Inside the Israeli Soldiers’ Mind

25Jun10

As I discussed earlier, eight Israeli soldiers were placed on our trip. Our tour leaders told us repeatedly, “this was to be the most important aspect of our adventure” To meet, befriend, interact with, and understand Israeli life and culture from the eyes of our peers.

They were right. When the soldiers arrived, we were somewhat reluctant. When they left, we were despressed and wished they stayed longer.

Here’s a little background on what it is to be a soldier in Israel. Each person, male and female, has to enlist in the IDF (Israeli Defense Forces) at the age of 18. Every single person, whether it be a brother, sister, father, son, mother, or daughter. Males enlist for a minimum of three years, females for a minimum of two. To become a commander, males and females must tack on an additional year of service. Upon the completion of their servcice, soldiers are discharged, but males are forced to maintain in the reserves.

We must protect this house!

Not all soldiers are combat soldiers. But those who are, males (and sometimes females) are very competive in achieving high ranks, positions, and teams. For example, in the floatillion incident several weeks ago, those Israeli SEALs who descended from helicopters were among the elite.
(Asside)Exception – The only exception is the ultra-orthordox Jew, they are exempt from enlisting because they spend all day studying. But even this is under scrutiny. When the law was originally established back in the late 1940’s, there were only about 6,000 such aformentioned ultra-orthodox. Today more than 50,000 exist in Israel.

Think about this: at age 18 in the US, what do we do? We travel, we go to college and universities, we go to work…. Basically we, as a people, get to choose. Israeli’s children aren’t as lucky. Kids from the age of ten ask their mom “am I going to have to go to the army too?” The answer is always, unfortunately, yes.

This is what it takes to defend a country surrounded by its enemies. The wars started immediately. In May 1948, within minutes of Israel becaming an independent state, British mandate ended (they were occupying Israel since 1917) and Israel was invaded by 5 neighboring Arab countires, forced to defend itself. The War of Independence began a day later (5/15) and Israel formed the IDF.

War after war after war, we’re still here. We’re still fighting.

Our Soldiers

Israeli soldiers believe they are all connected, like brothers and sisters. We conducted an exercise with the soldiers that involved 3 different but FACTUAL situations. We were given the background, and asked to make a decision.

Here’s one situation:

1) In 2006 an Israeli soldier was captured and held for ransom by Hamas in Gaza. The price: in exchange for the single Israeli soldier, Hamas wanted the release of 1,200 terrorists that Israel contained in its prisons. The Gaza Strip is a land full of tunnel systems, an elaborate labyrinth impossible to navigate, let alone finding a captured soldier. A rescue mission is out of the question. So the choices are – negotiate, or not. The American answer seems simple: it’s not worth saving one life to free 1,200 people who would conduct further terrorist attacks. That was our American consensus. This is not how the Israeli mind works. Their brother is alive (Hamas showed a video about a year ago proving his mortal existencea) They want him back, alive. America does not negotiate, thus will not release hostages to free soldiers. Israel will. This exemplifies the strong bond among soldiers. The IDF is a family. Commercials flash across Israeli television reminding the 8,000,000 people their brother is still a hostage. He is not forgotten, but not yet rescued.

The soldiers were seemingly shocked by our answer, but we are different. Not naïve, but the American mind doesn’t think like an Israeli mind. This is one reason that makes Israeli an incredible place – everyone’s dedication to each other.

I really do love this place. The people of Israel need to fight to exist and have every right to defend themself. It is my duty to share what I learn. I will not believe everything I read in the news. I will enlighten people on current Israeli situations. I will be able to explain logic behind Israeli military movement. I not only learn, but I feel. Whether or not I live there, I will forever feel that Israel, the state of the Jews, is my home.

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