On February 11, Cornell Hillel and StandWithUs sponsored an event called “Israel Soldiers Stories.” The innovative program brings a diverse group of young Israeli soldiers to college campuses all over the U.S. The goal is for them to share their testimonies of what actually occurs on the front lines; stories different than those we may see in the headlines.
Two experienced combat soldiers, Yishai and Sharon, spoke openly about their time serving in the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) on missions in Gaza, Lebanon, and the West Bank. Their stories are both eye-opening and heart-breaking, providing the listener with deeper insight into the ongoing conflict between Israel and its Arab neighbors.
Putting Morality above Revenge
Yishai’s story begins while he was eating in the cafeteria of Hebrew University in Jerusalem where he studied law. It started out as a typical day at the University, but things turned horrific when he witnessed a massive explosion occur in the center of the campus. This was a terrorist attack led by Hamas, leaving many wounded and seven dead at the scene.
Soon after the attack, Yishai, a soldier of the IDF, received knowledge that the mastermind behind the attack was a low-profile Hamas leader the IDF had codenamed Jeremy. The IDF had been searching for this man for close to six years, and they finally had a clue as to where he was headed next.
Jeremy was off to Nablus, thirty miles north of Jerusalem. Yishai described Nablus as a seemingly nice city, with schools and parks and playgrounds, but underneath such disguise is a stink hub of terror. Yishai and his troop followed the van carrying Jeremy until they reached a house in the ancient center of the city. They entered a house adjacent to the one Jeremy was parked outside and watched as the van door opened. Along with Jeremy was his wife and between thirteen to fifteen children. Yishai’s troop set up their weapons and waited as Jeremy walked throughout his house with his wife in arm.
He suddenly disappeared into a center room within the house and Yishai wanted to shoot. As mentioned before, Jeremy had been wanted by the IDF for close to six years and they finally had the terrorist at their fingertips. He immediately called the base, as is standard procedure in the IDF code of ethics. An Israeli soldier cannot shoot unless given permission by the base and only in extraordinary circumstances.
To Yishai’s dismay, the base told him not to shoot. They said it was too risky, for women and children were near the man. Protecting them was more important to the IDF at this moment of crises. Although Yishai felt offended, his troop waited three long hours before making the call to finally bust inside the now dark and quiet house.
Nobody was found upon entering, and a search was led throughout every room of the house. In the center room, where Jeremy had disappeared beforehand, they found nothing but a carpet. Yishai lifted up the carpet, and underneath—a tunnel. The terrorist had escaped and the troop was horrified at this missed opportunity to finally get him.
Just five years before, there was literally no information about this man at the IDF. Now, they had him in plain sight and one gunshot could have ended the terror, but they could not shoot.
To this day, Yishai believes that the decision called by the IDF base was in fact the right one. He explained that as a soldier in the IDF, one must make a distinction between who is a terrorist and who is an innocent woman or child. Even if there is a chance that all of Jeremy’s children become terrorists like their father, in the present moment they are children and as such are protected by the IDF.
Twenty Seconds to Save Her Family
Sharon’s story begins in 2006 with the kidnapping of two Israeli soldiers, Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev. Their kidnapping essentially sparked the month-long war with the Lebanese militia Hezbollah. The men were brutally beaten and died while under Hezbollah custody. Israel had negotiated a deal with Lebanon to release the dead bodies of the two soldiers in exchange for the release of one of the most vicious Lebanese terrorists, Samir Kuntar, along with four other jihadists. The terrorists were welcomed back with shouts of praise from their people whereas Israel was left mourning over the two dead soldiers.
Sharon explained the fear she had when Hezbollah, under the leadership of Samir Kuntar, began aiming missiles once again at Israeli civilians. She spoke of the strategy used by Hezbollah; one that avoids the incredible strength of the Israeli army and targets the weak spot of Israel—the civilians.
Her responsibility as a soldier in the IDF was to predict where the missiles would land and warn the people to run for shelter. She had roughly twenty seconds from each missle launch to take care of this task. On the day of her account, she tells of twelve missiles fired into Haifa, a mid-sized city frequently the target of terrorist organizations. This destination particularly resonated with Sharon because it is the town in which she grew up and where her family still resides. On her GPS locating device, one of the missiles was headed right for her street, near her house, in a family-oriented neighborhood.
From the time of its firing, she had twenty seconds to predict the location of impact. Turning on the sirens to warn the town took five, giving her family and the other civilians a whopping fifteen seconds to reach shelter. After the explosion she saw seven missed calls on her phone but wasn’t allowed to answer until she left the base. Once off of the base she called back the number—it was her father.
He thanked her for saving their lives, telling her that the explosion hit a mere ten seconds after they took shelter under the stairs. The pride and honor she felt from saving civilians like her family pushed her to pursue a career as an officer in the IDF.
The most striking aspect of the stories told by these two Israeli soldiers is the level of ethics held by the IDF. Commonly referred to as “The Spirit of the IDF,” it is basically the Ten Commandments that govern the soldiers at all times and in all situations. Both Yishai and Sharon agreed that IDF Law is much stricter than International Law when it comes to caring for civilians and taking precautions before action. It is also as a result of this code of ethics that the IDF has one of the lowest rates of PTSD in soldiers and veterans.
According to Yishai and Sharon, it is truly sad that the other side does not want to see the day when peace reigns over the region. The duo explained how the Palestinian terrorist groups are using women as human shields and rising up a new generation of terrorist children. A Palestinian woman taking a class with Sharon once spoke words that Sharon will never forget: “One day we will free Palestine and wipe out all the Israelis.”
Sharon’s expression of grief is felt by many Israeli soldiers and civilians who want nothing more but to see peace come between the two sides. She talked of an instance when she heard that Palestinian “peace” protesters would be on her college campus. The protesters were anything but peaceful and used their weapons to kill a defenseless group of Israeli counter-protesters.
Still, the IDF holds the highest standard of ethics among the great armies of the world. As best declared by former Israeli Prime Minster and Nobel Peace Prize recipient Yitzhak Rabin, “We’ll fight terror like there’s no peace, and make peace like there’s no terror.”
Michael Loffredo is a sophomore in the College of Architecture and Art Planning. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.