This is the fifth 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 Lital 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 or to find an engagement near you. Click for more information.

Lital, now a 30-year-old Tel Aviv resident and journalist, was faced with the same choice as Israeli teens. Enlisting in the IDF was a given, but where to serve provided a dilemma. Many women become instructors, officers or intelligence gatherers. Not Lital—she volunteered for a combat unit so that she could fight for her country alongside her male peers. This is her story.

Jspace: How did you end up where you ended up in the IDF?

Most of the women are in all kinds of different positions, such as intelligence units, educational positions, sometimes training other soldiers. But in order to be a combat soldier, you need to volunteer and to ask for it.

I really wanted to do a meaningful service. I didn’t want to serve coffee; I wanted to serve my country. So I volunteered to be a combat soldier and I served in the border guard for three years, as a staff sergeant, same as the guys. And, I’m still doing my reserve service.

More specifically, what motivated you to volunteer for that?

When you live in Israel, which is a very small country, the size of New Jersey, you realize things. I realized when I’m driving from my house in Tel Aviv, I’m only 40 minutes from Hamas-controlled Gaza to the south and only one hour and a half from the Hezbollah-controlled Lebanon to the north. So when I join the army, I’m basically guarding my home, my friends, my family. The army is not a choice, it is a duty but it’s a duty that we are very proud of.

Do you have any anecdotes about what your active duty was like?

I was integrated in a combat unit serving mostly in the area of Hebron and the West Bank. We were five women and 100 men and we did the exact same things: arrest operations, controlling and handling security check points between Israel and Palestinians. The army recognized the importance of placing women in this role to examine Palestinian women to let them cross into Israel for work or medical reasons.

In an ideal world, Israel would not need these security check points. Israelis and Palestinians would be free to travel between and within these areas – creating a fluid situation where both peoples could freely merge into one. These crossings are a necessity because they save lives. One story – and there are many – that I want to share is that of a pregnant Palestinian woman who was brought to a checkpoint in an ambulance, and the ambulance was carrying concealed explosive devices. Imagine the dilemma an 18-year old soldier is presented with seeing a heavily pregnant woman, apparently desperate to cross into Israel to get to a hospital at a checkpoint, but concurrently, fearing a hoax and worried that helping her will cost others’ lives.

I served in Hebron and had to see little boys, aged about 7 or 8, throwing painful rocks at me. I saw my friend get shot on duty, while taking part in a routine security check. At the end of the day, you’re not only putting your life at stake, you’re responsible for the lives of ordinary Israelis who want to live, and for the lives of ordinary Palestinians who want to make a living. You need to check and use your moral values every single day.
What happens when you’re on a US tour and you get confronted with pushback from Anti-Israel activists?

I explain that we want to live in peace. We really wish that we wouldn’t have to go through the army but the army is something that is a necessity because the army is something that is saving lives. We don’t live in Switzerland; we are living in a pretty rough neighborhood.

So I explain how I face dilemmas, like standing at a checkpoint dealing with ambulances carrying explosive devices and how we are playing by different rules than the terrorists and it’s very hard.

It’s also important that we explain how the Palestinians are not our enemy. How Hamas and the terrorists are our enemies and we are fighting them, not the uninvolved Palestinians. We try to do our best to not harm innocent civilians.

What is the core message you want people to take away from your story?

I want to give people the opportunity to meet someone who is Israeli and served in the IDF so that they can see the real faces behind the headlines. Because as a journalist, I know how the media works. I know how a lot of the time people don’t get the full story, so it was important to me to get the message out, get the moral values of the IDF and the dilemmas we are facing everyday and the security missions we are handling in the IDF.

It’s difficult to grow up in Israel with all these complicated situations, where my parents are under fire from rockets from Gaza, where we have wars every few years. It’s a pretty crazy situation and it’s important for to me to get the message through to people, to speak for the troops and speak for the facts. There’s a lot misinformation regarding Israel, so it’s important that I give people the real facts, the real information, and the tools to really search for the truth.