Fire at Palestinians’ home seen as bid to avenge Israeli soldier’s murder


Five Palestinians were treated for smoke inhalation after their home was set ablaze in a “price tag” attack believed to be in revenge for an Israeli soldier’s murder.

“Regards from Eden, Revenge” was spray-painted on the house, which is located in a Palestinian village northeast of Ramallah. Its five residents were treated at a nearby hospital.

Pvt. Eden Atias, 18, of Nazareth-Illit was stabbed to death Wednesday morning on a public bus in Afula by a 16-year-old Palestinian male who was in Israel illegally. Atias was traveling back to his army base.

Thousands attended his funeral on Wednesday evening.

The Palestinian homeowner told the daily Haaretz that four “settlers” approached the house, poured flammable liquid near the door and set it alight.

Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said the incident appeared to be in response to Atias’ murder, according to Reuters.

Meanwhile, on Thursday, two Palestinians arrested last month on suspicion of murdering an Israeli army colonel admitted to the killing, calling it a “gift to the Palestinian people.”

The suspects, aged 18 and 21, told Israel’s Shin Bet security agency that they had originally planned to rob Saraya Ofer, but decided to murder him when they realized he was a senior Israel Defense Forces official, The Jerusalem Post reported.

Saraya Ofer was the nephew of brothers and leading Israeli businessmen Yuli and Sammy Ofer.

Palestinian kills Israeli soldier on bus


An 18-year-old Israeli soldier was stabbed to death on a bus in northern Israel by a Palestinian teenager.

Police are calling the Wednesday morning incident in Afula a terrorist attack.

The soldier was stabbed several times in the neck on a bus traveling from Nazareth to Tel Aviv. He was rushed to a nearby hospital, where he reportedly died during surgery.

Police said the assailant, a 16-year-old male from Jenin, did not have a permit to work or reside in Israel, the Times of Israel reported.

Haaretz reported that the stabber’s brothers are known to Israeli security officials and have been connected to terrorist activity.  The attacker’s uncles are in prison in Israel, Army Radio reported.

The attack comes a day before the one-year anniversary of Pillar of Defense, an Israeli operation in Gaza launched to stop rocket strikes on southern Israel.

Last month, a Palestinian on a bus near Jerusalem threatened riders with a knife before cutting off a sidelock of a passenger and fleeing.

Anat Kamm sues Haaretz newspaper for exposing her as source


Anat Kamm, the Israeli soldier who was jailed for turning classified Israeli military documents over to a reporter, is suing the Israeli daily Haaretz and journalist Uri Blau for revealing her identity.

Kamm filed a lawsuit Thursday with the Tel Aviv District Court, asking for $716,000 and lawyer's fees. She reportedly claims that Haaretz exposed her to Shin Bet scrutiny and criminal proceedings, and thus owes her the compensation.

She was convicted in February 2011 of collecting, holding and passing on classified information without authorization. An espionage charge was dropped as part of a plea bargain.

Arrested in late 2009 or early 2010, Kamm admitted to stealing about 2,000 documents, hundreds identified as classified or top secret, which she downloaded to two discs, while serving her mandatory military service in the Israeli army in the Central Command. She gave the information to  Blau, a Haaretz reporter who wrote stories based on the information that was approved by the military censor. The stories led to a search for Blau's source.

Blau served a four-month suspended prison sentence, which he served through community service, for accepting the information,

Following her military service, Kamm was a media reporter for Walla, an online news site that at the time was partly owned by Haaretz. She has been in the Neve Tirzah women's prison since November 2011.

Stevie Wonder cancels performance at Saban-Chaired FIDF Gala for IDF Soldiers


Legendary pop musician Stevie Wonder has cancelled his performance scheduled for the Dec. 6 FIDF Gala in Los Angeles saluting IDF Soldiers. The event is sponsored by philanthropists Haim and Cheryl Saban.

The 25-time Grammy winner was to appear for an expected 1,200 FIDF supporters, including dignitaries from the U.S. and Israel, at the FIDF Western Region Gala, which is also scheduled to feature Grammy Winner David Foster & Friends with “Seinfeld” Veteran Jason Alexander as Emcee.

According to a press release issued on the morning of Nov. 29:

“Representatives of the performer cited a recommendation from the United Nations to withdraw his participation given Wonder’s involvement with the organization.  FIDF National Director and CEO, Maj. Gen. (Res.) Yitzhak (Jerry) Gershon: ‘we regret the fact that Stevie Wonder has decided to cancel his performance at an important community event of the FIDF, an American organization supporting the educational, cultural, and wellbeing needs of Israel’s soldiers, their families, and the families of fallen soldiers. FIDF is a non-political organization that provides much-needed humanitarian support regardless of religion, political affiliation, or military activity.’”

[Related:

Three soldiers wounded in Gaza rocket attack


Three Israeli soldiers were lightly injured by a Palestinian rocket attack on the northern Negev.

The rockets landed on Friday afternoon, moderately wounding one soldier and causing minor injuries to the other two. All three were evacuated to Soroka hospital in Be´er Sheva, an Israel Defense Forces spokesperson said.

According to the IDF spokesperson, more than 500 rockets have been launched into Israel since the beginning of Pillar of Defense, the operation launched this week to counter rocket fire from the Gaza Strip.

Of those rockets, 26 hit populated areas and 110 were shot down by the Iron Dome missile defense system, according to the IDF. 

Tel Aviv mayor Ron Huldai has ordered municipal workers to open and prepare bomb shelters throughout the city after it was hit for a third time by a rocket from Gaza.

Ex-Israeli soldier Anat Kamm appeals prison sentence


Former Israeli soldier Anat Kamm, who turned classified military documents over to a reporter, has appealed her 4 1/2-year prison sentence.

Kamm, who entered the Neve Tirza prison in Ramle last November, has asked Israel’s Supreme Court to reduce her sentence, according to Ynet, which reported that a hearing has been set in two weeks.

The sentence and 18-month probation meted in Tel Aviv District Court was well below the 15 years requested by prosecutors. Her two-year house arrest is not counted as time served.

Kamm was convicted in February 2011 of collecting, holding and passing on classified information without authorization. She had been charged originally with espionage, but the charge was dropped as part of a plea bargain. Kamm was arrested in late 2009 or early 2010.

Kamm admitted to stealing about 2,000 documents, including hundreds identified as classified or top secret, which she downloaded on to two discs, while serving her mandatory military service in the Israeli army’s Central Command. She turned the information over to Haaretz reporter Uri Blau, who wrote stories based on the information that were approved by the military censor. The stories led to a search for Blau’s source.

Following her military service, Kamm was a media reporter for Walla, an online news site that at the time was partly owned by Haaretz.

As part of her filing, Kamm pointed out that Blau, who also accepted a plea bargain, is going to be sentenced to four months of community service.

Demjanjuk’s death hastened by medication, complaint says


An attorney for convicted Nazi war criminal John Demjanjuk filed a complaint with German prosecutors claiming that his death was hastened by medication administered at a nursing home in Bavaria.

Ulrich Busch asked prosecutors in Rosenheim, Bavaria, in a 12-page complaint to open an investigation of five doctors and a nurse, The Associated Press reported Wednesday.

The complaint posits that a specific pain medication, common in Germany but banned in the United States, led to Demjanjuk’s death in March as he awaited an appeal of his conviction last year by a Munich court for his role in the murder of 27,900 people at the Sobibor death camp in Poland.

Born and raised in Ukraine, Demjanjuk immigrated to the United States following World War II. In 1986 the Cleveland-area autoworker was sent to Israel to face trial on charges of being the notorious Treblinka guard “Ivan the Terrible.” An Israeli court sentenced Demjanjuk to death, but the Israeli Supreme Court ordered him released due to reasonable doubt while noting that substantial evidence emerged during the trial identifying him as a guard at Sobibor.

Demjanjuk returned to suburban Cleveland in 1993 and resisted multiple attempts to strip him of his U.S. citizenship and deport him again. But in 2009, U.S. authorities deported him to Germany, and in May 2011 he was convicted for his crimes in Sobibor. Demjanjuk was sentenced to five years in prison.

Photo of gay soldiers on IDF Facebook page causes stir


A photo posted on the Israel Defense Forces website in honor of Pride Month, showing two male soldiers in uniform holding hands, has caused a stir.

The photo posted Monday and captioned “It’s Pride Month. Did you know that the IDF treats all of its soldiers equally?” had garnered more than 7,800 likes and more than 5,800 shares as of Tuesday afternoon.

The more than 1,130 comments express both happiness and disgust at the photo, though positive comments appear to outnumber the negative by a large margin.

“Beautiful picture, proud to be an Israeli!!!!!!!!!” one comment reads. A combat soldier who identifies himself as gay comments that the photo “is absolutely reflective of how the Israeli army treats gays.”

Conversely, one comments reads, “This is disgusting,” and another says “too bad for them unless they repent.”

“Pinkwashing in action,” reads another comment, referring to accusations that Israel focuses on its openness to homosexuality to hide how it treats the Palestinians.

Israeli soldiers injured by Palestinian snipers


Two Israeli soldiers were injured by Palestinian snipers near the Gaza border.

The soldiers were conducting routine patrols Wednesday near the border fence between Israel and the Gaza Strip. Israeli soldiers returned fire, according to the Israel Defense Forces.

Last week, Palestinians also fired on Israeli soldiers working on the Israeli side of the border fence.

Israeli officer who hit activist suspended pending investigation


A senior Israeli military officer caught on tape hitting an activist in the face with the butt of his rifle has been suspended pending the results of an investigation.

The International Solidarity Movement posted on YouTube a video of the incident, which took place Saturday during a protest bike ride in the Jordan Valley.

Approximately 200 activists, including Palestinians from the West Bank and foreign activists, rode their bikes along Route 90, the Jordan Valley’s main north-south route, to protest what the ISM calls on its website “regular harassment and attacks from Israeli settlers and soldiers.”

Israel Defense Forces soldiers halted the activists, who were blocking the main thoroughfare to traffic and began taking away their bicycles. The video shows Lt.-Col. Shalom Eisner hitting an activist in the face with his M-16 rifle. Four activists were wounded in the incident, according to Haaretz.

Central Command Chief Ma.-Gen. Nitzan Alon late on Sunday ordered an immediate investigation into the incident. In addition, Military Judge Advocate General Brig.-Gen. Avi Mandelblit ordered a criminal investigation against Eisner.

“This event does not reflect the IDF’s values and will be thoroughly investigated and handled with the necessary severity,” IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Benny Gantz said in a statement.

Eisner reportedly said he regrets the incident, but said the video represents one minute out of a two-hour event in which the protesters attacked the soldiers, breaking one of Eisner’s fingers and injured his wrist. He is seen later in the video with his wrist and finger in a white bandage.

According to Ynet, Eisner said he did not use a water cannon that he had at the scene in order to disperse the protesters because there was an ongoing dialogue and he wanted to end the event peacefully.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu condemned the incident, saying: “Such behavior does not characterize IDF soldiers and officers and has no place in the Israel Defense Forces and in the State of Israel.”

Israeli soldier stabbed in Ramallah


An Israeli soldier was attacked and stabbed by a group of Palestinians during an operation in the West Bank city of Ramallah.

The soldier following Monday night’s attack was taken to Hadassah-Ein Kerem Medical Center in Jerusalem and is in stable condition.

Gunfire from Israeli troops responding to the attack injured three Palestinians.

On Tuesday, Israeli troops foiled a terror attack along the Gaza border, defusing a powerful bomb planted next to the security fence, the Israel Defense Forces said.

The bomb was meant to attack soldiers patrolling near the security fence separating Israel from the Gaza Strip, according to the IDF, which said in a statement that the bomb was planted at the end of last week, using the cover of heavy fog.

Shootings upend French election, Sarkozy gains


The shootings of French soldiers and Jewish schoolchildren by a home-grown Islamist gunman killed by police have upended France’s election campaign and resurrected conservative President Nicolas Sarkozy’s prospects.

The first opinion poll to be taken since Mohamed Merah, 23, committed his third and deadliest attack at a Jewish school in Toulouse on Monday showed Sarkozy surging past Socialist challenger Francois Hollande in the April 22 first round.

Hollande leads by eight points in voting intentions for the May 6 runoff, but the gap has narrowed and the Toulouse killings have thrust the issues of security and integration of immigrants to the top of the political agenda.

That plays to Sarkozy’s strengths, political scientists and campaign advisers say.

Jerome Sainte-Marie, director of political studies at the CSA polling institute which took the survey, said Sarkozy’s two-point gain, largely at the expense of far-right candidate Marine Le Pen, showed that people naturally rallied behind the head of state in times of crisis.

The bounce could prove short-lived, he told Reuters Television in an interview, and the campaign may soon return to the underlying issues of unemployment, social welfare, living standards and pensions on which the left had been leading.

Sainte-Marie cited the example of former President Francois Mitterrand, whose popularity hit a peak during the 1991 Gulf War in which France participated, only to plunge to record lows after the last shot was fired.

“However it is also possible, since this shift had already begun, that Nicolas Sarkozy manages to turn the whole campaign around to his own agenda, which is about order, values, immigration, integration, security and national identity.”

Police commandos stormed Merah’s apartment on Thursday after a 30-hour siege and shot him dead in an exchange of fire in which two policemen were injured.

Within two hours, the president had announced new measures to combat Islamist indoctrination and recruitment via the Internet, through foreign travel and in prisons.

RIGHT TURN

Before the shootings, Sarkozy had courted controversy by turning sharply to the right in a March 11 speech declaring there were too many foreigners in France and vowing to rewrite or walk out of the European Union’s Schengen open-border system.

“Of course what has happened in the past week has changed the course of events,” a senior Sarkozy campaign adviser said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

“There wasn’t much talk about security and terrorism before. But this is going to raise questions about our system of integration, our approach to fundamentalism and our tolerance of certain practices here. You’re going to hear a lot about that in the weeks to come,” he said.

The Toulouse siege revived memories of an episode early in Sarkozy’s career, when in 1993 he entered a nursery school where a gunman with explosives calling himself the “Human Bomb” had taken a class of children and their teacher hostage and negotiated for their release. Sarkozy emerged carrying a child.

Police later shot the gunman dead and freed the remaining children unharmed, and Sarkozy, who was mayor of the Paris suburb of Neuilly, became a national hero.

DEFAULT WIN

Both Sarkozy and Hollande suspended campaigning after Monday’s shooting and called for national unity.

But while the incumbent was shown on television supervising the manhunt, comforting mourners, bringing together religious leaders and delivering a moving eulogy, his rival was confined to playing shadow president, following in Sarkozy’s footsteps but without his powers.

For months, it seemed Hollande only needed to avoid a serious blunder to win by default against a president whose brash style, disappointing economic record and unpopular austerity policies seemed to doom him to defeat.

Now the left’s plodding standard-bearer needs to find a way to wrest the campaign initiative back.

Although Hollande has avoided criticizing the government, Sarkozy’s supporters have resumed attacks on the Socialist contender, accusing him of being “in denial” about the threat from Islamist militancy.

“Francois Hollande never made security a priority in his program,” Jean-Francois Cope, leader of Sarkozy’s UMP party, told the daily Le Figaro. “In the face of this tragedy, I call on Francois Hollande and his Green allies to maintain the appropriate dignity.”

As if on cue, the same conservative newspaper launched a front-page editorial broadside against the Socialists on Tuesday, linking the Toulouse attacks and Islamist militancy to the left’s alleged embrace of multiculturalism.

“Hasn’t (Socialist Party leader) Martine Aubry taken her fascination with communitarianism as far as to set special hours aside for women in the swimming pools of Lille?” Le Figaro said.

STATESMANLIKE

Hollande’s campaign advisers say his best hope is to remain statesmanlike in the face of such attacks and try to refocus the campaign patiently on bread-and-butter issues about jobs, schools and reviving economic growth.

Meanwhile, Sarkozy faces a fight-back from the far right, with Le Pen questioning possible security lapses in the handling of Merah, and charging that the government has been soft on Islamism and lost control of many tough urban neighborhoods.

“The government is scared,” she said on Thursday. “I’ve been saying this for 10 years. Entire districts are in the hands of Islamic fundamentalists and I say it again today, the danger is underestimated.”

She demanded to know why the security services, which had been tipped off to Merah’s two visits to Afghanistan and Pakistan, had not kept him under tighter surveillance since his return last year, suggesting they had been diverted to snoop on journalists and political opponents.

Centrist candidate Francois Bayrou, who refused to suspend his campaign, implicitly blamed Sarkozy for creating a climate of “stigmatization” of immigrants and said the role of the president should be to unite society, not divide it.

The president needs to pick up votes from supporters of both these candidates to beat Hollande in the runoff, and the Toulouse shootings may help him score points with both camps.

His firm handling of the manhunt and immediate announcement of new measures to combat militancy may please right-wing and nationalist voters, while his emphasis on national unity and interfaith dialogue may appeal to centrists.

Additional reporting by Emmanuel Jarry and Pauline Mevel; Writing by Paul Taylor; Editing by Giles Elgood

Investigator: French gunman planned to kill soldier, policemen


A gunman suspected of killing seven people in southwest France in the name of al Qaeda had planned to kill another soldier and two police officials before he was surrounded by police in an early morning raid on Wednesday, an investigator said.

Paris Prosecutor Francois Molins said the beseiged gunman, Mohamed Merah, had told police negotiators that he had received training from al Qaeda in Afghanistan.

Merah has also claimed responsibility for the killings of three soldiers of North African origin last week and four people at a Jewish school in Toulouse on Monday, Molins said.

Reporting By Daniel Flynn; editing by Leigh Thomas

Shalit visits family of slain tank commander


Former captive Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit visited the family of his tank commander, who was killed in the same incident in which Shalit was captured.

Shalit visited the family of Hanan Barak at their home in Arad on Sunday, Ynet reported Tuesday. He told the family that he loved Barak.

The family told Ynet that the visit gave them “closure.”

Shalit’s parents regularly attend the annual memorial service held for Barak.

Haredi man indicted for harrasment after insulting female Israeli soldier on bus


A haredi Orthodox man who insulted a female soldier after she refused to sit in the back of a city bus was charged with sexual harassment.

Shlomo Fuchs, 44, was indicted in a Jerusalem court Thursday, a day after he was arrested by Jerusalem police for calling the soldier, Doron Matalon, 19, a “whore” and a “shiksa” on a Jerusalem bus; he was joined in the insults by other passengers. The bus driver pulled over and called police.

Also on Thursday, female members of the Knesset’s Committee on the Status of Women rode on a segregated bus from Beit Shemesh to Jerusalem.

Haredi Orthodox male passengers reportedly called out insults to the women, who sat in the front of the bus, and complained of provocation. Some saw the television cameras and opted not to get on the bus, according to reports.

Internal Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch on Wednesday called on the public to file complaints with the police over such harassment, Ynet reported.

Thousands gathered in the Jerusalem suburb of Beit Shemesh on Tuesday night to protest the exclusion of women in the public sphere.

Israel arrests troops for anti-Palestinian vandalism


Three Israeli soldiers were arrested on Tuesday for suspected involvement in pro-settler vandalism and arson, the military said, following a series of attacks in the West Bank that have exacerbated tensions with Palestinians.

Mosques have been torched, graffiti daubed, and Palestinian trees chopped down in the “Price Tag” attacks, so called because they seek to make Palestinians pay for violence against Israelis and the Jewish state pay for its occasional curbs on settlement activity.

Fearing a flare-up in violence, Israel has ordered a police crackdown on the suspected far-right Jewish groups behind the attacks which have also targeted some of Israel’s West Bank garrisons, slashing vehicle tires and defacing property.

Channel Ten TV said the three soldiers were suspected of damaging both Palestinian and Israeli military property.

The arrests are a rare example of conscript troops’ involvement in the Price Tag campaign and a military spokeswoman declined to detail allegations against them, saying that an investigation was under way.

But she said they were taken into custody following the arrest by civilian police on Sunday of a woman and six girls, some of them settlers, for incidents including vandalism of Palestinian trees and army property.

Channel Ten TV said one of three lived in an unauthorized settler outpost, adding that one was also a combat soldier.

Writing by Dan Williams; Editing by Ben Harding

IDF soldier shoots Israeli settler


An Israeli soldier shot and killed an Israeli settler who failed to stop at a checkpoint.

Dan Mertzbach, a rabbi from Otniel, was killed early Friday morning in the southern Hebron region of the West Bank. Mertzbach was reportedly leaving his village when he failed to stop at a temporary checkpoint set up because of reports that a suspicious vehicle had been seen in the area.

Mertzbach reportedly did not notice the checkpoint or the soldiers’ attempts to flag him down. An Israel Defense Forces soldier opened fire on the vehicle, killing Mertzbach and wounding two other passengers.

After the shooting, a soldier was struck by a car as he tried to assess the damage. The soldier sustained moderate injuries.

Following a ceremony in Otniel, Mertzbach was buried late Friday in Jerusalem.

The IDF says it is conducting an investigation.

Gilad Shalit undergoes surgery to repair abduction injuries


Gilad Shalit has undergone surgery to repair wounds from his 2006 abduction.

The successful surgery Friday at Rambam Hospital in Haifa removed seven pieces of shrapnel in Shalit’s hand, according to news reports.

Shalit was released from captivity two and a half weeks ago in exchange for over a thousand Palestinian prisoners. He will spend his second weekend of freedom at Rambam for observation.

Earlier this week, a lawmaker from the haredi Orthodox Shas Party, Menshulam Nahiri, criticized Shalit for not spending his first weekend in synagogue.

Ex-soldier Anat Kamm sentenced for stealing classified documents


Former Israeli soldier Anat Kamm, who turned classified military documents over to a reporter, was sentenced to 54 months in jail.

The 4.5-year sentence and 18-month probation, announced Sunday in Tel Aviv District Court, is much less than the 15 years requested by prosecutors.

Her two-year house arrest will not be counted as time served.

Kamm was convicted in February 2011 of collecting, holding and passing on classified information without authorization. She had originally been charged with espionage; the charge was dropped as part of a plea bargain. Kamm was arrested in late 2009 or early 2010.

Kamm admitted to stealing about 2,000 documents, hundreds identified as classified or top secret, which she downloaded on to two discs, while serving her mandatory military service in the Israeli army’s Central Command. She turned the information over to Haaretz reporter Uri Blau, who wrote stories based on the information that were approved by the military censor. The stories led to a search for Blau’s source

Following her military service, Kamm was a media reporter for Walla, an online news site that was then partly owned by Haaretz.

“I didn’t have the chance to change some of the things that I found important to change during my military service, and I thought that by exposing these [materials] I would make a change,” Kamm is quoted as saying in the police documents. “It was important for me to bring the IDF’s policy to public knowledge.”

Shalits trying to adjust to new normal


A week after Gilad Shalit returned to Israel after being held in captivity for more than five years in Gaza, things were getting back to normal at the Shalit family home—sort of.

The Israel Police said they would remove a barrier placed in front of the family’s house in Mitzpe Hila. The flowers, placards and other paraphernalia that littered the streets of the northern Israeli town following the celebration marking Shalit’s return have been cleaned up. Even the Shalit protest tent opposite the prime minister’s residence in Jerusalem was taken down and carted away.

But with the 10-day moratorium on Israeli media intrusion in the Shalits’ town set to expire, and with Israelis still eager for images of the newly released soldier, it’s unlikely that Gilad, 25, will be able to have a normal life anytime soon.

On Monday, Israeli President Shimon Peres paid a visit to the Shalit family home, the first visit by an Israeli official. Almost immediately, photos and video of Peres and Gilad Shalit sitting side by side on the family couch landed on Israeli news websites and TV programs.

“You have no idea how thrilled I am to meet you here in your home alive, healthy and whole,” Peres said. “I came to express to you how proud I am, and how proud the entire nation is, by your ability to withstand extremely difficult conditions in captivity.”

Shalit thanked the president.

A day earlier, Israeli opposition leader Tzipi Livni, head of the Kadima Party, slammed the prisoner swap that brought Shalit home Oct. 18 in exchange for the release of 1,027 Arab prisoners, saying it has weakened Israel and strengthened Hamas.

Her criticism during interviews with the Israeli daily Yediot Achronot and Reshet Bet Radio did not sit well with lawmakers in the coalition or the opposition. They swiftly assailed Livni for waiting until Shalit was freed to voice her opposition to the deal, saying it showed a lack of leadership. Livni reportedly did not go public earlier with her dissent at the request of Noam Shalit, the soldier’s father.

The Israeli Cabinet approved the deal by a 26-3 vote.

In the few days since his release, Shalit has been captured by news photographers lying in wait for his next move. He was pictured taking a short walk with his mother—and several security guards—on the first morning following his release and riding a bicycle near his home. He also has played Ping-Pong. On the Simchat Torah holiday, he met with old friends, his father told reporters.

The Shalits are starting to learn that they have to maneuver to avoid the paparazzi. On Saturday, Shalit and his father left home early and took a side road to evade photographers on their way to a beach outing reportedly at Gilad’s request. But a photographer from Haaretz was camping on the beach with his family and snapped a photo of the soldier swimming near the shore as his father watched over him.

“In the last few years I have taken many photographs of the Shalit family surrounded by countless cameras,” photographer Yaron Kaminsky told his newspaper. “It was nice to just run into them like that, at the beach, during Gilad’s first Saturday since being freed from captivity.”

Kaminsky said he told Noam Shalit that he had taken the photo and received his tacit approval to publish it.

Meanwhile, supporters and curiosity seekers continue to flock to Mitzpe Hila for a glimpse of Gilad or simply to have their photo taken in front of the Shalit family home. Many are leaving flowers, drawings and packages containing candy and other gifts for the family.

Noam has provided reporters with several updates since his son returned. On Oct. 20, he said he does not believe Hamas’ claims that Gilad was not tortured while in captivity.

“Gilad went through harsh things, at least in the first period. It is correct that after that, after that first period, the way he was treated improved,” the elder Shalit said.

During the same news conference in front of the family home, Noam Shalit also told reporters that Gilad had an appetite for food but that he was having trouble sleeping through the night. On the day of his release, Gilad appeared wan and pale.

Noam added that his son had few requests and that he was “going with the flow.”

Egypt reportedly ready to free Ilan Grapel in prisoner swap with Israel


Egypt will reportedly release dual American-Israeli citizen Ilan Grapel in a prisoner exchange deal with Israel.

The swap will occur after the Israel-Hamas prisoner swap to free captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, which is scheduled to take place Tuesday, the Egyptian Ahram online newspaper reported Sunday, citing an unnamed Egyptian security source.

Grapel, who Egypt accuses of being a spy, will be released in exchange for 81 Egyptians being held in Israel on charges such as trying to illegally cross into the country, murder, drug trafficking, illegal residency and holding unlicensed weapons, according to Ahram. Three of the Egyptians held are under the age of 14, Ahram reported.

Grapel has not yet been indicted, and his detention was extended recently by 45 days.

Egyptian security officials said Grapel entered the country shortly after the start of the Jan. 25 uprising that led to the resignation of President Hosni Mubarak and posed as a foreign correspondent.

A law student at Emory University, Grapel allegedly said he was Muslim on the visa application that he filed with the Egyptian Embassy in Tel Aviv and then entered Egypt using his American passport.

Grapel denies he is a spy. He says he came to Egypt to intern for a nongovernmental organization that assists refugees from Sudan and elsewhere.

Grapel is a New Yorker who moved to Israel following his graduation from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. He joined the Israeli army, served as a paratrooper during the Second Lebanon War and was wounded in Southern Lebanon in August 2006.

IDF discloses soldier killed by friendly fire in south Israel terror attack


An Israel Defense Forces investigation into the terrorist attacks on Israel’s south on August 18, has revealed that Golani Brigade soldier, Staff Sgt. Moshe Naftali, who died in the attack, was killed by friendly fire.

Golani Brigade commander, Colonel Ofek Buchris, met Friday with the relatives of Staff Naftali, aged 22, to tell them that the preliminary findings of the IDF investigation lead to the conclusion that Naftali was killed by one friendly fire from a fellow soldier.

According to the investigation, four soldiers, including Naftali, who were first to arrive on the scene of the attack, alighted from their vehicle together in order to attack one of the terrorists. One of Naftali’s fellow soldiers fired at the terrorist, and Naftali was hit by friendly fire.

“The results of the investigation show that the forces that dealt with the attack acted professionally and with determination, they brought a quick end to the incident and assassinated the terrorists,” The IDF spokesman said.

Read more at Haaretz.com.

Free the hostage, but at what price?


The fifth anniversary of Gilad Shalit’s cruel imprisonment by Hamas, without the Red Cross being allowed to visit him, sparked growing public pressure in Israel on the government to agree to a painful prisoner swap. As I watched the protest, my mind wandered back almost four decades.

It was July 1973, and the Israeli Air Force (IAF) Academy was ready for its traditional end-of-semester party. I contributed my part to the party’s program by impersonating an Italian air attaché and conducting a tour of the base, where I had been serving for five years, without anyone recognizing me. Later, the pictures were shown at the party and generated a lot of laughter. I was surprised, therefore, when after the party I was summoned to the IAF commander, the fearsome Gen. Benny Peled, who showed great interest in the fact that for a full day I walked around the academy without my identity being exposed.

He told me why he was interested. A month before, Syria had agreed to return three pilots who had been kept as POWs for three years. Why? Because in June 1972, in a brilliant operation, the Israel Defense Force’s (IDF) elite commando unit, Sayeret Matkal, had abducted senior Syrian officers who were reconnoitering the Syrian-Lebanese border. After a year of hard negotiations, the POW swap was concluded. But Peled wasn’t fully satisfied. He entertained the idea of sending to Damascus people who would impersonate Syrian prison officers, get the wardens who maltreated our pilots and settle the account with them.

I dared wonder if this was necessary, once we’d gotten our boys back. He gave me a stern look. “If we’re here to stay,” he reprimanded me, “then everybody around us should know that they can’t mess with Israel and get away with it.”

I wish we still had that kind of approach. Furthermore, I wish we had adopted in the first place the stance of the United States: No deals with extortionists. Period. When, in 1993, the American pilot Michael Durant was captured by Gen. Mohamed Farrah Aidid’s men in Mogadishu, Somalia (the “Black Hawk Down” incident), former U.S. Ambassador Robert Oakley warned Aidid that the city would be destroyed, including “men, women, children, camels, cats, dogs, goats, donkeys, everything. … That would really be tragic for all of us, but that’s what will happen.”

Durant was released right away.

Israel is not a superpower like America, and, furthermore, bringing our boys home has always been almost a sacred value. Israeli soldiers are willing to do everything for their country, even risking their lives, because they know that if they become prisoners of war, Israel will go out of its way to bring them back home. I flew with the Israeli Air Force for 37 years, and I always felt confident about that. Many times I was assigned to secondary missions that had only one purpose — to rescue fellow pilots who flew the primary mission, if and when they got into trouble. If they did fall into enemy hands, however, every government in Israel has agreed to a prisoner swap.

Netanyahu’s government is no exception, and through the good services of a German mediator, it came as close as possible to striking a deal with Hamas. However, the government refuses to yield to Hamas’ demand to release some of the worst terrorists, those responsible for killing hundreds of innocent Israelis. This is not a question of punishing them; the precedent of the ill-fated Jibril deal in 1985, when 1,150 prisoners were released, showed that many of the killers, once freed, resumed their killings.

This is not a question of principle, then, but of price. Maybe borrowing a page from Jewish history will help us here. In Judaism, redeeming the captive is very important: “You shall not stand idly by the blood of your brother” (Leviticus 19:16). However, not at all costs. One of the old Jewish sages has already cautioned against it. Rabbi Meir ben Baruch, better known as the Maharam of Rotenburg, was one of the leading rabbis of Germany in the 13th century, when King Rudolph started persecuting the Jews.

The king arrested the Maharam, hoping to get a huge ransom for him, and indeed, the Jews started to collect money for that purpose. Yet the Maharam, from his cell, issued a directive strictly prohibiting such a move, by citing the Jewish religious law: “It is forbidden to redeem captives for more than their worth.” He pointed out that setting a precedent in his case would endanger all Torah sages, who would become instruments of kidnapping and extortion.

This is a terrible dilemma, with no clear-cut answers. It was Geula Cohen, who was a fighter in the pre-state, anti-British underground Lehi (the Stern Gang), who summed it up. “If my son Tzachi [Member of Knesset Tzachi Hanegbi] were taken POW,” she said in one of the controversies over prisoner exchanges, “I would have fought like a lioness that the government should pay any price for his release.’’

Then, with the same breath, she added: “And at the same time, I would have expected the government to firmly reject my demands.”

Uri Dromi is a columnist based in Jerusalem. From 1992 to 1996, he served as the spokesman of the Rabin and Peres governments.

Hamas rejects Red Cross demand to prove Shalit is alive


The International Red Cross on Thursday urged Hamas to provide proof abducted Israel Defense Forces soldier Gilad Shalit is still alive, a request which the Islamist group quickly dismissed.

Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri told Reuters in Gaza “The Red Cross should not get involved in Israeli security games aimed at reaching Shalit. It should take a stand that results in ending the suffering of Palestinian prisoners.”

Senior ICRC officials say their message was transmitted privately to the militant Islamist group in the Strip several weeks ago.

Read more at Haaretz.com.

Shalit’s brother shouts at Independence Day ceremony: Gilad is still alive


Yoel Shalit, brother of abducted Israel Defense forces soldier Gilad Shalit clashed with police on Monday as he was escorted out of the official 63rd Independence Day ceremony at Mount Herzl for shouting during the speeches.

Shortly after Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin finished his speech kicking off the official celebrations, Yoel Shalit stood up from the crowd, together with his girlfriend, and raised signs reading “Gilad is still alive.”

The two were forcefully removed from the crowd by police as they continued shouting.

Read more at Haaretz.com.

‘My Brother’s Keeper’ keeps soldiers’ story alive


When Israel fought its War of Independence, there were no embedded TV cameramen, and even combat newsreel photographers were practically nonexistent. The newly created state had more important matters to worry about.

More surprisingly, there have been hardly any movies celebrating the near miraculous victories of 1948-49, and, later, of the Six-Day War in 1967.

Unlike Hollywood, which would have turned out dozens of macho movies showing Yossi Wayne-stein single-handedly wiping out five Arab armies, Israelis have just let the facts speak for themselves.

Hollywood made one try at plugging the cinematic hole with “Cast a Giant Shadow,” starring Kirk Douglas in the role of Col. David “Mickey” Marcus, an American World War II officer who went to Israel in early 1948 to aid the country in its struggle. Predictably, the picture was long on drama and short on reality.

Actually, though, there were some Americans and Canadians, mostly Jews, but also a fair number of Christians, who put their lives on the line to realize the dream of creating a Jewish state.

First came the crew members of Aliyah Bet, who manned the rust-bucket ships that ran the British blockade to bring some remnants of European Jewry to Palestine in 1947 and early 1948.

While the state was being established, about 1,500 Americans and Canadians, together with men and women from 43 other countries, made their way to the nascent Jewish state, mostly by illegal means, to fight alongside their Israeli brothers and sisters.

They were called Machal, the Hebrew acronym for “volunteers from outside Israel.” They fought in all branches of the service, but their greatest impact was in applying their World War II experiences to build up the Israeli air force and navy.

In doing so, the American Machalniks clearly broke U.S. laws and risked loss of their citizenship, but surprisingly little is known of their deeds in either their home country or Israel.

One of their number was Ira Feinberg, a 17-year-old New Yorker, who joined the elite troops of the Palmach.

Sixty years later, in 2008, Feinberg returned to Israel for a reunion of some of the remaining Machalniks. Realizing that this was likely to be the last gathering of the aging veterans, he brought along a camera crew to save their reminiscences for posterity.

The result is a 40-minute DVD, “My Brother’s Keeper,” which re-creates a real sense of those long-ago years and will screen at the Los Angeles Jewish Film Festival on May 10.

Nowadays, when Israeli military prowess is taken for granted, it beggars the imagination to hear the veterans talk of fighting, at the beginning, with World War I rifles and dropping hand grenades from open cockpits.

Feinberg enlivens the testimony with some historic newsreel footage and photos of bare-chested Machalniks posing fiercely with Browning Automatic Rifles, but, of necessity, the film is somewhat static.

The volunteers came to Israel for many and diverse reasons, but what shines through is their pride in having been part of a climactic moment in Jewish history.

Looking back, Canadian Joe Warner observed, “If we failed to have a state, being a Jew anywhere in the world wouldn’t be worth a nickel.”

Feinberg himself concluded, “No other experience in my life had such meaning as this period serving in the first army to fight for the Jewish people and for the independence of the State of Israel. This was the pinnacle of my life’s experiences. Nothing comes close to it.”

“My Brother’s Keeper” is produced by Cinema Angels and can be ordered by going to irafeinberg.com.

Bringing Shalit home


One of the most ironic obstacles to peace in the Middle East is what I call the Jewish disease of “ifonlyitis.” This is the school of thought that says “if only” Israel would do this, or “if only” Israel would do that, then we finally might resolve the conflict. I suffer from the syndrome myself, and for that I blame my mother. She convinced me from a very young age that “if only” I put my mind to something, there’s nothing I can’t do. 

Well, Mother, it turns out there’s plenty I can’t do, and one of those things is make my enemies like me.

I was thinking of this last week when I read about the plan to increase pressure on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to obtain the release of Gilad Shalit, the Israeli soldier held captive by Hamas since June 2006. According to reports, the plan in the Shalit camp now is to “take the gloves off” against Netanyahu. That might include politicizing the cause and having more disruptive demonstrations throughout the country.

In an editorial in Haaretz, Nehemia Strassler wrote that the Shalit family has to “wage a personal war against the prime minister” and be “much more militant.” They must “organize mass protests and bring the country to a standstill. They must not give Netanyahu one moment of quiet.”

Evidently, because Bibi has failed to convince Hamas to return Shalit in exchange for the release of almost 1,000 Palestinian prisoners, he’s now the bad guy and must be punished. If you ever needed more proof of the Jewish instinct to blame ourselves for everything, this is it.

This is a sure sign of the “ifonlyitis” disease: The belief that everything is on our shoulders. It’s all about us. We can achieve anything. If only we would release a few hundred more terrorists with Jewish blood on their hands, we might finally free Gilad Shalit.

If only we did this, or if only we did that.

There is a wonderful psychological benefit to this disease. It gives us the illusion that we are in control; that we can affect our situation, no matter how bad it might seem. It empowers us. And when we’re in a hostile and unpredictable environment, we desperately need to feel we are in control of our destiny.

But we pay a heavy price for this illusion of control. First, it leads to tremendous tension and mutual animosity among Jews. Because we assume we are the ones who are always responsible for any situation, we end up constantly beating each other up.

Second, we get so busy beating each other up that we lose sight of the real obstacles to peace. To the Haaretz writer who is calling for a “war” against Netanyahu because Shalit is still not free, I want to scream: “Why on earth are you declaring war against Bibi? In case you forgot, he’s not the one who kidnapped Shalit and is holding him hostage!”

What Jews need, it seems to me, is less hatred of one another and more hatred of evil. Any group that will target a guided missile at a children’s school bus is evil. Any group that will codify the murder of Jews and destruction of Israel in its charter is evil. Those, my friends, are real obstacles to peace.

If we didn’t have this obsession with blaming ourselves for everything, we might focus more of our energies against the real bad guys — and maybe even come up with some imaginative ways of getting what we want.

For example, instead of pressuring the Israeli government over Gilad Shalit, why not transfer some of that pressure to the Palestinians?

A Syrian Jew who sat next to me at the first Seder this year had this idea: Take the names of the hundreds of Palestinian prisoners whom Israel has already offered to release and promote those throughout the Palestinian territories. Drop millions of leaflets with their names and pictures. Promote them on the Internet and social networks. Buy ads in Palestinian newspapers. Film some prisoners pleading for their freedom and run the clips on Al Jazeera.

In other words, put the real pressure on Hamas, not on Bibi. Humiliate Hamas for refusing to obtain the release of its own Palestinian brothers. Have them answer to the hundreds of Palestinian families who would love nothing more than to see their own Gilad Shalits returned home. Expose Hamas for turning its back on its own people.

Think that wouldn’t be more effective than starting a “personal war” against the Israeli prime minister?

It’s ridiculous to keep beating Bibi up over Gilad Shalit. His offer to release hundreds of prisoners is already risky — going beyond it would be reckless and irresponsible. He’s done his part. Now we must do ours.

Just like the global movement to free Natan Sharansky focused on pressuring the Soviet Union, the global movement to free Gilad Shalit must focus on pressuring the Palestinians. Ideally, we ought to find someone with international credibility who could spearhead this effort — someone highly motivated to do something special for Israel and the Jewish people.

In fact, I have a name in mind: Richard Goldstone.

Now “if only” I can convince him to go after the bad guys.

David Suissa is a branding consultant and the founder of OLAM magazine. For speaking engagements and other inquiries, he can be reached at {encode=”suissa@olam.org” title=”suissa@olam.org”} or davidsuissa.com.

Soldier’s story highlights plight facing gay would-be converts in Israel


The young would-be convert to Judaism with a gold Star of David pendant peeking through a buttoned shirt is still baffled by the summer afternoon he says he was called in and dismissed from an Israeli army conversion course for being gay.

The 23-year old Y.B., as he asked to be identified, had not disclosed his sexual orientation to anyone in the course, but one of the rabbi instructors “outed him” to course administrators after presuming he was gay.

“I was in shock. I felt the color draining from my face,” Y.B. told JTA. “I left eyes full of tears and angry, asking myself, why are they doing this to me? I have a partner of six years who comes from a religiously observant home and we are there every Friday night for Shabbat. The family is accepting and loving. If they come from such a traditional place and accept us with love, why can’t others?”

During the tense dismissal meeting, Y.B. said he was told by two program officials that homosexuality is an aberration of Jewish law and that he would be welcome to return to the course if he committed himself to a heterosexual lifestyle.

The soldier’s experience highlights the plight that gay would-be converts to Judaism face in Israel: Because there is no separation of state and religion, and the state religion is regulated by the Orthodox-controlled Chief Rabbinate, it is practically impossible for an openly gay person to convert to Judaism. Under Orthodox Jewish law, a would-be convert who rejects a tenet of the Torah—in this case, the prohibition against homosexual intercourse—cannot join the faith.

The Israel Defense Forces’ conversion course, under the auspices of the army’s chief rabbi, has been considered to be a more open and tolerant vehicle for conversion than those overseen by the Chief Rabbinate.

A bill is pending in the Knesset that would make the army program officially independent from the Chief Rabbinate.

Uri Regev, former head of Israel’s Reform movement and president of Hiddush, an organization lobbying for freedom of religion in Israel, said Y.B.‘s case is an example of why the bill doesn’t go far enough.

“Even the military conversion, which is considered in Israel to be a relatively liberal conversion avenue, stops short of openness and tolerance towards homosexuals,” Regev told JTA. “One must not accept a situation where the Israeli army, known for its progressive attitude towards homosexuals, will be a party to erecting a wall barring such soldiers from entering into the Jewish fold and declaring them to be unworthy of Jewish status.”

An IDF spokesman denied that Y.B. was expelled from the course because he is gay.

“The IDF believes that a person’s origin, gender and sexual orientation cannot have an impact on his or her ability to appropriately complete the conversion process,” the spokesman said in response to a JTA query. “The soldier in question chose to leave the course of his own accord because, as he noted, ‘He did not feel ready to complete the conversion process.’ The soldier was clearly informed he could return to the course when he felt ready to do so.”

Y.B. says that during his meeting with conversion course officials, he signed a form saying he was not ready to complete the process only because he was told he could not continue to study if he indeed was gay. The stipulation given for his return would be based on his agreeing to pursue relationships with women, Y.B. says he was told.

Y.B. says he grew up believing he was fully Jewish. So it came as a surprise when one of his officers approached him to see if he was interested in signing up for Nativ, the IDF conversion course through which some 4,000 soldiers have converted.

Y.B. immigrated with his family at the age of 2 from Buenos Aires, Argentina. His father is Jewish and his mother is not, but she kept a kosher home, lit candles for Shabbat and went with the family to synagogue. Y.B. had a bar mitzvah and observed the holidays.

When the officer approached him about the course, Y.B. said he responded, “What does this have to do with me?”

She told him he was not listed as being Jewish in his army paperwork.

“I remembered that my mother has mentioned not being Jewish, but it was not something I ever really thought about,” Y.B. said in an interview. “Everything I knew about our home was Jewish.”

But Y.B. decided he also wanted to be Jewish under the eyes of Jewish law and the State of Israel, so he signed up for the course when he was 19 while doing his mandatory military service. He decided not to continue to the second of two seminars but later regretted his decision.

Some three years later, when he was approached again to join a new conversion course for those in the reserves, Y.B. said he jumped at the chance.

By the time he started the course in July, Y.B.’s observance level had deepened. He was observing Shabbat and praying daily. He also was concerned about his father, then battling cancer. He said his father was heartened that his son was doing the conversion course.

“It had been very hard for my parents to accept me, and I thought I could never be hurt like that again,” Y.B. said. “But when this happened”—the conversion course dismissal—“I felt like it was happening all over again.”

His father died last fall, just a couple of months after Y.B. had to leave the conversion course.

“He took it very hard,” Y.B. said. “He said he was surprised by this discrimination within Judaism. He asked, why do people distance those who want to join our religion?”

During his three years of mandatory army service, Y.B. said he was always open about his sexual orientation and never encountered any problems because of it.

“The army was always such a supportive place, which is part of why I was so surprised when all of this happened,” he said. “I felt like I had gone backward in time back to when I was meant to feel like a mental case again.”

Looking down at his gold engagement ring—he has plans to marry his partner—Y.B. said he understood that homosexuality is condemned in the Torah. But he says he took the prohibitions in context, noting that the Torah also calls for adulterers to be stoned.

“I don’t think God hates me because I’m gay,” he said. “I believe he made me gay because that is the way he saw me. He makes us in his image.”

Meet the IDF: Ido Niv, 21, Maglan Elite Combat Unit


Ido Niv grew up in a typical Israeli home. A second-generation sabra, he comes from a long tradition of military service.

His grandfather was a Holocaust survivor in Poland who made his way to Israel after World War II and later served in the Golan Heights. Niv’s father served in a tank unit in the Israel Defense Forces.

In 1998, Niv’s older brother, Lior, began his compulsory military service in a paratrooper unit near the Lebanon border. On the night of Jan. 31, when Lior was 21 years old and serving as a first sergeant, his IDF post was attacked. The station Lior was guarding that night was bombarded by heavy fire and rockets, and he and two others were killed instantly by a missile.

“I’ll never forget the day they knocked on the door to tell us Lior had been killed,” said Niv, who was 12 at the time. “It was just me and my mother at home. It changed our lives forever.”

Friends of the IDF Special SectionFour years later, Niv announced to his parents that he wanted to serve in a combat unit. According to Israeli law, any bereaved young soldier who commits to serve in a combat unit is required to have his parent’s approval, as well as the state’s.

“My parents didn’t want me to do it, and it took a while to convince them,” he said.

For two long years, he fought for the right to enter a combat unit.

“I had the option of taking a light service next to home, getting coffee for the commanders,” he explained, “but I wanted to serve my country. It was a strong feeling for me.”

Eventually, Niv’s parents capitulated and allowed him to take the rigorous physical and mental exams required by the IDF to enter an elite combat unit. In 2005, he was accepted into the Maglan unit, where he completed his compulsory three-year service in November.

“I wanted to be in Maglan because it’s one of the best units,” he said. “But the army basically decides where you go. You don’t have a lot of choice after you pass the exams.”

A day never passes for Niv without thoughts of Lior and what he has lost, but for Niv, serving his country is the most natural thing in the world.

“It changed our lives forever, but when I went into the IDF, the wound was no longer fresh,” he explained. “It becomes a part of you, and you always wonder what he [Lior] would have done after the army, if he would have married and had children, but you learn to live with it.”

During his service, which he is under strict orders not to discuss, Niv often thinks about his brother and what he experienced.

“He was my age now when he was killed,” Niv said, his bright blue eyes shining.

Today, dressed in a white T-shirt and a pair of baggy blue jeans, it’s hard to imagine him as a highly trained soldier, carrying a gun and defending his country.

“I opted to stay for another year in the same unit,” said Niv, who had just completed his compulsory service.

When asked what that will entail, a big smile crossed his face and he replied, “Pretty much the same thing I’ve been doing up until now, but with a lot better pay.”

After an extra year as a “career soldier,” Niv plans to travel throughout South America with friends and then return to Israel to study.

“I don’t really know what I’ll study yet,” he said. “I’ll come back from the trip in a few years and see what happens.”

Meet the IDF: Shimon Siso, 23, Golani Infantry Brigade


Born in Nahariya, a few kilometers from Israel’s northern border with Lebanon, Shimon Siso dreamed of one day being a soldier in the Golani infantry brigade.

“Everybody in school wanted to be in that unit because it’s the best. I wasn’t the only one,” he said, taking his weapon off his shoulder and placing it gently on the floor.

Dressed in the traditional olive-colored uniform with two stripes on his shoulders and wearing a pair of black boots, he looked younger than his 23 years.

“I was named for my uncle,” Siso said, explaining that his mother’s brother was killed in 1982 by Hezbollah while serving in the Golani. “He was a captain, and he was the only one who stepped out of the tank to look and was killed. Because of that, my mom didn’t want me to serve in this unit, but she eventually agreed.”

In November 2004, Siso was accepted into the Golani’s basic training program. “It’s a difficult unit, because for the first year, every four months they kick people out who aren’t suited for it,” he said.

Friends of the IDF Special SectionAfter eight months in an officer training program, Siso was sent to serve in the Gaza Strip, where he was a commander for seven and a half months. One night under cover of darkness, he and the soldiers in his unit were sent to infiltrate the home of a wanted terrorist and take him into custody.

“The terrorists send missiles into Israel from schools in highly populated areas, so we have to go into their homes to get them without hurting innocent passersby or children,” he said. “We usually succeed in our missions, but we sometimes have to give up the lives of our soldiers in order to do it.”

By the time the Golani unit under Siso’s command had captured the terrorist, the sun had come up. They were waiting inside with him until night fell again to leave, when three terrorists came to one of the doors of the house’s lower level. The terrorists surprised them by firing an anti-tank missile into the room. Siso was upstairs on the second level when the explosion erupted below, stunning the soldiers under his command.

“I ordered all of my soldiers to come upstairs. Most of them were in shock and lightly wounded,” he remembered. “Then I heard the medic call out that he has a serious injury, so I went downstairs.”

He sent the medic and the heavily wounded soldier upstairs and decided to go around the building alone to stop the terrorists, even though he had no idea how many there were or what other weapons they had.

“They were shooting into the building through the second door, so I knew where they were,” he said. “I came around the side and killed them.”

His act of bravery saved the lives of the remaining soldiers in the house that day, and he was later awarded the Medal of Honor, which he proudly wears on his uniform. “It has an olive branch over a sword to signify that Israel wants peace, but we are ready to go to war,” he said.

Siso, who is currently a lieutenant, went to New York last October with a group of fellow soldiers to tell his story, thank the Jewish federations for their support and explain to young Jewish Americans what it’s like to serve in the IDF.

“I want to say thank you to the American groups that support us,” he said. “We just spent a week in Ashkelon at a hotel with a pool relaxing, and one federation sent us gym equipment and a Torah. Their support helps.”

Siso lost one soldier in the Gaza operation, and his best friend in the Golani was killed when a group of Hezbollah terrorists fired a missile at their base. Partially because of the people he has lost, he decided to serve another five years in the army, two of which will be spent in classes and the remaining three he will serve as an officer.

“I will probably serve five more after that,” he said, a wide smile lighting up his big brown eyes.

“I have a mother and a father who go to work every day, and I have two younger brothers and a younger sister who go to school freely. I do what I do so that they and my children and grandchildren can live in peace as Jews in Israel. I’ve lost friends who gave up their lives for this. This is my path.”