By Karen Billing
Former Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) soldiers visited Torrey Pines High School on Oct. 6 to share their experiences with members of the Falcons for Israel club. The soldiers stopped by the high school in the middle of a two-week tour of West Coast college campuses with Stand With Us, a nonprofit Israel education organization.
Stand With Us west coast coordinator Charlotte Korchak, 23, told the students that they might encounter anti-Israel sentiment on their college campuses when they leave high school, something she experienced attending the University of Southern California. She stressed how important it is that they get educated, have discussions, ask questions and learn all sides so they will have an informed voice.
“We believe that education is really the road to peace,” Korchak said.
Soldiers Jonathon and Orit, whose last names were not given for privacy reasons, both say they don’t like politics but have run into some passionate people at their talks. They both were deeply hurt by a recent Time magazine cover with the words “Why Israel Doesn’t Care About Peace” in the middle of a Star of David. They are part of the tour to lend their faces and stories to a complicated conflict that is foreign to many.
“We are pro-Israel, pro-Palestine, pro-peace,” said Jonathan. “We are at war against terrorists.”
Jonathan, 25, is an American who moved with his family from Brooklyn, New York, to Israel eight years ago. After he graduated high school, he joined the IDF as all Israeli 18-year-old males are required to serve three years and females for two.
Jonathan described how different life was as a teen in Northern Israel, where for two weeks residents would be startled into action by the wail of sirens, warning them that rockets were about to land.
It was the time of the Israel-Hezbollah War in 2006 and Jonathan was part of an infantry platoon sent to Lebanon to stop the rockets.
“There were 50 of us in the bus, our faces painted,” Jonathan said of being deployed into Lebanon. “I was 20, the rest were all 18, 19…I saw the faces up and down the bus and they were kids, they were scared, some read prayers, everyone wanted to go home. We wanted to do what needed to be done and get home safe. Three people didn’t come back.”
Jonathan’s mission was to observe Lebanese villages and locate rocket launchers and take them out. His job was to direct artillery and missile-guided weapons to the launchers.
It was a frustrating job—when he did locate a launcher in a truck, he called in the coordinators but was not given permission to fire because there was too big a threat of civilian casualties.
It was hard knowing the rockets would be fired into his country and he couldn’t do anything about it.
“War sucks,” Jonathan said. “It’s hard when you’re facing an enemy that doesn’t play by the same rules as you do.”
The Stand With Us trip marked Orit’s first time in America and she remarked that she had never seen a high school as large as Torrey Pines in her life.
Orit, 25, was appointed as a medic when she joined IDF, which she said was a great opportunity as it gave her a chance to save lives.
Being in the army led to “difficult and complicated” situations. She remembers serving at a security checkpoint when one of her soldiers was stabbed in the neck and she could not save him.
Another night early in her service, she found herself the only medic on duty, alone with an injured member of the Jaradat family, one of the biggest terrorist families in the West Bank.
Two weeks before, on Oct. 4, 2003, the man’s sister, Hanadi Jaradat, had entered a restaurant in Israel and blown herself up in a crowded restaurant, killing 21 people. Of the 21 killed, two families lost five members of their family each. Victims were as young as a 14-month old baby.
“I immediately froze,” Orit said of finding out who the man was. “All of the pictures of the 21 victims flashed through my mind and here is the man responsible for that. I was 18 years old, trying to treat this terrorist with their blood on his hands.”
As a medic, she was obligated to treat him and when she finished he looked at her and said “Thank you.”
Orit said that she felt that she had done something wrong but at the same time was proud to be a part of an army that valued all human rights.
“I hope my children don’t have to serve,” Orit said. “But if they do, I hope their service is much more boring than mine.”