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  • Michael Dickson

Let The Soldiers Speak

Originally published in The Jerusalem Post

Those who have recently served see that the picture the media presents is skewed from the reality they know.

Conspicuously missing in the narrative of Israel’s recent battles against terrorists is the story of those who actually fought in them; the everyday soldier, with no political agenda, just a conviction in the morality of his army and the personal experience to back that up. But that is no longer the case. Groups of Israeli soldiers, young combat reservists are currently touring North America as part of the “Israeli Soldiers Speak Out” campaign.

There was no shortage of volunteers for this tour. Those who have recently served see that the picture the media presents is skewed from the reality they know. They feel a deep sense of injustice when this happens, given that they have risked their own lives and lost friends while doing their utmost to protect Palestinian civilians. These young soldiers recognize that their service is vital to a country like Israel, which is constantly endangered by terrorists and hostile neighbors.

I have been privileged to know the young soldiers participating in this project. Their personal battlefield experience challenges members of the audience to put themselves in their shoes and to question what they would do in similar scenarios.

Audiences will meet Inon, an officer who was fighting Hizbullah during the Second Lebanon War in 2006 when his unit came across an elderly Lebanese woman in an area where the IDF had warned citizens to leave while they carried out their operation. Seeing the lady was crying out, apparently in pain, they approached her with an army medic. As they got closer, they realized she was wired with explosives – Hizbullah had set a trap, turning a pensioner into a human bomb.

Also taking part in the tour is Avi, who cut his honeymoon short to rejoin his paratroopers brigade in the military operation against Hamas in Gaza last year. As he fought intense, pitched battles against Hamas gunmen, he saw the streets covered with leaflets. The terrorists had been warned by the IDF that they were coming, thus denying Avi and his colleagues the element of surprise. But a prerequisite for a moral army is wanting to give civilians a chance to flee the battle zone.

THESE STORIES are not documented in the many recent anti-Israel reports, which have ranged from the libelous to the ludicrous. Israel was being bombarded by rockets for the better part of a decade before acting against the Hamas rocket-launchers in Gaza. Yet, before the dust had cleared from the battlefield, the frenzied media – fuelled by politically motivated NGOs – was full of reports and allegations: of reckless bombardment by the IDF, misuse of weapons, organ harvesting.. the list goes on.

And these slanders have been re-reported as fact in much of the Arab (and Western) media. In many Arab countries, state-controlled media inculcates the worst kind of hate and the Internet ensures the message seeps through. Web-based technology gives hideous anti-Israel lies a platform that has no borders. Israel’s enemies know this, as Spanish politician Pilar Rahola recently commented at the Global Conference Against Anti-Semitism, “they seek to kill us with cellphones connected to the Middle Ages”.

Global media gives an uncritical reception to these reports. Whereas Israel’s actions are examined under the microscope, those who seek to defame the IDF are given carte blanche. This is all fodder for radical groups and anti-Israel organizations who spread the message onto campuses and beyond.

Of course, these reports mention Israel in the same breath as Hamas, who fight in civilian clothing, take their own people as human shields and have used every trick in the book to blur and subvert the rules of war. Radical sympathizers are quick to turn a blind eye to this and explain away their rockets as ‘crude’, when in reality these terrorist forces are better armed than the majority of the armies of the members of the UN. This is the new frontline that Israel faces; an uneven battlefield on the war front and in the press.

The IDF has over 600,000 citizen soldiers and reservists; with mandatory service a necessity for a country under constant threat. Its army is one of the most monitored in the world, not because the international community demands it, but because we, the citizens of Israel, do.

THE STORIES on the “Israeli Soldiers Speak Out” tour are pretty common in Israel where everyone knows somebody who is serving. But they are rarely heard in the outside world. It is time to shine a light on the immoral Hamas leaders who hold the Palestinian people and the chances for peace in this region hostage.

Indeed, peace is a word mentioned many times by the young IDF soldiers I spoke with. Avi is expecting a baby girl in a few weeks. “I’ll still tell her what my parents told me”, he said, “that when she grows up, I hope she won’t have to serve”.

Despite his recent service in Operation Cast Lead in Gaza, Avi has hope for the future, if the extremists lose their stranglehold on Palestinian society.

All of the soldiers we met illustrate the IDF’s moral code with first-hand experiences. The media may not always report it, but by putting the soldiers’ stories on the Internet, they can speak to people directly. These personal testimonies give a perspective which is rarely heard outside Israel. Let them be heard.

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