— by Ferne Hassan
StandWithUs‘s Israeli Soldiers Tour features reserve duty Israeli soldier-students who travel the United States putting a human face to the IDF uniform. Thanks to our local chapter, two young soldiers — Lital and Elad — were able to share in-front-of-the-lines and behind-the-headlines stories have never been heard before at five venues in our community. Lital and Elad (last names withheld for security purposes) exposed the dilemmas of the conflict, including facing an enemy that hides behind its civilians.
Five Meetings in the Philadelphia Area
Elad and Lital first met with a group of eager-to-learn older students at Society Hill Synagogue. Then Lital spoke to the entire congregation. The students asked pertinent questions about the recent elections, whether or not the 2-state solution is possible, and about the threat to Israel from ISIS.
Congregation Mikveh Israel attendees were concerned about the American Jews’ continued support of Israel, the average Israeli’s feeling about Iran, and if peace can be achieved when leaders in the Palestinian Authority want terrorists released before they will negotiate.
Temple University students had a chance to meet Lital and Elad thanks to the Temple Israel Political Affairs Committee and Temple Hillel. Lital and Elad also met with local groups at Beth Am Synagogue and Lower Merion High School.
These meetings created a connection between the Israeli soldiers and their Jewish American audience. They hark back to the founding of Israel, when prime minister David Ben Gurion told the American Jewish Community that the creation of the State of Israel was a partnership between the new Israelis and Jews around the world.
Lital is a journalist and anchor for a news site in Israel. She was born in Ashkelon, and has a BA is Social Sciences from the Open University. Proud of her service in the IDF, which she believes is falsely portrayed around the world, this is Lital’s fifth participation in SWU’s Israeli Soldiers tour. She considers it an honor to contribute whatever she can to her country, which led her to choose service in the border police unit. She served in checkpoints, stations aimed at thwarting terrorist attacks, a position usually held by men.
Elad studies economics and management at Ben Gurion University of the Negev. He served as an officer in a little-known unit called COGAT (Coordination of Government Activities in the Territories). It was established to minimize the effects of the conflict on the civilian population in the West Bank and Gaza. It mediates between the Palestinian Authority, international organizations, and Israel. It handles matters pertaining to security, commerce, health, infrastructure, entry permits to Israeli hospitals, and export and import of goods, among others.
Ferne Hassan is the associate director of StandWithUs Philadelphia.
Swarthmore student Nathaniel Frum invited former Israeli soldiers Hen Mazzig and Sharon to come to campus and share their experiences serving in the IDF. These former soldiers have not received the most cordial welcome at some other universities and I had never been to Swarthmore, so I was not sure what to expect.
More after the jump.
About twenty-five students attended this session. They reflected very well on Swarthmore. They were polite, listened attentively, and spoke when it was their turn. Their questions were very intelligent. They were collegial even when I could tell that they disagreed with the presenters.
Sharon and Hen described their childhoods during the first and second Intifadas, their military service, and their hopes for the future. The Swarthmore students were invited to ask whatever they liked. All the people in the room were engaged in a conversation about how to achieve peace in the Middle East.
This interaction achieved its goal: The Israelis got to connect with American and international students at Swarthmore. They all learned a little bit about each other. It made me feel very hopeful that conversations and connections such as these will one day lead to a better situation for everyone in the Middle East.