IDF soldiers walking to Gaza during Operation Cast Lead 311R.
(photo credit: Ho New / Reuters)
In “Why We Fight,” one of the last episodes of Steven Spielberg’s remarkable
mini-series, Band of Brothers, the American soldiers who form “Easy Company” are
in in Germany as the Second World War draws to a close.
arduous journey from basic training to being thrown out of a plane into occupied
Normandy, they finally see the Nazi enemy in retreat, and take a moment to
reflect. Was this victory worth the danger and the sacrifice, and the loss of
their friends? A chance discovery by some sergeants on patrol in the woods
brings that question into sharp focus.
They stumble across a
concentration camp. This scene, the discovery of such an evil place, is the most
vivid and discomforting. The people they find are starving, emaciated and close
to death. They question the prisoners about who is being held here. One US
soldier translates the answers. “Criminals?” he asks. “No,” comes the reply,
“musicians, artists, teachers: Jews.” The evil of the Nazi project that they
have been fighting against for so many years is no longer abstract: the soldiers
realize why they fight.
It is natural for soldiers to continually wonder
why they fight, but I spent last week with several Israeli soldiers who were in
no doubt about their mission. University students, in their mid-20s and all
active reservists, were recalling their battle experiences prior to a major
speaking tour of campuses around the world.
Yair told me about being in a
pitched battle with Hezbollah terrorists during the Second Lebanon War of
Hezbollah fighters do not wear uniform and operate specifically
from civilian areas, where ordinary residents are essentially human shields. On
this day, Hezbollah decided to make the situation more complicated. A truck
arrived in the middle of the battle. Ten boys, about eight years of age, got out
of the truck, armed with guns.
They had been driven into the conflict. In
the middle of battle, Yair saw the moral depravity of the enemy and knew in that
moment why he fights.
Adam told about receiving a call to his mobile
phone from the anguished leader of a Palestinian village. It was the height of
the violent Palestinian intifada (uprising) and Adam’s job was to be a liaison
between humanitarian NGOs, Palestinian leaders and the IDF. Every Palestinian
community leader has Adam’s cellphone number.
The call he received that
day was a cry for help. A Palestinian boy was playing in his village and his
ball had fallen into an olive press. While trying to retrieve it, the boy got
his arm stuck in the blades of the press causing him excruciating pain. Adam was
being asked to enter the village – hostile to Israelis – and
While entering the village, the locals stoned their vehicles but
after saving the boy’s life, they left to Palestinian cheers. Adam was clear why
Lital told me she was one of five girls in a combat unit of
100 males and was in charge of handling security checkpoints between Israeli and
Palestinian areas. Of course, in an ideal world Israel would not need security
checkpoints but, as she was checking females coming through, Lital was in no
doubt of why they were necessary.
“They save lives”, she told me, asking
me to consider the case of a pregnant Palestinian woman who was brought to a
checkpoint in an ambulance which, once inspected, was found to be carrying
concealed explosive devices. “Take a second,” she asked me, “to understand what
kind of dilemma an 18- year old soldier is presented with when on the one hand
she sees a heavily pregnant woman, apparently desperate to go to hospital, but
at the same time, fears it is a hoax that will cost others’
Knowing she faces an enemy that would use a pregnant woman about
to deliver as a decoy and the clear and present danger that Israeli citizens
face from this threat; Lital was clear why she fights.
As clear as it was
to the soldiers I met as to why they fight, it was also clear why they would
prefer not to have to.
Itzik told me about the time he was on duty and
was preparing to leave for the weekend to get some much-needed rest. Suddenly,
intelligence came in that a suicide bomber was on the way to an Israeli mall.
Itzik and his unit dropped everything to hunt for the terrorist. One of the
people he questioned during their search was a Palestinian named Mohammed. Itzik
recalled conversing with him: “Listen, Mohammed, I don’t want to be here,” he
said, “I’d prefer to be at home with my friends and family.”
looked at him and replied, “I don’t want to be here either. I’d rather be at
home with my kids. We’re the same: we both want to live in peace and quiet. The
main difference between you and us is that you can say it out loud.” Itzik told
me at that point he realized that they were both hostages of Hamas.
young IDF army officers will be visiting communities and campuses across the US
and the world over the next couple of months.They are not
spokespeople. They are not officials. They are not politicians. They are
representatives of a citizens’ army of a people who wish to live in peace and
freedom, a freedom that must be fought for. And that is why they
fight.The writer is Israel director of StandWithUs, which educates about
Israel through student fellowships, speaker programs, conferences, written
materials and Internet resources. Stand- WithUs has twelve offices around the
world, including Los Angeles, Israel and the UK. Soldiers’ testimony can be
viewed at www.standwithus.co.il/idf