This is the tenth 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. Dekel 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. For more information, visit: https://www.facebook.com/israelisoldierstour/

Dekel, 27, is a Business Administration major at the IDC in Herzilya. A child of immigrants, Dekel’s father hails from Ethiopia and his mother from Iran. He jokes that it was such a unique combination that even his grandmother “was surprised and asked my mother ‘where did you find such a black Yemenite?!'”

After 6 years in the army, Dekel volunteered for a Jewish Agency delegation to his father’s hometown, Gondar, Ethiopia. He spent three months teaching Hebrew to second and fourth grade students, preparing them for Aliyah. The experience made such an impact that Dekel invited his father and brother to join him. ” I wanted us to see Ethiopia threw my father’s eyes,” he offers. They visited the picturesque village his grandfather and father lived in. One elderly person recognized Dekel’s father and took them for a tour.

Dekel began army service as a Paratrooper, but knew from the beginning that he wanted to be an officer. It was his way of “giving back to my country in the best way I could and at the time, that meant becoming an officer.” He started as a commander in the paratroopers, went to officer’s school and completed service as a captain in a counter-terrorism unit.

Have you experienced any particularly tense moments in the IDF?

In 2005, Israel disengaged its communities and soldiers from the Gaza Strip in the hope for “peace.” An election ensued between Fatah and Hamas in the West Bank and Gaza. Hamas, a terrorist group whose charter calls for the destruction of the state of Israel won and then violently took over the Gaza Strip from Fatah. Immediately, it escalated shooting rockets at Israel’s southern cities from the Gaza.

In 2008, I was stationed near the Gaza border, part of the Emergency Force that responded to anything that happened. My unit and I received an emergency call that 2 guys were approaching the fence that surrounds Gaza. We worried…they could be terrorists. They might be trying to plant explosives on the fence to kill us (Israeli soldiers).

As we neared them, a Druze in my unit who spoke Arabic, queried them. I was shocked: they were Fatah members trying to flee from Hamas in the Gaza Strip. Hamas had put out a contract on them, accusing them of raping women in Gaza and therefore, should be killed.

We checked them for weapons and explosives, making sure they weren’t suicide bombers, and brought them back to base.

Israeli intelligence confirmed that their story was completely true. They were Fatah members that Hamas wanted to kill for being a part of Fatah. They fled to the border thinking that the Israelis would help them. And they were right. We did help them and saved them from Hamas.

What Moment of Your Service Are You Most Proud Of?

I realized something that night. I understood the army that I served in. It’s called the IDF, “Israel Defense Forces” and I understood that we aren’t just defending Israelis – we protect everyone and anyone who needs it. This includes people who were once our enemy, such as these Fatah members. Or,the Syrian fighters who come to our border for medical treatment; and we treat them just like we do Israelis and everyone else. Because that is who we are.

That night I was proud to serve in the IDF and I continue to be proud until today.

How does it feel to represent Israel in this way?

Representing Israel in this way is like the best “reserve duty” I can do. I am very proud to be a part of this tour.

What would you like people to know about serving in the IDF?
When you are recruited to the IDF, you’re still a child, and you have a big responsibility to your country, at only age 18. Serving in the IDF gives you a lot. It builds your character. It puts life into perspective and makes you realize what’s important…and what isn’t.

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