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. Idan 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.

Idan’s connection to his country and home was greatly impacted as the grandchild of Holocaust survivors. “My grandparents and their remarkable life stories have always been a great source of pride to me, a role model and a living testimony to the triumph of the Spirit,” he states. Now 29, married and living in “the city we consider to be the best in the world, Jerusalem,” he is at Hebrew University in Middle Eastern studies and International Relations.

Idan entered the IDF at the mandatory age of 18 and carried on the family tradition of joining the Armored Corps like his older brother and father. He rose to tank company commander and concurrently with his studies, Idan serves as a deputy of a reserve battalion commander. “This shaped my beliefs, my world view and my personality more than words can ever express. No other experience in my life was able to affect me like commanding young people, especially in times of crisis such as wars,” he admits.

Have you experienced any particularly tense moments in the IDF?

In summer, 2005, then prime minister Ariel Sharon decided to evacuate Israeli settlements and the army from the Gaza strip.

For the only time in my years as a soldier, I had to take actions against my own people. My company’s mission was to evacuate three Israeli settlements. Thankfully, we did not have to use force. The settlers cried, hugged and comforted us as tragically, they left their houses, synagogues, kindergartens and farms – their lifetime achievements devastated.

Try to imagine what its like for a young Jewish person with a family background of being forced to leave your most important place in the world, your home. Even though I knew the circumstances are totally different, when I witnessed the evacuation of the Jewish life from those settlements, I couldn’t help but imagine the destruction of my own grandmother’s Shtetl in Romania.

Unfortunately, the Israeli disengagement of Gaza did not bring peace with the Palestinians. In 2007, the terror organization Hamas took over in a lethal cruel revolt against the PLO. At once, living in the southern towns of Israel turned into an ongoing nightmare under the daily threat of rockets Hamas fire.
In 2008, I was a deputy company commander of an armored company in the Golan Heights when we got the call to go back into Gaza in “Operation Cast Lead.” It was a week before Hanukkah.

During the war, we confronted Hamas terrorists in several incidents, appalled at the immorality of their use of Palestinian residents as human targets. One day, we received a report about the launching of rockets from a house in a populated neighborhood. It turned out to be a huge villa, with an internal courtyard from which the rockets were launched towards Israel.

“Is there permission to open fire?” the platoon commander asked, “Stand still,” I replied. I decided that we should enter the house even though I knew I was risking our forces. The house was too big and we had to make sure there were no noncombatants inside. Slowly we entered the house. Machine-gun fire opened at the soldiers, and an RPG rocket was fired at the tanks from a window. “Do not throw a grenade, there might be civilians,” shouted the Platoon commander, while his men are under fire. The battle lasted about ten minutes, two terrorists were killed and two others surrendered and came out with their hands raised. Only in the morning we realized the unimaginable situation.

Twenty people came out of that house, three adult civilians, four adult women and about ten children. Hamas’s terrorists who were willing to die in order to launch the rockets, tried to force us to kill innocent civilians with them as they shoot at innocent people in Israel. I am proud that we defeated them, I am even prouder that we didn’t harm anyone we shouldn’t have.

While the children left the house, one of our soldiers approached them with a cardboard box in his hands. He gave each child a Hanukkah jelly doughnut, wishing them happy holidays.

What would you like people to know about serving in the IDF?

Part of being an Israeli is to grown up in a reality of gas mask and alarms, of biding goodbye to a father going to battle, and going to war yourself at a very young age. Unlike our enemies, we go to fight when there is no other choice. Unlike our enemies, we fight to defend our children, to keep them safe and not to put them in danger as a human shield.

Israel is a moral country that happens to exist in the most immoral region on earth. The last few years just prove to us again how dangerous and lethal the Islamic extremism can be to their own countrymen. My personal story is a testimony to the nature of our enemies. When Saddam Hussein fired rockets at us in the first gulf war it wasn’t because of the Israeli – Palestinian conflict. When my father went to war in 1996 in Lebanon it wasn’t because of the Israeli policy in the West Bank. When I went to war against Hamas in 2008, it wasn’t against the Israeli so-called “occupation” in the Gaza strip, because it didn’t exist, we withdrew three years earlier.

This conflict is not about “Occupation,” it is not about a territory, it isn’t even about religion. It is about a clash between one civilization that desires to live in peace and prosperity, with another civilization that’s willing to die in order to destroy that life. Any other interpretation of this conflict will be a victory for those we are fighting against.