This is the seventh 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. Elad 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 email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org to find an engagement near you. Click for more information.
At the age of 6, after the first grade, Elad’s father got a job in hi-tech and the family moved from Israel to the Silicon Valley in California for four years.
Now 26, Elad is getting his Bachelor’s degree in Business and Management at Ben Gurion University in Beer Sheva , a desert city an hour south of Tel Aviv.
He loves the beach and reminds everyone that Tel Aviv was chosen as one of the ten most beautiful beach cities in the world. Connected to his love of the ocean, he took up scuba diving, mesmerized by the silence, the nature and the underwater life. A certified divemaster, Elad has more than 120 dives all over the world, from Mexico to Honduras, from Thailand to Egypt.
1. What unit did you serve with in the IDF and why did you serve there?
I served in the COGAT (Coordination of Government Activities in the Territories) unit. It was created to mediate between Israeli and Palestinian government offices and the NGO’s working throughout the West Bank and near the Gaza strip. Coordination in the fields of security, health, education, finance and many others is conducted on a daily basis. My first officer position was in the Gaza office, and later on in Hebron, where I was in charge of connections in the civil affairs field.
Hebron is a holy city to Jews and Muslims; the Cave of the Patriarchs is located there. The presence of COGAT enables freedom of religion and the Cave is divided year round between Jews and Muslims.
I conducted daily meetings with Palestinian officials with the common goal of developing commerce and trade. I was part of joint planning teams that executed projects aimed in improving the infrastructure, health and education for the residents of the region, from functioning sewage to new medical facilities.
I realized during my time in Hebron, that Israel and its defense forces put great effort and means in humanitarian and civil issues for both Israelis and Palestinians. These efforts are unknown to most of the world, they are unknown even to most Israelis.
2. Can you share some anecdotes or stories about active duty that illustrate what life was like?
I want to take you to back to 2007. I’m a young second lieutenant, just a few months into my first position at the Gaza coordination office, adjacent to the Erez Crossing – which is the civilian entry and exit way to and from Gaza.
We received reports that terrorists from Hamas, a radical Islamic movement whose goal is the annihilation of the state of Israel, are digging tunnels under our base to blow it up, or to kidnap soldiers, or both. We were called many time to soldier’s barracks, after they thought they heard digging noises.
One sunny morning as I was walking towards the entrance of the base, there was a huge explosion, followed by a rain of mud and rocks from the sky. I was certain the tunnel exploded. Immediately, the soldiers moved to safe rooms and compounds. The civilian crossing stopped all activities as well. Chaos.
We quickly understood that mortar shells fired by Hamas hit the base.
A few seconds before this happened, a young Palestinian boy arrived at the Palestinian side of the Erez crossing; he was heading to a children’s hospital in Tel Aviv.
Israel’s medical knowledge and expertise is world known. Palestinians who cannot be treated in Palestinian hospitals, or if a better treatment exists in Israel, can enter the country. Israel permits thousands to do so every year.
So, in the midst of all the security chaos, I now need to ensure that the crossing will reopen, and that the boy will make his appointment on time. I am a 19-year old with ranks on his shoulders, trying to change the decision of a crossing manager dealing with a security crisis at hand. Not an easy task.
Now, look at the big picture: pushing the security threat aside, throwing personal safety away in order to make sure a civilian reaches his appointment. Truly complicated.
After a few tense moments and making phone calls to every relevant high ranking office, I succeeded and the crossing was reopened, allowing the young Palestinian boy to pass through.
3. What motivated you to speak about your experiences on this tour?
Encountering misinformation about the conflict and meeting uninformed people affected by the lies of groups motivated by pure anti-Zionism, led me to the understanding that I must take action. As a reserve officer, as an Israeli, as a Jew, it is my job to protect the state of Israel in the battlefield of opinions, propaganda and words.
4. Have you received any pushback? How do you deal with difficult situations like that?
We had a very ugly welcome at a northern California university. About 60 anti-Israel students from the Muslim Student Association at San Jose State University decided to stage a walk-out. In the middle of our talk, they got up and left he room, holding signs, waving flags and booing. We asked them to stay and dialogue, emphasizing that it is the only way to bring peace between Israelis and Palestinians. Telling them that we came half way round the world just to have a dialogue and to ask us any tough question they wished, obviously did not help. They continued walking out in protest. It is very sad to see that young adults prefer turning their backs on dialogue, thinking that peace can be achieved any other way.
5. What message do you want people to take away from your story?
My main message is that we as Israelis and as officers in the Israel Defense Forces know and understand that no one is perfect. No country is flawless, no army is mistake-proof. With this in mind, I know that the IDF and the state of Israel do everything possible to ease the effect of the conflict on the uninvolved civilians. Great efforts are made in respecting basic human rights, a key factor in the IDF’s moral codes and laws.
.ORG-Connection: StandWithUs is dedicated to informing the public about Israel and to combating the extremism and anti-Semitism that often distorts the issues.