Our very own Lisa Hood Skinner, Senior Vice President, will appear on Channel 10 WBIR TV’s “Newsmaker” segment Tuesday, Nov. 27 at 5:15 p.m. She’ll discuss how social and digital media, including strategic use of smart phones, assisted Ackermann’s clients as they dealt with missile firings and bomb shelter visits during their tech startups business trip to Israel Nov. 13-19.
Israeli military officers stand guard near a plaza overlooking the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem, Israel, on Nov. 16, 2012. Ackermann PR SVP Lisa Hood Skinner was in Israel with our clients when Hamas began firing missiles into Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.
Knoxvillian witnessed harrowing Israel-Palestinian conflict
Knoxvillian caught amid tensions on trip
By Lisa Hood Skinner Special to the News Sentinel
Friday, November 23, 2012
TEL AVIV — The jarring, plaintive wail of Tel Aviv’s air raid sirens sliced the air as I sat with clients on a chartered bus.
We’d just ended a full business day Nov. 15 packed with tech startup presentations and visits to Tel Aviv’s innovation hubs. We’d chatted for hours with CEOs of various fledgling businesses, and it was time for the bus to take us to a much-anticipated dinner.
Lisa Hood Skinner and Dr. Steve Skinner stand in a plaza that overlooks Jerusalem on Nov. 16, 2012. Lisa was in Israel with Ackermann clients when Hamas began firing missiles into Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. This photograph was taken a couple hours before the missile attack
Those loud sirens shocked and stunned us. A local tour guide jumped off the sidewalk and into the bus, yelling “Off, move quickly! Only seconds to a safe room. Go, go, go!”
Arms protecting our heads like crazed monkeys, our group ran into the David Intercontinental Hotel with locals who’d been caught on the street. We rushed into its basement ballrooms for shelter from two missiles whistling towards Tel Aviv.
A New Reality
And thus began a new chapter in our Tel Aviv visit and in Tel Aviv residents’ lives.
Before that Thursday night, the more serious Hamas tensions and missile outbreaks mainly had been limited to areas such as Southern Israel and Gaza.
Now, a new threat level unseen in decades encroached on the larger populated Israeli cities like Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, and we watched it unfold before our uneasy eyes. From that night, until the time my Monday flight left for New York — before the fledgling cease-fire — each day brought air raid sirens and bomb shelter visits, amid growing tensions and escalation for ground war.
In May 2010, an Ackermann PR planning team and the Israeli-based law firm Meitar began structuring this trip, working to highlight Tel Aviv’s StartupCity status and innovation potential. A group of two dozen international lawyers traveled from 20 different countries to make this exploratory visit and possibly initiate business connections.
Our group was composed of fairly seasoned world travelers, including me and husband U.S. Navy LCDR (retired) Steve Skinner, now a veterinarian and co-owner of Knoxville Animal Clinic. During his active duty years, Steve and I lived and worked overseas, frequently traveling internationally during several U.S. military operations including Desert Storm/Desert Shield and the Libyan conflict.
Those military years trained us to take precautions, and I’d spent considerable time this fall talking with U.S. State Department/ Foreign Service Desk personnel. After assessing the situation of the past few months, our group all agreed it seemed stable enough to proceed with the educational visit.
But our real education into Israel’s new situation began as those Hamas missiles aimed Thursday towards Tel Aviv. Each following day brought inside pictures of the military buildup, and into the Israelis’ attitudes to live their lives as normally as possible.
Grace Under Fire
Our host firm and hotel staff set the reassuring tone, remaining positive in the midst of their own family worries and possible impending reserve call-up status. In turn, not one of us fled for the airport, and we all tried to conduct business as usual (and even took a couple tours).
We were in Jerusalem Friday when that city was targeted by Hamas missiles. Sirens forced us to huddle under an arch near the Via Dolorosa. Our tour guides and hosts had thought Jerusalem might be safer than Tel Aviv, because insurgents previously had not fired upon the Holy City in many decades, possibly due to the presence of multiple sites considered holy by the Muslim faith.
Luckily, the missiles fell short.
That night, true grace under fire was exhibited by Meitar’s managing partner, Col. Dan Geva, who also is commander of Homeland Front for the Tel Aviv area. He oversees approximately 2,000 reserve soldiers, including a nonconventional and chemical weapon defense battalion. We were stunned when he took two hours away from his reserve duties to host us for Friday Shabbat Dinner in his home.
Colonel Dan Geva, Commander of Homeland Front for the Tel Aviv area and managing partner for Meitar, a law firm, gives a military briefing at his home on Nov. 16, 2012. Geva took two hours away from his reserve duties to host Lisa Hood Skinner and others for a Shabbat dinner at his home in Tel Aviv, Israel.
After a musical program and a quiet dinner discussion about the situation, Geva kissed his wife and family, bade us goodbye and returned to his command. The next day, as our group returned from sights in Galilee, we were caught in a two-hour traffic jam caused by military ground troops in convoy. We wondered if they were in Geva’s command. It was a bit surreal.
And Life Goes On
Our new friends said they were just as surprised as we were at the sudden escalation. It had been nearly two decades since a missile had triggered air raid sirens over Tel Aviv.
Now their everyday routine had to adapt to the air raid sirens and threats, such as this week’s bus bombing. Our new friends are trying to conduct business as usual, raise their families and defend their homeland in this stressful atmosphere. Their bravery inspires me.
Perhaps this email Wednesday sums up their courage and determination to adapt. It’s from Meitar tech lawyer David Mirchin, who headed up our planning team.
“You had the opportunity to experience firsthand some of the difficulties that we face from our neighbors—but life here goes on nevertheless….”
“The situation also, however, creates its own humorous or crazy moments. I wanted to relate a Marx Brothers-like incident which happened to me on Sunday evening.
I was biking home through northern Tel Aviv (near Dan Geva’s neighborhood) in the evening and a siren went off. I quickly biked into a neighborhood of homes (to find some bomb shelter to enter), jumped off my bike, and knocked on a door.
“Who is it?” they asked.
“There’s a siren,” I answered.
“No, there isn’t.”
“Yes, there is.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes, I’m sure.”
At this point, they opened the door, heard the siren, and said, “Come on in.”
We all went downstairs, together with their 3-year-old boy, to the shelter.
He asked, “What is happening?”
The dad said, “Don’t worry. The good missiles are beating the bad missiles.”
There you have it.
Lisa Hood Skinner, senior vice president at Ackermann PR, handles the firm’s largest international clients, specializing in law, healthcare, finance and tourism. She is a former News Sentinel reporter.