their visit here.

“This trip — and the events that have occurred during the trip — have reinforced my understanding of the region and my concern for the security and well-being of the citizens of Israel,” said Nebraska State Senator Jeremy Nordquist. “Despite the need to be constantly vigilant about their safety, the people of Israel push forward to continue to grow a robust, innovation-based economy that is a world leader. The challenges standing in the way of peace seem overwhelming, but not as overwhelming as the spirit of the Israeli people.”

Funded by Project Interchange, an educational project of the American Jewish Committee, the November 11-18 trip seeks to provide US policymakers with “a first-hand understanding of Israel, its rich and dynamic society, and often-times complicated reality,” according to the organization. The visit included meetings with influential figures across Israel’s political and social spectrum, including senior Israeli, Palestinian, and Israeli Arab leaders.

Former Israeli basketball star and goodwill ambassador Tal Brody with Michigan State Representative Rudy Hobbs at a reception hosted at the home of Yoav Suesskind in Tel Aviv, November 12, 2012.  (photo credit: courtesy of Project Interchange)

Former Israeli basketball star and goodwill ambassador Tal Brody with Michigan State Representative Rudy Hobbs at a reception hosted at the home of Yoav Suesskind in Tel Aviv, November 12, 2012. (photo credit: courtesy of Project Interchange)

During their one-week trip to Israel and the Palestinian territories, the group, which consists of about 10 US policymakers hailing from Colorado, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Michigan, Nebraska, New Mexico, Ohio and Washington, also met with Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad.

“Despite the obvious tensions in the south, I’ve found that both the Arabs and Israelis we’ve met remain optimistic for a future, lasting peace,” said City of Chicago Comptroller Amer Ahmad, who was appointed by Chicago Mayor and former White House chief of staff Rahm Emmanuel. “This optimism, which resonates across this Holy Land, is a reassuring memory to take back to America.”