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Israeli Soldiers Speak Out In Grassroots Campaign
Photo: Inon T. and Lior P. speaking at UC Irvine
 
By REUT COHEN
USC - Neon Tommy Annenberg Digital News
 
In the wake of international censure following Israel’s three-week offensive in Gaza, which ended in January 2009, a pilot campaign called “Soldiers Speak Out” was launched. The grassroots campaign provides testimony from Israel Defense Forces soldiers both in video format and in speeches to audiences. The campaign was so successful, according to organizers, a decision was made to extend it and bring soldiers back to the United States in October to speak in 25 cities, including Los Angeles.

“Israel is very dear to my heart and it felt like the world is very much against us,” said Orit K., a female soldier who served as a combat medic and who spoke at USC last week. “I see the news talking about soldiers like they are like monsters. I know this is not true.”

Orit characterized Israel as a forward-thinking nation, contending that her service in the frontlines with the Israeli military was not an anomaly and that Israeli women are able to pursue military careers in fields like combat and aviation.

Orit said she has spoken to many crowds and characterized most reactions to her story as surprised.

“Mostly it’s the first time that they see that we’re human like them,” she said. “Even people who are not Jewish or pro-Israel would come up to me and say that they are proud of me.”

Other soldiers involved in the speaking tour said that while most reactions have been favorable, some audience members have been overtly hostile.

“Some people have their mind set before they come and don’t even care what you’re saying,” said Inon T., a reservist who also served as an officer in a combat unit. “We sometimes speak to people who get their information from slogans at anti-Israeli rallies.”

Inon fought in the 2006 war involving Israel and Hezbollah. In his talks, he recounts an incident from the war in which he approached an elderly Lebanese woman who was screaming in pain.

Inon described approaching the woman with a medic to treat her, but said he eventually realized she was wired to explosives and was, in effect, a human trap. 

Lior P., a reservist who was also an officer in a combat unit, described a situation he said was difficult, in which the IDF could not engage known terrorists during the daily humanitarian breaks in Operation Cast Lead.

“Israel was making very big military concessions in order to ensure that the civilian population get the best treatment in a horrible situation,” he said.

Lior argues that ethics and military professionalism go together, and that despite some criticism from the United Nations and international community the Israeli military did everything in its power to avoid harming civilians.

“Israeli soldiers are 18, 19, 20 years old. They are doing what they’re doing to purely to defend their country,” said Jonathan M. “I wish people would speak to the Israeli soldiers, and ask them what it’s like for them and ask them for their story.”

StandWithUs officials acknowledge that the soldiers speaking to groups will continue to face tough questions, many of them hostile, but believe the soldiers are making a big impact by sharing their stories with people who are around the same age.

“They know their material. They know who they are. They know what they stand for,” said StandWithUs’ co-founder and CEO Roz Rothstein. “The real stories need to be told and they want to tell them.”

The StandWithUs campaign to bring soldiers to North America is not coordinated with any Israeli government entity and is made up entirely of volunteers who said they wish to share their first-hand knowledge.
 
This article can be found here.
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