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Defending The Israeli Image



Ran Bar-Yoshafat, left, and Ranya Fadel volunteers for StandWithUs, both served Israel in different ways: 
Bar-Yoshafat served in combat for his required three years and Fadel volunteered in a hospital. An Huynh

By, Hayat Norimine
February 22, 2012 

Years ago, Ran Bar-Yoshafat and his combat team chased down a car filled with five of the most dangerous terrorists in Israel. The Israeli Special Forces (SF) team that Bar-Yoshafat was a part of rammed the car, and the terrorists went running through an open field.

With no civilians around, Bar-Yoshafat called it an ideal situation — but the SF unit didn’t shoot.

“You know why?” Bar-Yoshafat said. “They didn’t have guns with them, and they didn’t shoot at us. … The orders are very clear.”

The combatants’ lives were not in immediate danger. Despite the terrorists’ reputations and malicious intent, the team couldn’t harm them — and such actions followed the protocol in the Israeli Defense Force: To fight fire with fire was a last resort.

Bar-Yoshafat served in combat for his country, physically capturing terrorists, for more than three years, but he said one of his biggest struggles today is dealing with stereotypes about the Israeli army in the United States. He is now a part of StandWithUs Northwest, an Israeli advocacy group that aims to educate the Pacific Northwest about Israel. This past Tuesday night in the event “Israeli Soldiers Speak Out,” Huskies for Israel brought Bar-Yoshafat and other Israelis to speak to UW students about their experiences serving. Bar-Yoshafat said Seattle is a city that has one of the biggest stigmas against Israel — that many think the army is hostile or constitutes violence.

In Israel, Bar-Yoshafat said the army is perceived differently.

He equates joining the SF unit in Israel to getting into an Ivy League school in the United States. He said only 10 percent of the Israeli Defense Force is in combat, and 10 percent of those combatants go into SF. The tryouts are extensive, Bar-Yoshafat said, and the training thorough. Tryouts include measuring physical and mental capacity, as well as judge of character — for example, having very little food and observing whether the combatants chose to share it.

Bar-Yoshafat said all these qualities are required for someone who constantly needs to make tough decisions and, first and foremost, try to defend civilians.

“We defend people,” he said. “I’m here because I understand I have to [be]. I’m fighting for [human] rights. It’s a positive thing.”

In Hamas in the Gaza Strip, Bar-Yoshafat said many civilians were not allowed to leave their homes during the war, placing them at risk when they had a chance to escape.

He remembers kicking down the door to a house — where he expected to find a terrorist — and seeing a little girl sitting in the living room. He grabbed the girl and turned, using his bullet-proof vest as a shield from the terrorist who was shooting at her from the window. She would have been another casualty, he said.

“In all this chaos, you still try to do the right thing,” Bar-Yoshafat said. “These are the people who would be selected [for] the Special Forces unit.”

Tanya Friedland, media relations officer of Huskies for Israel, said the stigma against Israel is partly due to the skewed perspective the media offers.

“People like to root for the underdog, even though, if you look at the bigger picture, you realize that’s not entirely the case,” Friedland said. “It’s a very emotional thing for people, but at the same time, they don’t really want to hear the other side, which is unfortunate.”

Bar-Yoshafat said that by stereotyping Israelis, people are supporting “the bad guys” and the voice of the radicals.

“When I say bad guys, I’m talking about the terrorists,” he said. “Most people in Israel, [in] Palestine, just want to live in peace.”

Ranya Fadel, a volunteer for StandWithUs and the second speaker in Israeli Soldiers Speak Out, recalls incidents in which people she was close to were victims of terrorism.

“The death is very close to Israel,” she said. “You can feel it close to your heart. It’s very hard.”

Common terrorist attacks in Israel were bus bombings. One day, Fadel and her sister were waiting to be picked up by a friend before they would take the bus together, but Fadel was running late. They called their friend to tell her not to pick them up, and as a result, she took the bus that ran half an hour earlier than planned — the bus that exploded.

One of the girls who died that day was 17 years old and on her way to register for college. Her sister lost her hearing. Most of them were Jewish, with the exception of Fadel’s friend, who was Arab. She survived, but ended up in the emergency room for three days.

“Terror doesn’t really differentiate between Jews, Arabs, anybody,” she said. “What is common in all these stories is that civilians are [hurt].”

But it’s not only the civilians who were at risk.

Today, Bar-Yoshafat keeps a sheet of paper with him at all times. The paper lists, in Hebrew, his friends from his unit who have been killed. For the past few years during the influx of terrorist attacks in Israel, the list grew to hold 20 names. Bar-Yoshafat said that fortunately, it stopped growing.

“I have lost too many friends,” he said. “Israel is a very small country. When there’s a terrorist attack, it’s always someone’s brother, someone you know.”

After speaking at the UW, Bar-Yoshafat and Fadel head to other universities around the Northwest to continue sharing and bringing more awareness about real experiences, not what Fadel calls the “fake Israel” that many see in the media.

“That’s why I came here — to tell about the real Israel,” Fadel said.

Bar-Yoshafat now works as an attorney for the Israeli Parliament — sometimes dealing with soldiers being put on trial for misconduct — but still serves on the army reserves every few months.

“I’ve seen a lot of fighting going on in my life, and it wasn’t in some strange country,” Bar-Yoshafat said. “It was in my own backyard. When I’m fighting, I’m fighting because I’m protecting my friends, my family, my home — my country.”


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