This is the sixth 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. Sharon 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.
Countless missiles are falling on Israel. It’s the Second Lebanon War, and IDF soldiers like Sharon, an instructor in a missile defense unit, are activating sirens around the Jewish State to warn its citizens to seek shelter before impact. Sharon, now 26, finds a dozen missiles aimed at her hometown: Haifa. She sets the siren and watches as a camera aimed at her street goes black—a direct hit. But rather than call family members to make sure everyone made it to safety, she has to keep working so that others in Israel may remain safe. This is her story.
Jspace: How did you end up where you ended up in the IDF?
Sharon: For my armed service I really wanted to feel that I contributed the best way I could, so I signed up to be an instructor in the combat unit. It was a great job—I had a lot of fun—but during the second Lebanon war I realized I could do so much more for my country as a soldier. So I signed up to be a combat officer in the same unit.
Can you describe the work you did during your active service?
We intercept any long-range missiles that are being launched from Lebanon, Syria or Iran towards the cities of Israel. During war, my job was to defend a certain part of the country, but during normal days, I had several jobs. The most meaningful one was to command a group of young soldiers, to teach them how to become combat soldiers in that unit.
Can you tell us about your service during the war?
The second Lebanon war really changed a big part of my life, as it affected so many people in Israel. During this war, my job was to alert the civilians where missiles were going to fall so that they could get to safety. One morning during my shift, I could see approximately 12 missiles being launched from Lebanon toward Haifa.
Haifa is my hometown, where my family still lives and is very close to my heart. I immediately project where the missiles are going to hit and I alert the sirens in this area.
I have approximately 10 seconds before the missiles hit the ground so I open this small screen on my window and in this small screen I can see exactly where the missile is going to hit. I randomly choose one of the missiles and I open this window and I see my home—I see the place I was born, where I grew up, where me and my cousin played almost every day. And the image is so accurate, you can actually see the playground, you can actually see the building and before I even get a chance to think about it, the image has gone black.
I know that the missile has hit the street, but I didn’t even get the chance to process it because another missile comes and another and for the next three hours so many missiles came that I almost forgot about it. When I ended my shift, I went outside and I took out my phone and I see seven missed calls from my dad. That got me a bit nervous because at the time Israel was at war, so as soldier, I can’t answer my phone. My dad knows that.
The fact that he called me even though he knew I couldn’t pick up the phone got me really nervous because I know how many missiles hit Haifa and my whole family was there.
I immediately called him back and I said, “Dad is everything okay?” Really calmly, he responded, “Everything is okay right now, I just called to thank you.” I asked him, “Thank me for what?” And he said, “Well I was in the street at the time the sirens were activated. Everyone in our neighborhood ran to the stairwell and 10 seconds later the missile hit the building next to us and the entire building collapsed, but from what I know no one got hurt.”
This was supposed to make me feel relieved, but I felt terrified because it was the first time something like this happened so close to me. It wasn’t another story on the television. That was the moment that I decided I wanted to do more and I signed up for an officer course and became a combat officer in my unit.
The war ended in August of 2006 but the situation I’ve just described you is currently happening today – even now, when we’re talking here, missiles are being launched from the Gaza strip towards Southern Israel. That’s right. At this very moment – missiles are being launched on a daily basis towards schools, hospitals, playgrounds in Israel. Some days up to 30 missiles are targeting innocent civilians across Southern Israel.
People need to understand that fighting against a terror organization like Hezbollah, is very complicated. In a “normal” war you have an army fighting another army; civilians are not a part of the equation. Hezbollah on the other hand, mostly targeted the Israeli civilian population. As a matter of fact, since so much of Northern population of Israel includes a great amount of Israeli Arabs, Muslim and Christians, half of the victims who were injured and killed from Hezbollah fire were Arab Israelis. Their missiles did not discriminate. Israel’s defense force is fighting a terror organization, hiding behind their civilian population, and aiming its missiles towards our civilian population. That a totally different battle field.
What is the core message you want people to take away from your story?
I came here to deliver the truth about what it really means to be in the Israeli Defense Forces. Because when you have the truth, you don’t have raise your voice, you don’t have to get emotional. I came to the United States to give young people the tools to stand for Israel.
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