November 21, 2018

You need to listen to what these 2 IDF soldiers have to say

What would you do if you were given the chance to change one of the world’s most disturbing misconceptions and deceptions?

StandWithUs’ (SWU) tenth “Israeli Soldiers Tour” (IST) recently came to conclusion, when six teams of two reservist IDF soldiers returned home, after touring throughout the United States from October 22 – November 5.  These twelve reservists spoke at more than 170 campuses, high schools, synagogues, churches and community centers, reaching tens of thousands with their stories and millions through conventional and social media.

Israeli Soldiers Tour” puts a “human face” on the IDF uniform. The main purpose of this tour is to give people a perspective about the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) and the reality of living in Israel by relating their personal experiences during Israel’s Operations against Hamas in Gaza, interactions with Palestinians in the West Bank and serving on checkpoints and on the Gaza border, protecting Israel’s southern cities from rocket attacks.

They also share their backgrounds, struggles, successes, describe life in Israel and answer questions, the tougher the better.  Their stories have never been heard before and their last names are withheld for security purposes.

 

Because Israel has to constantly defend itself, military service is mandatory here, and young 18 year olds must enlist once graduating high school; men serve for 3 years and women for 2.

“Israelife” caught up with Itamar, who toured the South and Shir who toured the Midwest after the tour to gain their insights about speaking in the U.S.

Itamar, 25, is from Pardess Hana-Karkur, a small town in Northern Israel. Now living in Kibbutz Magal, he studies Education and Political Science at Oranim College. For the last 4 years, Itamar has worked in informal education on a Kibbutz, and has served as Head of the At-Risk Youth department in the Menashe Municipality.

Itamar served in the intelligence forces of the IDF in a classified unit. During his military service, Itamar consistently dealt with the complicated encounters between soldiers and Palestinian civilians

Together with Ilan Lopez, director StandWithUs Latin America, Itamar met with the Jewish community in Mexico prior to touring the South. Ilan joined the southwest team.

Shir, 26, grew up in Gush-Katif settlement in Gaza until the disengagement in 2005. Today she lives in the southern Israeli village of Beer-Ganim, and studies Law at the College of Management Law School.

Shir served in the Israel Defense Forces as a First Lieutenant in the ground forces as a “war room” operator on the northern border with Gaza, where she continues to serve as a reservist.  Shir took part in two operations against Hamas in Gaza as an officer – “Pillar of Defense” in 2012 and “Protective Edge” in 2014.

Shir volunteered in Africa with children, as a part of the Colman Student Union delegation.  She works as an Administrative-Legal Director at “Tmura center – The Legal Center for the promotion of equality” – representing victims of discrimination and various biases.

Why do you think it’s important to tell your stories as IDF soldier on campus?

Shir: It’s important to let people hear information that is different from the information they’re used to receiving. People should be able to choose what they think about certain issues, and in order to do so they need to have different opinions. In addition, students on campus struggle in a difficult arena in which they hear about Israel in negative contexts – we are there to show a different, more positive side.

Itamar: I believe that telling our stories in campuses can create a dialogue, especially when sometimes people are given only one side and not the full picture. Things are more complicated than the media sometimes portrays.  I think that the opportunity of sharing our own personal experience, will encourage students to explore and ask more questions. It will help them realize that although the reality in our region is complex and despite everything Israelis have been through, we believe in education which is the key that can make a difference for the future.

 

What is Israel to you, and how do you pass this message to students abroad?

Itamar:  Israel to me and to my family is a safe haven. My family arrived here from Europe and from Morocco and Yemen after suffering from persecution. I always knew, that in the state of Israel we’ll be safe.

My country is a place where each population can feel safe, no matter where they are from or what religion they practice.  Israel to me is a place where I can express my opinions, and where I feel that if I need anything, everybody will help me.

Shir: My heart and the craziest and yet sanest place I know.

 

Share one of the most memorable moments from your recent tour.

Itamar: One of the most exciting events that we had, was in Houston, Texas.  We met Pastor Becky (Keenan) of Gulf Meadows Church and spoke to a combined Spanish and English Israel class she conducts weekly.  We then joined congregants and volunteers and helped people who are still recovering from Hurricane Harvey. It was an amazing experience; we met a community that loves Israel, supports the Jewish community there and prays for Israel.  I wish we had more time to stay with them.

Here is Kayla and I:

 

Shir:  When we spoke with law students at one of the universities. In the last row sat four anti-Israel students with laptops who attacked us with masses of twisted and misinformation about the conflict, and the way that Israel behaves.  My tour partner Carlos and I calmly, fluently and professionally answered all the accusations – until they had no words left. I felt that we didn’t need to hide behind a computer and masses of information – I have the truth by my side, and that’s all I need.

What is your advice for people reading this interview, who also want to join the battle against the Israel delegitimization campaign currently taking over social media? 

Shir: Know the facts, research the subject you are talking about, know the twisted narrative of the other side – and always be critical towards any information you receive. If you are not an expert in a particular field or unsure of the facts – just say so. Correcting a wrong and false statement is more difficult than holding back.

Itamar:  My advice is to share as much as you can.

Unfortunately the social media campaign is huge, but on the other hand, it’s up to us to share and educate for the truth. Some people just see the headline or a short video without seeing the bigger picture. I think it’s our responsibility to have the answers and explain what it really means to boycott Israel – the technology that everyone uses, factories that hire Palestinians, and more important, our values as a democracy.

 

Seeing the growing wave of anti-Semitism, do you believe history can repeat itself? 

Itamar: I believe that if something happened once, it can always happen again. But I know that the only way that it won’t, is if we keep remembering and never forgetting what happened to the Jewish people throughout history. We need to educate the next generation that keeping our country safe, and learning about history is the key for saving our people.  It will also help us be responsive to people around the world who need our help because we’ll be able to identify with them.

Shir: Depends on what aspect. Could the Jews be threatened at this level again? Probably. Will we reach a situation similar to the Holocaust?  Never, because we have a country and a strong moral army. Such a situation could never be repeated.

 

How do you believe the Israeli-Palestinian conflict can be resolved?

Itamar: I believe in dialogue. We don’t have a partner for peace because they don’t educate for hope or for co-existence. When I watch how the summer camps in Gaza teach children to fight Israel, it’s hard to believe it. But we have to. I want to believe that the Palestinian leadership we’ll decide to stop this, and will prepare its people for similar values of peace and hope. I know that I will keep educating the kids I work with for hope. We should not give up. I believe that the next generation will find a solution, and it’s our job and their job to educate in a way that will allow a true dialogue.

Shir: Through education. By bringing the two peoples closer together, by stopping being afraid of the other side. Through more programs that bring the two peoples together, and that enable a dialogue with the other side, rather than distance and separation.