ALESANDRA RABELLINO | Contributing Writer
In the mailboxes of the average American 17-year-old, one might find birthday cards from relatives, high school report cards and informational college brochures.
Travel 6,000 miles across the globe to Israel, however, and something different will be found in the mailbox of a 17-year-old. Rather than preparing for college and exploring life’s endless possibilities, high school juniors in Israel receive a draft notice from the Israeli Defense Force (IDF). At 18, Israelis must pack their bags, leave their homes behind and learn to defend their country.
On Sunday, March 30, two Israeli soldiers shared their experiences with attendees at Butler University. Because the experiences of youths across the world are so different from those of the Israelis, it is interesting to hear directly from the soldiers themselves.
The two soldiers, Iris and Anat, made Butler their first stop on a tour of the Midwest, sponsored by StandWithUs. An international educational organization dedicated to informing the public about Israel, StandWithUs puts on a yearly tour known as “Israeli Soldier(s) Stories.”
As part of this program, Iris and Anat shared their upbringings, their experiences in the IDF and their insights on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Iris, 30, is a fourth generation Israeli studying medicine in Ashkelon, just south of Tel Aviv, near the Gaza border. At 18, she joined the Israeli Air Force, and soon after joined an elite paratroopers unit.
She was one of ten women in a group of 400 men teaching combat teams how to use high technology weapons and organizing operations against terrorist groups, such as Hezbollah and Hamas.
Her job came with much responsibility: many terrorist groups run their operations in or near schools and places of worship, forcing soldiers like Iris to weigh the dangers of carrying out attacks against them. Nonetheless, Iris emphasized her desire to serve in the IDF.
Like most Israelis, she had been personally affected by the country’s conflict. Her great-grandfather, a prominent pre-independence physician, was murdered by one of his Arab patients; her childhood friend was the victim of a suicide bombing when Iris was just 13. Growing up, she knew she had the duty to try and achieve peace, she said.
Now, Iris is training to become a doctor in the reserve army, and as part of her training, she tutors Arab women wanting to enter the medical field. Despite personal traumas, Iris wants nothing more than to reach a peaceful solution to the conflict.
Much like Iris, Anat also hopes for reconciliation for her country, she said. At 24, she is studying social work at Ben Gurion University in the Negev desert.
Her childhood experience was a pleasant one in a rural village in central Israel. She recalled running barefoot in the orchards and making friends at summer camp.
When it came time for her to join the IDF, she became part of the spokesperson unit, acting as the liaison between the IDF and the outside world. The difficulties in this job lie within the frequent misunderstandings and miscommunications in the media.
On one assignment, Anat had to investigate an incident in which Israeli soldiers had allegedly shot a van of civilians waving white flags. She found out that the media had not reported the fact that the civilians were armed. This was just one of many instances in which the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was reported on out of context.
Together, Anat and Iris, sponsored by StandWithUs, are working to provide the context that is so frequently left out of the conversation.
By speaking at college campuses, synagogues and churches, these soldiers can help put a face to the IDF uniforms, offer insight into their experiences and prove that despite their obligatory military service, they are, at heart, just like typical youths, optimistic about the future and hoping for peace.