Former Friends of the Israel Defense Forces National Director, Maj. General (Res) Yitzhak (Jerry) Gershon, currently serving as a General in the reserves in the IDF, shared his perspective on the IDF duties during this time, with Tzvia Wexler, FIDF Executive Director on the Pennsylvania/Southern New Jersey region.
Maj. General Gershon’s career in the IDF involved coordinating numerous IDF operations, including the first Lebanon War, ‘Defensive Shield’ during the second Intifada, and leading the Home Front Command in the second Lebanon war. He lived in the U.S. for six years while heading the national FIDF organization, and is now back in Israel with his eyes and ears on the ground.
The State of Israel celebrates 72 years of existence this month, and despite its independence, this young country is still in the midst of a historic nation-building process.
Wexler asked Maj. General Gershon about the upcoming national Israeli holidays and about how the IDF, and Israeli society, are managing the Covid-19 crisis.
(TW) We are just days before Israel’s Memorial Day and Independence Day celebrations. One of the strengths of the IDF is maintaining close ties with commanders, soldiers, and bereaved families, after losing their loved ones while serving. This year, it will look different. As a commander who lost soldiers during an IDF operation, what are your thoughts?
(JG) Memorial Day and Independence Day constitute the foundation upon which we are able to continue to live, grow, and develop. We could not have existed without the sacrifice of the commanders and fighters before the establishment of the state up to this day. Bereaved families do not need a remembrance day, as the empty space that has been created in their lives is a painful reminder that they face every day. Memorial Day is meant for all people to unite and to remember that those who lost their lives commanded us to live. As someone who has lost fighters on the battlefields, I am a bereaved commander who does not the ability to be with families in this special moment of the year, to shake their hands, hug them and be with them to remember together. As commanders, we are an important part of the memory of their loved one. Our presence has an effect on the lives of the bereaved. This year so as not to jeopardize anyone, we will remotely remember our lost soldiers and commanders through a phone call or the use of other technological means.
(TW) Last week marked the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. How did the IDF integrate themselves into the events?
(JG) The army and its commanders and fighters constitute the protective wall of the Jewish people and the State of Israel, with those in uniform ‘quietly shouting Never Again’ during the heroic ceremonies. It is customary on this day for young paratroopers in red berets to commemorate the Yom Ha’Shoah as the message goes out to the nation and the whole world that Israel is capable of protecting itself on its own.
(TW) What has been the role of the IDF in fighting the pandemic which presents a different kind of war?
(JG) The IDF and the Israeli security system have joined forces to stabilize actions to help save lives, fight the virus and defeat it. As always, when Israeli society is threatened, they unite and do everything possible to successfully meet the challenge. For example, the Israeli institution considered the best intelligence organization in the world, initiated and led the development of a protective app that lets you know in real time if you are close to a patient and what needs to be done. A plan was systemized to ensure that Israel would have the equipment needed to save lives. The Home Front Command and other IDF forces initiated and organized treatments at various locations where the virus broke out and the Ministry of Defense converted hotels to isolation sites for those infected. As always, the security system is mobilizing to meet national goals that are not necessarily linked to external military threats. This is part of Israel’s history. In the first few decades, the army helped establish settlements. In later years, the IDF brought in Ethiopian immigrants, rescued the kidnappers from Entebbe, and much more.
(TW) Since the founding of the State of Israel, IDF soldiers have been imbued with a strong sense of national identity to protect the nation’s independence and security of its citizens. Can they continue in the midst of the pandemic?
(JG) All countries around us, including Iran, are heavily preoccupied with the virus, but their targets against Israel have not changed. IDF soldiers, today as always, are on the brink, practicing vigorously to prevent war, and if it comes, to defeat it as quickly as possible. IDF commanders cannot afford to forget their main mission for one moment. The IDF is dealing with the epidemic and maintaining the military’s operational competence both at the same time.
(TW) As a commander, what is the connection you have observed between the IDF and Diaspora Jews?
(JG) The IDF commanders and their fighters are known as a defense army for Israel – defenders of the entire nation of Israel, and every Jew everywhere across the globe. Know that the State of Israel will be there for them. Every Jew knows that Israel and the Israel Defense Forces are the insurance certificates that allow them to live anywhere, develop, create, and influence in any good ways that they choose for all of humanity.
What message would you like to share at the close of this interview?
(JG) The virus that pervades the world and has largely stopped the world from turning, allows us to think about the moment after the virus is defeated and we go back to our daily routines: The world probably won’t return to exactly where it used to be, but it may well be a better world if we learn the good that we discover and leave behind the less good. Take care of the globe since it is our home. Be more humble and family oriented. Understand one another and always try to see the glass half full.