This is the sixth 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.com. Tslil is one of 14 speakers traveling around the United States as a part of StandWithUs’ 6th annual “Israeli Soldiers Tour,” putting a human face to the IDF uniform. Last names are withheld for security purposes.
Tslil, 28, is from a Yeminite family that crossed the desert barefoot to emigrate to Israel, fleeing oppression. Born in a kibbutz in northern Israel, he earned his B.A. in Political Science and Communications from Tel Aviv University. Tslil’s four years in the IDF included the 2005 withdrawal from Gaza and Gilad Shalit’s abduction, the Second Lebanon War in 2006, Operation Cast Lead in 2008, Operations Pillar of Defense in 2012 and Protective Edge in 2014. He served as a Captain Reserve in the Maglan Unit, which operates behind enemy lines and deep in enemy territory using advanced technology.
Tslil worked as a spokesperson for the Vice Speaker of the Knesset, MP Pnina Tamano Shata of the “Yesh- Atid” Party. He is a digital media consultant for a firm which provides public relations and strategic media consulting.
What unit did you serve with in the IDF and why did you serve there?
I couldn’t decide which path to take and eventually found myself in the artillery corps. After basic and advanced training, I was sent to the commander course where I was trained to become a squad leader of a cannon team.
One of the differences between the IDF and the US Army is that ANYONE can become an officer from within the ranks. I wanted to make the best of my service so I asked to join the officer course and volunteered for another year (mandatory service for boys is three years, two for girls). I passed all the exams, went through more training and became a Fire Support Officer.
My job was to coordinate the supporting fire for the maneuvering force. I went through long, ongoing training with almost every branch army- armored corps, field intelligence, the air force, the navy and the Special Forces. During that time, the training was not only physical, and I had to put a lot of time into studying target analysis and acquisition policy, reconnaissance, enemy distinction, fire policy, and rules of engagement. I spent more time in the classroom than out on the field.
Can you share a story about active duty that illustrate what life was like?
I cannot begin to describe the heartbreak of disengagement from Gaza. I was only four months into service and we found ourselves in uniform standing opposite our brothers and sisters, friends and neighbors.
Israel is one of only few democracies in the world that never went through a civil war. This was probably the closest we ever came.
After the disengagement, there was a short period of euphoria when many people felt there may be a new age in relations with Gaza. It took Hamas 11 days and a “work accident” (three rockets fell off a truck during a parade, killing 19 and injuring 80) to shoot more than 20 rockets at Southern Israel, to cities like Sderot.
I joined Operation Protective Edge in 2014 near Gaza border with orders to document evidence that Hamas was using a United Nations infirmary as a base.
We entered, with full instructions to leave the infirmary intact until they had definitive proof. The biggest risk was the infirmary itself – a suspiciously new cemetery in one side, a giant mosque with two high-rise minarets, and numerous other threats around it. We would not shoot the infirmary, the mosque, or the cemetery prior to our entry because it is against the IDF code of conduct to engage in humanitarian buildings. We had to wait until they fired first.
We lost three friends when that clinic blew up: Matan, Omer and Guy. Hamas secretly installed a ton of explosives in the walls. The building was built to save lives, but eventually took lives instead.
I could go on to tell about the battle, about how we rescued the bodies and the injured under constant fire from the mosque across the street, and about how the cemetery “graves” were full with explosive booby traps, but that doesn’t matter anymore. We did what we had to do, and made our best effort to remain human while doing it. We paid the price, and I know we will pay it again if we had to.
What motivated you to speak about your experiences on this tour?
Whenever I hear things like “the settlements are the only obstacle to peace”, I think about my personal journey, how the destruction of settlements and removal of all of the Jews from Gaza started so many consecutive conflicts. Israel has shown it is willing to remove settlements for peace. It is a symptom of a very complicated reality and that the solution must come from a deep, honest and sincere will of the people, the Israelis and the Palestinians both, to put an end to this bloody cycle of violence and build together a different, better future for our children and for ourselves. I want people to understand the true reality that we live in.
What message do you want people to take away from your story?
Matan gave his life because he believed in a higher moral standard. One that means you use your missiles to protect your civilians and not the other way around, that you use yourself as the last shield between the citizens and the enemy, and not use the citizens as a shield for yourself. A moral standard that means that you want to be in the front line not because you love the action, but because you hate it and you understand the responsibility of being there.
We lost Matan, Omer and Guy, but we did not lose our humanity.
We sent our best men and women forward so that the rest of the country could live. We made our best efforts not to hurt any uninvolved bystanders, when the other side made his best efforts to kill indiscriminately. I am deeply sorry for the souls lost on both sides, and I wish for the day I will revisit Gaza to enjoy its beaches, markets and people. Another little something to hope for…
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