This is the fifth 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. Edan 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.
Edan, 28, lived in Miami, spent some time in Guantanamo Bay and among other American staples, fell in love with baseball. Returning to Israel, he decided to use the international language of sports to bridge the differences among the Arab and Jews residing there together. He founded the first ever junior baseball team for both Jews and Arabs. He also experienced life as a volunteer on a kibbutz – sorting dates, tending the garden and milking cows. He is now a Ph.D candidate studying how the heart repairs itself after an attack in the Department of Biotechnology Engineering in Ben Gurion University, Beer Sheba. Only 30 miles from the Gaza border, the city has suffered endless rocket attacks from Hamas, which controls Gaza.
Edan joined the Nahal infantry brigade which are the combat ground troops, eventually graduating an elite sergeant course and overseeing a platoon of veteran combat warriors. He participated in the second Lebanese war, in numerous operations in Gaza where he led soldiers into combat and served on the Lebanese border and the West bank.
Have you experienced any particularly tense moments in the IDF?
During operation “Protective Edge” in summer, 2014, Hamas was deliberately firing rockets into Israel and the IDF retaliated with cautious air strikes against terrorist targets. The objective was to neutralize the terror network (including the underground tunnels) that Hamas built in Gaza.
My position as mortar squad commander was to assist the special forces of the Nahal with 120mm mortar bomb artillery. These are not the same mortars that Hamas uses that fall indiscriminately. These are fully-automated mortars co-developed by the US and Israeli Armies that have the ability to hit targets with great precision. We had instructions not to fire at any structure within danger distance of civilians.
The ground combat began and it was tough. We were at the perimeter of the terror infested village of Bet Hanun. I never thought I’d have to face what happened. It was 1:00am on a Friday night. “Man down, man down! I repeat, I have at least 10 injured and one down and missing!” yelled the Platoon Commander through the radio. “I need immediate artillery around the entire area!” I ordered my squad to prepare the mortars. An IDF platoon encountered an ambush by Hamas who shot a direct missile at them, injuring many. One was missing. In the case of a potential kidnapping, protocol is painfully clear-cut: bomb everywhere, including where the kidnapped soldier may be. Protocol is protocol, but blindly firing heavy explosives in such a densely populated area would mean dozens of casualties and fatalities.
What would you do?
Ultimately, I gave the order to fire and to do everything in our power to assist our forces that were under attack. After 7 long hours, our forces prevailed without leaving anyone behind. First Lieutenant Roey Peles was killed in that attack but his body was retrieved due to our help.
Later that year, after a thorough investigation of that event, we were told that 5 innocent civilians were killed during that night. I was heartbroken. I wish I knew who they were. I wish I could reach their families and ask them for forgiveness. Ask them to put all politics aside and find how to live together.
Would I make the same decision if I had to do it again? Would I risk the lives of my fellow soldiers to potentially avoid hurting innocent civilians?
I don’t know.
But what I do know is that the IDF, my squad and I follow such a powerful ethic and moral code that not many do in the world and that we need to cherish it and set as an example for others in our region.
What would you like people to know about serving in the IDF?
Is our army perfect? No. Though when mistakes are made they are analyzed, assessed and lessons are learned to ensure they are not repeated. If a soldier deliberately does something wrong, the IDF will put him or her on trial and punish them.
We do not join the army to fight, we join the army because we have to and we know we have to defend our families at home. The IDF must fight and confront the enemy on our actual borders. We are in battle for our country’s survival. I have arrested terrorists that were ten minutes from my house.
It’s an obligation to serve, yet a privilege to protect our loved ones. I am proud to be an active reserve, willing to fight for my country. But at the same time, I never lose hope for peace – the baseball team I founded is one example of that.
Israeli society faces such scrutiny on a daily basis while it deals with ongoing terror threats and the constant fear of being isolated from the world. Yet, it is thriving and evolving as a start-up nation.
But what really makes the Israeli society so unique are two reasons. One is because every single one of us – men and women – serve in the military at age 18 and carry a certain load from army service, one that we share with our fellow brothers in arms all our lives.
Second, is that despite release from the army after mandatory service and we get on with our lives, we never really leave the army. We continue as active reservists, prepared to be called up any second whenever there is a slight escalation, ready to leave everything behind not knowing if we will ever return. We are prepared because we believe in our existence in the region and we are well aware that if we do not partake in this ongoing battle of survival, we may face a very tough reality.