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Jewish Journal

Israeli Soldiers Stories- touring the States, spreading the truth

by Noga Gur-Arieh

April 3, 2013 | 12:14 pm

Ben sharing his experiences from serving in the IDF at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut

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 educational 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 in the Israeli Soldiers Stories movement (ISS), of the Stand with Us organization.

Stand With Us, an international non-profit organization, is dedicated to informing the population of the world about Israel, and to help fight the hate and anti-Semitism by simply acknowledging. The members of the organizations come from the U.S, Israel, UK and France.  They use print materials, speakers, conferences, missions to Israel and campaigns, both face to face and online to follow their mission. Stand With Us conducts various projects and activities throughout the world, such as the Once In a Lifetime project.

Israeli Soldiers Stories 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. Stand With Us 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.

Ben and Kinneret are two young Israeli students, who take part of the program. In the past few years, they have toured across the States, speaking in front of students.  Kinneret was born and raised on Kfar Haruv, a kibbutz situated on a cliff of the Golan Heights, overlooking the Sea of Galilee ("Kinneret" in Hebrew). She is a tenth generation Israeli on her Mother's side and is the first generation to be born in Israel on her father's side. Kinneret served in the IDF during the Second Lebanon War in 2006 against the terror organization Hezbollah. When the war broke out she was rushed to the northern city of Sfat which was under constant rocket attack. While assisting civilians in stress, a rocket hit the place Kinneret had been standing just moments before. Kinneret, a graduate of the Stand With Us Israel Fellowship at Bar Ilan University, currently lives in Tel Aviv and is finishing her B.A. in Political Communications.  

Ben is a native of Denver, Colorado, and moved to Israel at the height of the second Intifada in September 2001, at the age of 13, with his family. He joined the IDF at the age of 18 in 2007 and served his mandatory 3-year service in the elite Special Forces unit of Maglan. Today Ben studies Political Studies and Urban Studies at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and is a graduate of The Stand  With Us Israel Fellowship of 2012.

Ben traveled to the New England region, and Kinneret toured the West Coast of the United States and spoke in synagogues, churches, universities, and high schools. They both agreed to share their experiences from their delegations with Israelife's readers:

 

Why is it so important that Stand with Us will talk to University and College students abroad?

Ben: Stand With Us, through its Israeli Soldiers Stories (ISS) is not only important, but vital in order to put a face on the Israeli side of the spectrum. All too frequently misinformation and Israel bias run rampant on American campuses. There is almost no one, and in many cases absolutely no one, that can and is willing to challenge such allegations.

By talking to students we have a unique opportunity to show them the Israeli narrative, a narrative that is all too frequently demonized. When students spend time to talk with us and hear our stories they are enabled, and open themselves up to experiences and points of view that they would otherwise wouldn't hear or see in person.

Kinneret: Primarily because of the innovation of thinking that it represents, going beyond the virtual rhetoric so typical of the digital age. For me, ISS is going back to basics, people interacting personally, without the need of mediators such as the media. At the end of an event, when you see anti-Israeli activists left completely speechless, you have no doubt of the powerful impact.

 

What is Israel to you?

Kinneret: You can't sum up the love for your country in a few sentences but when people ask me this I tell them about the happiest day of my life. It wasn't my sweet sixteen, nor the day I got my driver’s license or bought my plane ticket for my trip around the world. It was the day that Gilad Shalit returned home. Words cannot articulate how I felt on that day, but it was as if my brother was returning home from captivity. I never met Gilad before but I still felt such a strong connection. The streets of Tel Aviv were completely deserted on that day, I had never seen anything like it. Everyone was at home, glued to their television sets, it was such an emotional day for all of us. That was the happiest day of my life and that's what the state of Israel is all about, a homeland for the Jewish people that are all brothers and sisters. That connection is rooted very deep inside of us.

Ben: Israel to me is a country that is trying her best to be the best country she can be, given the circumstances. Of course she’s not perfect, nor is any other country, but it’s a sense of pride that we face our problems head on and don’t consistently blame others. We are a very self-critical nation that is constantly trying to keep its home in order. All of this is exemplified while looking around at our immediate neighbors who are not only mostly authoritarian governments, but are working against the best interest of their own people in order to retain power. In 65 years, we have been able to be a light to not only our immediate neighbors, but in certain fields to the rest of the world, whether it be through our LGBT rights, our technological advances, or our medical foreign aid among many other initiatives.

 

Who is your target audience?

Ben: My target audience would be to anyone that is willing to listen with an open mind. In my opinion everyone can learn from listening to other people even in cases where you do not fully agree with them. An essential key to solving this conflict is the need for people to not stereotype others but to actually take the time to listen. While on the ISS tour, it became painfully clear to me that much of the anti-Israel hatred out there was not fueled by personal accounts or actual knowledge, but rather by raw emotion, which most of the time was driven by friends, lecturers or second-hand stories delivered by the news and other media.

Kinneret: I think talking to the younger generation is the most important. For me, personally, having a multi-cultural audience in my lectures and conversations is the most exciting and rewarding.


 
What is your agenda? What kinds of activities do you do?

Kinneret: I think the main message of this program is that when people are given the opportunity to communicate freely with each other, without political proxy and without limiting the conversation to conflict related issues, you can significantly promote peace and understanding. When you remove the cultural barriers, you realize that at the end of the day where we have more in common than we thought.

Ben: I do not have a supposed “agenda” of any sorts, except the mission to share my story. I usually tell the audience at the end of my speech that one of my main hopes is that now that they have heard a narrative that they might not have heard before, which maybe changed their past conceptions on the conflict, I hope that the next time they hear something about Israel - they will check their facts. Not only from their usual sources but also from others that do not coincide exactly with their opinions.

 

What are the reactions you receive? Do people decide to support Israel? Are people protesting against you? How do you reply?

Ben: It really depends on where I was speaking. There were some campuses where we experienced anti-Israel sentiment within minutes of starting. For instance, we experienced walkouts, stand-ins, and hecklers. When this does happen, especially with walkouts, we can’t help but feeling that there was a missed opportunity here. I personally feel that if you’re really interested in reaching a peaceful solution,there is no reason for you to walk out on an opportunity for open dialogue.  We opened up our speeches by saying that we will have a Q&A and time afterwards to speak.  When they leave at the beginning of our talks, one cannot but help being left with a feeling of sorrow. It is sorrow for them missing an opportunity to bridge the gaps between us. Peace and reconciliation come when we speak with each, not with one side turning their backs and walking out.

 

To read more about Israeli Soldiers Stories and to check out the tour closest to your home, go here.

For more information about Stand With Us, go here, here and here.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

My name is Noga Gur-Arieh, and I’m an Israeli Journalist, currently studying for my B.A degree in Media and Political Science, at Tel Aviv University.

I am very socially...

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