In recent years, Israel haters spread anti-Israeli propaganda via social networks and during IAW, which is filled with false information and contains mainly lies about the IDF. Truth is, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) have over 700,000 citizen soldiers and reservists, who are expected to live up to the IDF's ethical standards. Unfortunately, in the IDF, like in any army, some soldiers violate the rules of combat, and neglect those standards. Those violations are being investigated, and the offenders are being punished.
Those who are out trying to disgrace Israel, avoid making an educated criticism, and present the violators as part of the IDF's agenda. Many allegations of such claim that there were instances of misconduct during Israel's operation Cast Lead in Gaza. These, along with similar accusations, are based on unverified hearsay, and are proving to be false. As a result, many former soldiers, who still serve 30 days a month as reservist soldiers (Milu'im,) felt the need to go abroad and tell the true stories of the IDF. They do it as part of the StandWithUs Israeli Soldiers’ Stories project.
Israeli Soldiers' Stories (or ISS) is an innovative program featuring a diverse group of IDF's reserve duty Israeli college/university students. Their mission is to educate, inform, and delve into conversation about the Israeli-Arab conflict. Each soldier has a personal story that exposes the dilemmas of the conflict, including facing an enemy that hides behind its civilians. Participants in ISS have had combat experience in Gaza or Lebanon or during the second Intifada either in military or civil administration positions. StandWithUs has launched a U.S speaking tour for those former soldiers, where they tour University campuses and cultural centers in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Seattle, San Francisco and more.
Each year, the ISS participants find themselves facing anti-Israeli protesters who usually use methods of silent protest (sitting with duct tape on their mouths while the soldiers speak, raising signs etc.) This year, however, Matan and Tamir (Last names are withheld for security reasons) experienced a demonstration of hatred like no other during an event at the Cal Poly Pomona Hillel club in California.
This ISS event, much like the others, was aimed to show aspects of Israel, which are usually not shown in foreign media. Matan, Tamir and American Lt. Col. Brad Letner were invited to this campus to speak about their lives and thoughts about Israel and to share their personal experiences from their service in the IDF. Much like during other events of such, members of anti-Israel groups entered the hall, but what started as a silent protest (covering their mouths with duct tape and holding signs with accusations) like they usually do, quickly escalated to “booing” and yelling and much worse. Immediately after the soldiers’ introduction, the protesters began booing and even dared to call the soldiers “baby killers,” “terrorists” and “rapists.” This was after all who were present were asked to behave properly and remain civil, and even though both Matan and Tamir were willing to answer any question from the audience.
The Israeli soldiers, however, did not let the whole even escalate. They maintained their composure, remained representative, and continue to talk over the shouting, enduring the false, harsh, accusations.
Tamir spoke to “Israelife,” and shared his thoughts and feelings from this memorable event:
Describe those moments, when suddenly things started to get out of hand. What went through your head?
“As an Israeli I was shocked by the ridiculous accusations against my country. I felt like I am at the front line of the war to demonize Israel. To hear young, intellectual students shout and try to interfere our speech, filled with hatred and incitement, was one of the most meaningful and important experiences I've encountered.”
How did you manage to rise above the words of hate thrown at you?
” We decided to speak up for Israel and show the truth through our personal stories and personal experiences in the army. I expressed my feelings and thoughts in my speech, combined with showing real pictures from the Gaza strip. These pictures showed terrorists firing missiles and hiding explosives from within dense civilian population. I felt it made a difference and encouraged the pro-Israeli students to speak up and not be afraid to tell the truth. We decided to speak even though we faced a difficult crowd because there were people who came to listen, and some of them had actually never heard of Israel before. By staying and insisting to speak, I believe they got to learn about Israel and better understand the challenges Israel is dealing with, internally and externally.”
Did this even motivated you to keep telling the truth about Israel?
“Reading the newspapers and watching the news in countries abroad—often with misleading information about Israel—encouraged me to step up and volunteer for this tour . After this event, The desire to show the real truth about Israel and the IDF through my personal experience expanded, and I understood that as long as we continue to step up without fear and tell the truth to whoever is willing to listen, we will be able to expose those who are seeking to demonize us, and on the other hand, educate and reach a true dialogue with those who don’t necessarily agree with us.”
What do you think the other people who were there thought of the situation? Did you receive any comments?
“Besides those who came to interfere, all the remaining students, Jews, Muslim or Christians were shocked to see the freedom of speech violated in such a way, and were absolutely against it. We were approached by ROTC (Reserve Officers' Training Corps) soldiers, students, college personnel and policemen that were touched by our stories and expressed their appreciation. After the event an Iraqi student approached me and started the conversation by saying that he is ashamed and truly sorry for this act of disrespect, and he is interested of hearing more about the Jewish history and the establishment of the state of Israel. Until this day we are still talking via E-mail, so it seems like our speech made a difference.”
* Tamir was born in New York and moved to Israel with his family at the age of 7. An alumnus of StandWithUs’ 2012 Israel Fellowship, he is currently studying Political Science and Communications at Tel Aviv University. During his time in the IDF, he served as an officer and company commander in the Paratrooper Brigade. He participated in Operation Cast Lead in 2009, and in 2011 he commanded 140 soldiers as a company commander on Israel’s northern border with Lebanon and was responsible for border patrols, lookouts and various missions in order to defend the citizens of Israel.