This is the fourteenth in a series of stories told by former Israel Defense Forces (IDF) reserve duty soldier-students about their time in service and life in Israel, brought to you by StandWithUs and Jspace. Eli is one of 14 speakers traveling around the United States as part of StandWithUs’ 7th “Israeli Soldiers Tour,” putting a human face to the IDF uniform. Last names are withheld for security purposes. These stories have never been told before. For more information, visit: https://www.facebook.com/israelisoldierstour/
Eli was born in Lvov, Ukraine, which used to be part of the former Soviet Union. His ancestors were victims of the massacres against the Jews by the Ukrainians in the early 1900’s. His entire family fought in World War 2 against the Nazis as part of the Soviet army, and both grandfathers died in battle as war heroes. But, Eli explains that his family was still discriminated because they are Jews.
Finally, the family emigrated to safety in Haifa when Eli was two years old. Now 28, he is finishing his B.A. in Industrial Engineering and Information Systems at the Technion. He is a company commander in an Elite unit in reserves, and works at Fiverr.com, the worlds biggest online marketplace for freelancers headquartered in Tel Aviv.
One of Eli’s passions is hiking. He marvels that one of the “amazing things about Israel is that although it’s a very small country – the size of New Jersey, takes only 7 hours to drive from north to south and only is only 10 miles wide in some places – it has such a huge variety of nature and cultures, whether it’s in the mountains and green forests in the north or the pure quiet dessert in the south ending by the shore of the red sea in Eilat.”
After service, Eli volunteered with Jewish youth, both in the United States and in Israel, educating about Israel and Jewish history. At the Technion, he volunteered in the ‘Perah Project’, which pairs children from underprivileged backgrounds with university students who act as their tutors, giving them personal attention (often sorely lacking) and serving as a role model.
How Does It Feel To Represent Israel In This Way?
It feels great to be able to represent Israel in this way. During the StandWithUs “Israeli Soldiers Tour,” I got to meet and share my story with people of various backgrounds, religions and levels of knowledge about Israel and Israelis. I am very proud to be an Israeli – a citizen of the only Jewish state in the world and the only free, democratic country in the now dark and violent Middle East. During the tour, I felt as if I managed to show – through my own experience – what a unique, diverse and amazing place Israel is.
I am also very proud to serve in the IDF and protect these values of freedom and Democracy against the terrorist groups and radical dictatorship states surrounding Israel. We are fighting very cruel enemies which have no value for human life – not ours or theirs – many times using their own civilians as actual human shields.
After service, I traveled around the world and was shocked to discover the level of misinformation, and lack of first-hand knowledge about Israel and Israelis. It motivated me to volunteer on this tour and even take time from school and work to give people a chance to meet an Israeli and to portray my country and us as we really are.
Have You Experienced Any Particularly Tense Moments In the IDF?
I experienced many tense moments in the IDF. I served in the Nahal’s regiment’s special forces and today, I am a company commander in the reserves. Many of our operations included going in by foot night after night, into crowded neighborhoods to stop terrorists before they could execute their next attack.
One night, we went after the Hamas leader in the Tul Karem area. He was hiding in a very crowded part of the city, but we decided to send 2 teams by foot, one to surround the house and others to the nearby roof to cover all exits. We managed to get to the house undetected and once in place, made ourselves known and called the terrorist to exit and surrender.
We noticed that he was trying to escape through the roof. During the ensuing chase on the roof, the terrorist pulled his gun and tried to shoot at us, but one of our teammates was faster and shot him in the leg. The terrorist fell and the medic from our team on the nearby roof jumped over to bandage his leg. (The streets are so narrow that you can jump from one roof to another).
We ran into the apartment building and out to the roof with with a stretcher. As we bandaged the terrorist’s leg and tried to get him on the stretcher, we were bombarded with rocks, bricks and metal objects from the nearby roofs. One my teammates was hit with a big brick, but luckily it only broke his night vision device and didn’t hit his head.
Terrorists often pay teenagers and others to be on alert and attack IDF soldiers whenever they spot us making an arrest in town. We managed to put the terrorist on the stretcher and get him down to the street, into the vehicle and back to the base. It was just one of many arrests we made surgically to catch only the terrorists and not harm the local population, even if it meant putting ourselves in danger.
What Moment of Your Service Are You Most Proud Of?
I am proud of the many operations where we stopped terrorists before they could execute the terrible attacks against Israeli civilians, which could have been my family, my friends or just any other innocent civilians. When you are on the front line and are the one to catch the weapons and terror plans, it is very rewarding because at that moment you know you saved human lives.
What would you like people to know about serving in the IDF?
As a soldier and a commander in reserves in an elite combat unit, I know how much effort we put into conducting our combat missions with the highest moral standards. Many times we risk our own lives to get only the terrorists and not harm enemy civilians, which they hide behind and use as human shields.
I would like people to know that EVERY soldier in the IDF receives ‘The Spirit Of The IDF’ once enlisted, and we review it and follow it’s values during our service. If someone acts immorally or against those values, they will be condemned by the IDF, and by Israeli society and will be tried.
Here are just some of the basic values in the ‘Spirit Of The IDF’:
1. “Human Dignity – The IDF and its soldiers are obligated to protect human dignity. Every human being is of value regardless of his or her origin, religion, nationality, gender, status or position.”
2. “Purity of Arms – The IDF servicemen and women will use their weapons and force only for the purpose of their mission, only to the necessary extent and will maintain their humanity even during combat. IDF soldiers will not use their weapons and force to harm human beings who are not combatants or prisoners of war, and will do all in their power to avoid causing harm to their lives, bodies, dignity and property.”
I would also like people to understand that military service in Israel is mandatory. 99.99% of Israeli soldiers would rather have peace; they would rather go to school, work or just start their adult life after high school at the age of 18 and not 21 and not be obligated to serve. But for now, our reality is that our neighbors still want to destroy our country. We understand that we must serve because we are not fighting somewhere far away, we are fighting on our borders against fundamental Islamic terrorist groups like Hamas, Tanzim, Hezbollah, which are no different than ISIS.
70 years after the Holocaust, we must remember what happened to our people when we do not have a country and a strong army to protect ourselves, No one else will fight for us or protect us and we do not ask anyone to do so.
A strong Israel is also the only path to peace. We can achieve peace only when our enemies will give up their hope to destroy us and understand that it is impossible for them to do so. It happened with Egypt and it happened with Jordan; they fought in 3 terrible wars where the Arab countries surrounding us tried to destroy Israel. But after the ‘Yom Kippur War’ in 1973, they realized Israel is too strong to be defeated and they entered into negotiations which led to peace.