This is the tenth 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. Iris is one of the 13 soldiers on StandWithUs’ 6th annual “Israeli Soldiers Stories” tour, which had two legs in 2014: February 16-March 1 and March 30-April 14. Email campus@standwithus.com or highschool@standwithus.com for more information. Learn more here: http://www.standwithus.com/campaigns/soldiers/

Iris, 29 was raised in a small village in central Israel called “Mishmeret.” Her great grandparents made Aliyay from Europe. Her great grandfather who was a doctor, was murdered by his Arab patients. Her good friend was killed in a suicide bomb attack in the middle of Tel Aviv when they were only 15. Since childhood, Iris resolved to contribute to her country through a meaningful military service.

1. What unit did you serve with in the IDF and why did you serve there?

Originally, I volunteered in the Israeli air force as a flight cadet. I flew 15 times, but did not complete the flight course. As one of 10 girls among 400 guys, it occurred to me for the first time, how much responsibility the IDF affords 18 year-olds. I was reassigned to the paratroopers and became an officer in “Maglan,” an elite unit. It was my dream to be an instructor of soldiers in the infantry. I fulfilled this by being put in charge of the instruction of combat teams of the unit’s high-technology secret weapons as well as coordinating and planning operations.

2. Can you share some anecdotes or stories about active duty that illustrate what life was like?

One of the big challenges I faced was planning operations in two complicated zones that Israel faces: the northern border with Lebanon against Hezbollah, and in the Gaza Strip against Hamas. These two terror organizations operate from within civilian populations, using them as human shields. Fighting an enemy who hides within villages, stashing its weapons in basements and shooting from elementary schoolyards is quite challenging. One of our main concerns in planning operations was finding a way to reach our goals without harming civilians. Moreover, in order to approve the operation, we had to convince our superiors who are highly ranked officers, that we will be able to avoid it. In many cases the IDF canceled operations after launching them because intelligence sources reported that civilians may be hurt.

3. What motivated you to speak about your experiences on this tour?

I was always motivated to advocate for Israel, but a year and a half ago, I went through an experience that made me fully understand how difficult life is in the southern part of Israel…and for almost 15 years. During operation “Pillar of Defense,” Israel’s battle against Hamas in Gaza, I was under massive attack from dozens of Hamas launched rockets that killed some soldiers and wounded many. Living near the Gaza strip, you have only 15 seconds to run to a shelter from the moment you hear the siren. Our base, situated near the strip was one of the main targets for Hamas rockets.
For the first time, I was literally afraid for my life. On two occasions, rockets hit less than 100 meters from me. The first time, I managed to make it into the shelter 2 seconds before the hit. The second time, I was in the girls’ dormitories when the most massive attack began. For 3 hours we could not leave the building because of the shooting; the electricity failed, and it was total chaos and fear. The girls, only 18 years old, were terrified; I even had to defend one of them with my own body to calm her down. The rocket hit the base building next to us, and I had to treat several girls who had panic attacks as the helicopters evacuated the dead and wounded.

4. Have you received any pushback? How do you deal with difficult situations like that?

We encountered many audiences and the majority was supportive. We met a few Jewish community members who asked difficult questions and unfortunately, were not pro-Israel. We dealt with these questions by sharing our daily stories from the military and civil life .

5. What message do you want people to take away from your story?

The message I am sharing is a combined one. I want people to understand the complexity of daily life in Israel, under nonstop rocket fire. With that said, its as important for me to say that I have hope that one day we will find a way to live side by side, peacefully. These hopes derive from my job in Israeli hospitals (I will become a doctor next year) and as a volunteer with humanitarian aid organizations such as “Physicians for Human Rights” that brought me into with direct encounters with Palestinian civilians.

Israeli hospitals treat hundreds of Palestinian patients, including family members of Hamas leaders. In many cases, I treated them personally. Israel treats all patients equally regardless of race, nationality or religion. Currently, Israeli hospitals are treating hundreds of wounded Syrians, who escaped from the civil war in their country.

.ORG-Connection: StandWithUs is dedicated to informing the public about Israel and to combating the extremism and anti-Semitism that often distorts the issues.

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