This is the first in a series of stories told by former IDF soldiers about their time in service and life in Israel, brought to you by StandWithUs and Jspace.com. Ben is one of the 13 soldiers on StandWithUs’ 6th annual “Israeli Soldiers Stories” tour, which has two legs in 2014: February 16-March 1 and March 30-April 14. Email firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com to find an engagement near you. Click for more information.
Intel comes in that a terrorist cell is shooting rockets from beside a mosque in Gaza. It’s Operation Cast Lead, and IDF soldiers are on hand to deal with the threat to Israeli citizens. But the information is discovered during Israel’s unilateral period of ceasefire—the humanitarian corridor. Do you uphold the ban, or take out the terrorists? Ben, now 25, faced this very dilemma while serving in the Maglan unit of the IDF. This is his story.
Jspace: Why did you end up where you ended up in the IDF?
Ben: My family made aliyah when I was 13 years-old. I grew up in a very Zionist household, where we believed that serving in the army and defending our country was not only a duty, but also a great privilege. So naturally, being physically able, I tried to aim for the best unit possible.
What was your role in your unit, Maglan?
The Maglan is a Special Forces unit that deals with guerilla warfare. More than that, I can’t really talk about.
Do you have any specific anecdotes that you can speak about?
While serving during Operation Cast Lead, we recognized a rocket being fired during a period of time called the humanitarian corridor. Every day between 1 and 3 pm in the afternoon, the IDF would unilaterally stop the fighting in order to allow humanitarian aid in and the people of Gaza to lead a normal life and do their shopping and get whatever they needed to do done. Unfortunately, the humanitarian corridor was used as a high time for rocket attacks against Israel.
During this time one of the things we recognized is that an armed terror cell was shooting from right next to a mosque. The dilemma we had to deal with was: what are we going to do? Are we going uphold the humanitarian corridor in order to allow the people of Gaza to lead their normal lives? Are we going attack the rocket cell to allow the Israelis to lead their daily lives?
If we decided to attack, then what we would probably do is send the Israeli soldiers who are stationed nearest to the terror cell to deal with them. Or do we just allow the terrorist cell to run around freely while our soldiers are there?
What I found out that morning though, was that my older brother a part of the nearest group of soldiers in the area. Essentially I had to decide if I was going to allow my brother to fight these terrorists or was I going let them run around while he’s in the area. All this on top of deciding whether to keep the humanitarian corridor open. In the end we decided we would not break the humanitarian corridor and send soldiers over.
Is it difficult to serve in the IDF without being able to share the details of what you’re doing with you peers?
No. I think in Israeli society, just because of what it is, people are very understanding of everyone and their confidentiality. Everyone understands that the only reason we are doing it is for security reasons. My friends also have things they can’t tell me, but it’s not an ego trip. Ego is the last thing that comes into it, so if anything, it’s something that we all understand. It’s a big responsibility to tell an 18-year-old guy that when he goes out to the bar instead of using his best pick up line, he’s got to keep it to himself. But we do.
What are people most surprised about your story?
I think people are surprised by the amount of responsibility that is placed on such young people in Israel and, frankly, how well we are able to deal with it. They are also surprised by the average Israeli’s ability to lead a normal life in the constant face of terror. That’s something that people have a hard time grasping and understanding.
What is one thing you want to communicate through telling your story?
In order to really understand the Israeli position, you need to put yourselves in our shoes. A lot of people tend to think of Israel as some Spartan, super soldier society. But when I joined the army, I was an 18-year-old teenager just like anyone else. Because of our circumstances, we are a western democratic society that is fighting terrorist operations and governments that are literally right next to us. The small geographical size of Israel puts us in this position where we have to make tough decisions. And its not clear cut, black and white choices like the media might make it out to be.