On his first visit to the Jewish state, U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy (D-District 8) met with many of Israel's top elected officials, including Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, but the freshman lawmaker said that an encounter with a 5-year-old boy whose family lives in the beleaguered town of Sederot turned out to be the most memorable.
"I want to grow up and build a bigger missile so we can be in peace. But I don't want to hurt their kids like they want to hurt us," Murphy recalled the boy telling him.
The congressman visited with the young family at their home, which is situated less than a mile from the Gaza Strip. The boy's parents described the daily impact that Palestinian rocket fire has had on their lives. The boy's mother recounted hearing the town's warning siren go off while driving, and then covering her two children with her own body.
Murphy was in Israel from Aug. 13-18 with a delegation of Democratic House members led by House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.).
"I believe every member of Congress should go to Israel and see with their own eyes to see what our greatest ally in the Middle East is living through," said Murphy.
'An International Symbol'
He added that the trip had several emotional moments. One was, as a practicing Catholic, the chance to walk the Stations of the Cross in the Old City of Jerusalem, which, according to Catholic teaching, is the path that Jesus struggled and suffered along prior to his Crucifixion.
Yet another was visiting the graveside of Michael Levin, the 22-year-old Bucks county man who immigrated to Israel, joined the Israeli Defense Force, and was killed in action during last summer's Second Lebanon War. Murphy, who himself served as a U.S. Army paratrooper in Iraq, said that he carries a photo of Levin in his wallet.
"He's literally become an international symbol," said Murphy. "Mount Herzl is the Arlington of Israel. And to see how his grave has really become a shrine … it's very emotional to me to know that we have this hero from our midst."
And, of course, there was also some good old-fashioned politicking to be done.
In addition to meeting with Olmert, the contingent met with Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, Labor leader Ehud Barak, Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu and Israeli President Shimon Peres.
"We had a very candid conversation," Murphy said of the meeting with Olmert. "We were concerned with his thoughts on the Saudi Arabian arms deal. There were some discussions about the peace process, and we asked what he thought of [Palestinian Prime Minister Salam] Fayyad and of Fatah."
In fact, the contingent met with Fayyad, who was appointed by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas after Abbas dissolved the Hamas-led unity government following Hamas' violent takeover of the Gaza Strip in June.
The previous week, Fayyad had met with a Republican congressional delegation. Soon afterward, Fayyad drew the ire of U.S. Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.) after it came to light that the Palestinian Authority had released funds to more than 3,000 Hamas fighters. Fayyad claimed a computer glitch was to blame.
First of all, Murphy noted that, "for me to sit across the conference table and see a picture of [Yasser] Arafat was disturbing, to say the least."
But, he said, Fayyad, "said all the right things."
Murphy stressed that Fayyad and Fatah's leadership now had to back up its words with action.
"One, I'm not of the Bush mold, where you ignore the problem and think it's going to go away. You need to hold the other parties accountable and make sure that their rhetoric matches their record," stated Murphy.
Once he got back to American shores, Murphy didn't wait long to dive back into domestic politics. After previously saying that he planned to stay out of the presidential fray, Murphy held a telephone press conference announcing his support for U.S. Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.).
"People kept asking me who I'm supporting, who I think the best candidate is, and I had to be true to them and to myself," said Murphy, who together with Obama introduced legislation back in February that called for a scaling back of forces in Iraq.
Murphy said that "Obama's call to fight a smarter, tougher war on terror is something that resonates with me."
Murphy has been among Washington's most visible first-term lawmakers, perhaps in no small part due to his alliance with Obama.
In fact, Murphy is planning to take his story to a wider audience. According to news reports, he received a $100,000 book advance from Henry Holt and Company.
Murphy's spokesman, Adam Abrams, explained that the deal was made late last year, before Murphy took office. House rules generally prohibit sitting members from accepting advances.
The book is being written with the help of veteran political speechwriter Adam Frankel, who's currently working on Obama's presidential campaign.
Abrams said that the book will detail the 33-year-old's childhood in Northeast Philadelphia and focus on his experiences as a paratrooper in Iraq.
The memoir will also delve into Murphy's victorious congressional campaign in an election cycle that ultimately resulted in monumental gains for the Democratic Party.
In November, Murphy eked out a victory over GOP Freshman Representative Michael Fitzpatrick.