Three former Israeli Defense Force soldiers who are now Ithaca College seniors, Avi Rosen, Marina Dubov and Adi Amit, spoke about their experiences serving in Israel at the “36 Months of Grey” panel Wednesday night.
Complexity was the major theme of the evening. The Middle East is often presented in clear-cut rights and wrongs, but the reality is not so simple, Michael Faber, director of the Hillel Foundation for Jewish Campus Life at the college, said. Hillel organized the panel.
“Often when people talk about Israel, they’re dealing with abstractions that are presented in stark colors; it’s either white or it’s black,” Faber said. “For people in the field, there’s a lot of grey.”
The speakers shifted focus away from politics and highlighted the human side of Israel and its issues. Senior Evan Johnson said he was pleased with the non-political approach.
“It’s good to have a human face,” Johnson said. “I’m glad that the discussion was civil.”
The speakers came from diverse backgrounds. Amit is a native of Israel, Rosen was raised in New York and traveled to Israel voluntarily to enlist, and Dubov’s family fled their home in Moscow and obtained citizenship in Israel.
Service in the IDF is compulsory for all Jewish citizens. Men serve three years, while women serve two years.
Amit was in the education unit and dealt mostly with problems with soldiers. Dubov had command over several soldiers in the Israeli Air Force. She also was an international relations liaison and was involved in accident investigation. Rosen was a soldier.
Life in the IDF shares some conventions with the U.S. Army but is a very diverse organization. Men and women both serve, and even some combat units are fully integrated. The speakers said they witnessed almost no sexism or racism. Jews, Christians, Bedouins and Muslims serve in the IDF.
“A lot of people think of the IDF as just a bunch of angry Jews,” Rosen said. “But Christians were probably the largest group.”
Following orders is of paramount importance in any army, including the IDF, Amit said. Even in morally questionable situations, such as when the IDF bulldozed Palestinian settlements in the Gaza Strip, the IDF cannot tolerate insubordination, Amit said.
“Some soldiers had family in the settlements, and they evacuated them,” Amit said. “Those soldiers went to jail for disobeying orders.”
Ultimately, the responsibility is on the individual soldier. Dubov was ordered to guard a Muslim village during Ramadan. Children began to throw stones, but Dubov said she and her fellow soldiers did not react.
“We couldn’t shoot children,” Dubov said. “The kids were throwing stones because their parents told them to do it.”
Relations between the many ethnic groups in Israel have also been tense, but it is only the radicals on both sides of the issue that want war, Amit said.
“Everyone wants peace,” Amit said. “Every mother in Israel dreams of not having to send their sons and daughters into the military.”
The IDF protects anyone, whether the person is Jewish or Palestinian, Rosen said. He accompanied a 19-year-old medic who came to the aid of a Palestinian boy who attempted suicide. Without hesitation, IDF medical personnel saved the boy’s life, Rosen said.
“I consider myself lucky to have been given the privilege to be part of saving a life,” Rosen said.
Jessie Kanowitz, the program coordinator for Hillel, said the event was everything she wanted it to be. She said she was glad that the speakers brought a human element to Israel, not just controversy about politics.
“The three or four meetings we had with the speakers were better than anything I’d read in an article,” Kanowitz said. “It was real.”