IDF appeals to Israeli expatriates

Army launches campaign asking soldiers living abroad to volunteer in W. Bank.

checkpoint kalandia 298. (photo credit: )
checkpoint kalandia 298.
(photo credit: )
In an effort to increase the number of former soldiers who perform reserve duty in the West Bank, the IDF has launched a campaign asking such soldiers living abroad to come to Israel to help out. Thousands of Israelis who have served in the IDF live in the Diaspora. Those under the age of 65, a high-ranking officer told The Jerusalem Post this week, are eligible to join the Central Command's Seam Line Volunteer Unit, also known as the Hatikva Unit, which assists regular IDF units stationed in the West Bank. The unit, which is headed by Col. (res.) Yamini Kenan, a former Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) operative, was established several years ago by former IDF officers who, angered by the growing number of reservists who were refusing orders to serve in the territories, decided to set up a unit to assist young soldiers serving their compulsory service in the West Bank. "The goal is to encourage the soldiers and let them know that they are not alone," the high-ranking officer said. "When a 19-year-old soldier sees a 60-year-old volunteer standing at a checkpoint next to him late at night, the soldier realizes that he is not alone and that the citizens back home have not forgotten him." The unit is responsible for a number of checkpoints, mostly in the Kalkilya and Tulkarm areas. The volunteer soldiers also conduct routine patrols along the West Bank security barrier and through Palestinian villages. The service usually lasts 12 to 13 days. Most of the current volunteers live in Israel and are too old to serve in the regular reserves. But they still want to contribute to the IDF. Realizing the untapped potential in Israeli communities abroad, the Central Command is setting up a Web site where potential volunteers will be able to receive information and apply to serve. "There are already a number of volunteers who come from the United States, Canada and France," the officer said. "Just last week we had a Jew from New York who owns seven companies and took off two weeks to come to Israel and serve in the West Bank." According to the high-ranking officer, in recent years the number of Israel-based volunteers has declined. "When the economy is up and the security situation is relatively quiet, people don't automatically think about volunteering with the IDF," he said. "When the soldiers see someone from France come and stand at a checkpoint with them in a uniform and helmet and with a gun, they are astounded," the officer said. "This alone is worth coming to do the service." Machsom Watch, an NGO that monitors IDF checkpoints in the West Bank, said it was distressed by the IDF's call for former servicemen to come from abroad to serve in the territories. "A large number of the checkpoints that are called "seam-line" are actually found deep inside the territories and far from the Green Line, and these checkpoints harm the Palestinians' quality of life," the organization said in a statement. "Therefore Machsom Watch is distressed by the fact that volunteers from abroad with good intentions to defend the State of Israel are sent to do missions that do not promote security but actually harm it." Anyone seeking further information can contact Yamini at +972-(0)50-623-4004.