This is the third 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. Matan 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.
For Matan, 27, the constant Qassam and Grad rocket barrages on Israel’s southern cities that escalated when Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005 take on a more personal note. His uncle and family reside in Kibbutz Erez, only a few yards from the northern Gaza border. For years their daily lives had been affected by the constant threat of shelling. Israel provides shelters for the kibbutz residents in their homes, but they still have only 15 seconds after hearing the siren go off to run for cover before a rocket falls. When Matan’s unit was called to duty as part of Operation Cast Lead, Israel’s battle against Hamas in Gaza, he was ready for, and clear about the mission–destroy the Hamas terror infrastructure and restore quiet and security to the southern region of Israel.
Jspace: What unit did you serve with in the IDF?
Matan: I served as an officer at the Givati Brigade reconnaissance unit. In my last position I was a deputy company commander and was responsible for the 95 soldiers during training and combat.
Can you share some anecdotes or stories about active duty that illustrate what life was like?
In one of my several missions in Operation Cast Lead in Gaza, my unit took-over the home of a known Hamas leader. After successfully entering the house, we searched for ammunition. In the master bedroom, hidden in a special compartment in the clothes cabinet, we found grenade launchers, mortar shells, hand guns, rifles, hand grenades, army vests, two-way radios, cell-phones and thousands of bullets. It was near a baby crib. This was nothing compared to what the terrorist had hidden in his backyard. We found two rocket launchers pointing towards Israel and rockets next to it on the ground. In the corner was a suspicious hut which we quickly identified as a factory for assembling rockets. The hut was filled with rockets, explosive devices, fertilizers used for preparing explosives and Arabic manuals for assembling and launching rockets. It’s almost impossible to think that all this was found in a residential home.
One can only imagine the satisfaction and relief my soldiers and I felt after safely exploding this ammunition that we knew would have been used to harm us and innocent Israeli civilians.
What motivated you to speak about your experiences on this tour?
Living in Israel, we hear of the growing concern of anti-Israel groups that are trying to delegitimize and demonize Israel. We also hear of the growth of the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement in the US and specifically on college campuses. This motivated me to want to tell the true story of what is going on, show them what Israel really looks like, and to show that Israeli soldiers are not how they are portrayed in the media.
Have you received any pushback? How do you deal with difficult situations like that?
We were invited to Cal Poly Pomona in Los Angeles to speak about our lives and thoughts about Israel and our experiences while serving in the Israel Defense Forces. A group of anti-Israel student and community protesters disrupted it by shouting and name-calling. Students from other universities also attended and joined in the protest.
At first, the protesters sat with tape over their mouths, holding signs recalling events that occurred throughout the years and the war between Palestine and Israel. Immediately after our introduction, they began booing and calling us “baby killers,” “rapists,” “Nazis” and “terrorists.” The campus police tried to keep the protesters under control, but with no success. The yelling continued and some students were asked to leave the room.
I was really shocked by the amount of vitriol that the opposition showed. There was just so much hatred and incitement. I hoped the protesters would come in peace and ask honest and sincere questions. Instead they yelled and spread lies… it was hard to see. They were clearly not interested in dialogue, simply in making their points. After, they congratulated themselves on Twitter.
We made sure to calmly finish our stories despite the disruptions. We countered the lies and answered the questions in a way that portrays what is really happening in Israel. Finally, when most people left, we were escorted out of the building by campus police.
What message do you want people to take away from your story?
The IDF has a very strong moral code. We value life more than anything. My soldiers and I made sure to always use only the most reasonable and proportionate force to neutralize armed terrorists. We acted as humanely as possible to the local uninvolved population, doing our best to keep them out of harm’s way.
We fight because we need to defend ourselves. This our purpose, to defend our family and friends, restore security in Israel in a way that we can one day hopefully achieve peace with our neighbors.
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