Home April 2012 Israeli Soldiers' Stories

Israeli Soldiers’ Stories

“The reality in  Israel is that people are forced to serve in the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) – men for three years and women for two – at the age of 18,” said Elad, one of two Israeli soldiers visiting UCI in March.  “I was in border control at a checkpoint.  Most Israelis and Palestinians want peace, and IDF soldiers are searching for radicals who don’t.  It’s not something anyone wants.  Then I was called to serve as a reservist in 2006 when I was sitting in a class.”From 2001 to 2004, Elad served as a commander in the Egoz unit, an infantry combat unit.  He is an alumnus of the StandWithus Fellowship at Ben Gurion University in 2007.  He holds a BA in political science and management from BGU and an MBA from the University of Bologna/John Hopkins.  Elad served in many public diplomacy capacities for the Jewish Agency, the Clinton Global Initiative in 2008 and is now a representative for StandWithUs-San Diego.
The other solider, Lital, a woman who opted for a third year in the IDF, added, “I wish I could have spent those three years at college instead of holding an M-16.  I joined the army in 2002 when suicide bombers were exploding bombs.  As an 18-year-old, I couldn’t think about what to wear to go to a night club when lives were at stake.  But I didn’t want to serve coffee; I wanted to serve my country.”
Born in Ashkelon, Lital served as a combat soldier in the border police unit and at checkpoints, something unique for a woman to do in the IDF.  She is an alumnus of the StandWithUs Fellowship of 2010 at Tel Aviv University, which trains 150 students from six Israeli universities in public diplomacy.  The reservist holds a BA in social sciences from the Open University, and today is a television and print journalist.
Israeli soldiers have a lot in common with other people their age all over the world, but they know it is their job to serve their country at a time when they might otherwise be in college.  Instead of worrying about exams, parties and the other concerns of a normal 18-year-old, they may be faced with moral dilemmas, even life-and-death situations.
The message was clear when these two Israeli soldiers recounted their personal experiences and shared insights of serving in the IDF.  On March 1, Lital and Elad came to UCI to discuss their own backgrounds and life in Israel and then answer questions.  Their West Coast tour, sponsored by StandWithUs, the international Israel education organization, also took them to Cal State Long Beach and UC Riverside.  College Republicans and Anteaters for Israel also sponsored the UCI talk.
Lital and Elad are part of StandWithUs’ “Israeli Soldiers’ Stories,” an innovative program featuring reserve duty Israeli college students who talk about the Israeli-Arab conflict, giving a human face to the IDF uniform.  Ten reservists toured the US in February and March.  In addition to IDF service, they are graduates of the StandWithUs Israeli Fellowship, a unique public diplomacy program that selects and trains 150 student leaders each year from six Israeli universities.
Many of the reservists are part of a group that provides video testimony at www.standwithus.co.il/idf, where they highlight their personal experiences.  This is an independent initiative that is not coordinated with either the IDF or the Israeli Government.
“The IDF has over 700,000 citizen soldiers and reservists who work to live up to its high ethical standards in even the most difficult situations on the front lines.  If there are violations of the Code of Conduct, the IDF judges all violations and punishes offenders,” explained Roz Rothstein, co-founder and CEO StandWithUs.
The tour was being brought to campus by the StandWithUs Emerson Fellow.  Similar to the Israel Fellowship and in its sixth year, the Fellowship selects and trains 40 student leaders from 40 US and Canadian universities to run Israel education events and monitor anti-Israel rhetoric.
The soldiers shared experiences that are rarely heard and took the time to engage in dialogue with students and members of the community.  Sadly, a group from the Muslim Student Union staged a walkout after 15 minutes of the program with taped mouths and t-shirts depicting babies they claim were killed during Cast Lead.  Amazingly, three of them came back, listened to the rest of the talk, asked thoughtful questions and responded politely to the answers.
Walkouts were staged similarly in other schools that hosted IDF reservists.  At U.C. Riverside someone wrote the word “terrorists” in pencil on an Israeli flag that was being displayed in a hallway outside the campus Hillel’s office.
Mark Yudof, the U.C. system’s president, condemned the heckling that occurred at a Feb. 27 event at U.C. Davis.  In an open letter, Yudof wrote, “I condemn the actions of those who would disrupt this event. Attempting to shout down speakers is not protected speech.  It is an action meant to deny others their right to free speech.”
Yudof also condemned the recent vandalism of an Israeli flag at U.C. Riverside.  He praised the manner in which the two campuses’ chancellors handled these incidents.

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