StandWithUs brings IDF soldiers to Washington University

Israeli Defense Forces soldiers discuss their experiences in the army as a part of the ‘Israeli Soldiers Tour,’ which visited Washington University in February. Photos: Max Krupnick 

Max Krupnick, Sophomore, John Burroughs School

In mid-February, a group of two dozen Washington University students attended the StandWithUs “Israeli Soldiers Tour.” StandWithUs, a 14-year-old international Israel education organization, has run this tour for seven years in order to connect university students with soldiers in order to directly teach them about the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF).

The event in 2015 was met with backlash from the student community. Paul Felder, leader of Washington University Students for Israel and the 2015-16 StandWithUs Emerson Fellow for the school, organized the event both years.
“Last year we had some trouble with community members who disturbed our event. We invited them to come in and listen, but they chose to stand outside and disrupt us,” Felder said.

With anti-Israel sentiment prevalent on many college campuses today, advocacy is more important than ever. Many students who protest against Israel have not visited the nation and do not know the full story.
“We try and invite dialogue regardless of opinion,” Felder said.

This year, StandWithUs brought Idan, a 29 year-old reserve deputy commander, and Sagie, a 27-year-old reserve captain (their last names were withheld for security purposes). Both soldiers served during the Second Intifada, a Palestinian uprising between 2000 and 2005, and Idan helped with ensuing withdrawal from the Gaza strip.

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“The Second Intifada was an awful time for both Israelis and Palestinians,” Sagie said.

Sagie, a native of Kfar Saba, dreamed of a career in the NBA until an act of terror changed his life forever. On Nov. 4, 2002, his friend, Gaston Perpinal, was killed by suicide bomber.

“A few minutes before practice, my team and I heard a huge explosion. We were dumb teenagers, but we knew exactly what had happened. After a few hours, I unfortunately heard Gaston was one of the deaths. I was shocked. I was confused why he died — he should have been at practice,” Sagie said. “The next day, at age 14, I sat in front of Gaston’s parents, who had just lost their only son, and was forced to grow up. I knew I had to take advantage of my life [and join the army].”

Idan joined the IDF in 2004 and was placed in the Gaza strip. He saw Hamas’ inhumane treatment of civilians first-hand.

“Some people in one big house tried to tell us that there were militants in the house,” he said. “We looked and saw missiles being shot into Israel. For many soldiers this was their first time seeing up close rockets which are used to kill Israelis.

“Many wanted to rush, but that’s what the terrorists wanted. We killed two terrorists on the first floor at night. The next morning, we went upstairs and saw 30 women and children who said they had been forced to stay by Hamas.”
A main source of resentment towards Israel on campus is the “oppression of Palestinians.” Both soldiers defended the security measures put in place, including security checkpoints and border walls.

“Before 2003 in the West Bank there was no fence and there were daily attacks,” Idan said. “After the intifada, we had to restrict the movement of both Israelis and Palestinians. It’s not about ethnicity, it’s not about religion, it’s about security. When we came this morning from Chicago we had to go through some security measures because of the 9/11 attacks. It’s the same principle.”

In addition to protecting the nation’s borders, the IDF deals with many terror threats on a daily basis. One student asked the soldiers whether they thought these attacks would end and if peace would come in Israel any time soon.  
“I am not optimistic,” said Sagie. “The media definitely isn’t helping. Sometimes if I read in an objective way, I think I am living in the worst country in the world.”