This is the fourth 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. Gilad is one of 12 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.
Gilad’s bi-cultural family comes from Morocco and New Jersey and he often says that he would speak to one parent in English and the other in Hebrew. He credits his accent-less English to his mother who “worked hard that my sisters and I would be native speakers, even though we were growing up in Israel.” Gilad’s hometown, Raanana is comprised of immigrants and mixed families, and he attended an all-boys high school.
As a senior, when Israel’s mandatory military enlistment age approached (18), Gilad and his friends trained often after school, hoping to get into the choice units of the IDF. Gilad’s training paid off, and he began as a paratrooper. He requested to be placed in his unit’s intelligence division, in charge of every aspect from simple maps to special technologies. “I was astounded at how involved we were in every move the unit made, and how much the Battalion Commander respected the Intel Officer,” he reveals. Continuously hectic, the unit broke one year to dress up as Ninja turtles, Batman, Robin and the Flintstones for Purim. Suddenly, the alarm sounded. Everyone scrambled into gear, but one went out in green face paint.
How does it feel to represent Israel in this way?
It is a privilege. I know that my story is just one of tens of thousands, and that I was fortunate enough to be selected to represent my country. This humbles me but also gives me a strong sense of duty. I know that when I speak to someone, I might be his only honest impression of Israel, and that I have to be on my A-game all the time. It is also very personally rewarding for me to do this, since I think that it is a huge “shlichut” – the Hebrew word for mission or calling.
Have you experienced any particularly tense moments in the IDF?
One of my most meaningful days was when I served as the Deputy Intelligence officer of the Northern West Bank. My duties included collecting, analyzing and preparing the intelligence necessary to arrest terrorists.
One day, a Shabak agent alerted us that an active terrorist, recently released from prison was seeking a weapon to be armed for the next day. This terrorist also happened to be a woman. The go-to response is to set up roadblocks and attempt to capture the suspect in motion. We try to do this whenever we can instead of arrests, which are much more complex and necessitates contact between IDF soldiers and civilians, something we try to avoid. It’s a measure we developed to minimize disruption of the way of life.
These roadblocks have to be erected rapidly and with accurate intelligence. After closer examination, we realized that we missed the window of opportunity and must now carry out an arrest. Usually, a fast arrest would be a simple procedure. However, arresting a woman has implications. There is no way that a male Israeli soldier can search a woman. Not only is it uncomfortable for everyone involved, but for an Arab woman being touched by a male (soldier) violates her honor and could end in an “honor killing.” A female suspect has to be frisked by a female.
Unfortunately, the unit on duty happened to be the IDF’s ultra-Orthodox battalion, the only unit in the IDF comprised exclusively of men. The closest female combatant was too far away. Finally, the brigade commander asked for volunteers from the Control Room soldiers. Everyone raised their hand and one was selected.
When we heard “sagur” (closed) that the troops had surrounded the house, we tensed as we listened for the arrest confirmation. There was a 19-year old girl in the house who had volunteered to search a terrorist for weapons. The radio reported “mission success,” and we all let out a breath of relief.
The girl who took part was quite brave, but I also thought about the brigade commander. He made the decision to put a non-combatant girl in a combat situation and would have to face her family if something went wrong and explain why. These are among the life-threatening decisions we need to make as we face an enemy that hides behind its civilians.
What would you like people to know about serving in the IDF?
On the first day of service, every IDF soldier receives a small blue card. On it is the Moral Code of the IDF. One of the first items is the principal of Tohar Ha’Neshek – the Purity of Arms. This stipulates that a soldier cannot use his gun, tank, fighter jet, submarine – the power given to him as a soldier – impurely. We knew we had to stop this terrorist, but we also knew that we had to do it the right way.
These kinds of decisions are not made by reading the manual. There rules cannot cover every situation that rises up in our insanely complex reality. We do what we need to do to stop terror, to stop stabbings and rockets hurting our people, and navigate our way day-by-day to hurt others as little as we can. We cannot choose whether to fight or not, but we can choose how we fight.