Soldier speaks from the front lines of Israel

Last summer, Israel made a dramatic effort for peace. Israeli leader Ehud Barak offered Palestinian Authority leader Yasser Arafat up to 95 percent of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, including some of the holy sites in Jerusalem, for building an independent Palestinian state. President Bill Clinton and the world were astonished and hopeful because Israel made such a significant offer. However, they were all disappointed when Arafat turned down the offer. Several weeks passed as the PA prepared groups of young Palestinians for violence. In September, the PA unleashed terrorism and violence in response to Israel and Clinton.

I, along with hundreds of other people, answered the call for help. Israel had made a courageous effort for peace, and all the PA wanted was war. I therefore dropped everything on five day’s notice, left my three University jobs and joined the Israeli Defense Forces. Immediately, I was immersed in the passions and tragedy Arafat and the PA had orchestrated. Almost daily, bombs were exploding killing innocent people, leaving the Israeli people in shock.

It was so painful to see firsthand how the PA manipulated the American news crews by staging so many protests and extreme acts of violence. Clinton tried everything in his last months in office to reverse Arafat’s choice for war, but I learned in the IDF that the young girls and boys of Israel are really the ones responsible for saving the region from war.

I am in Jerusalem almost weekly, and I have witnessed how these young Israelis work in difficult situations each day to prevent terrorism. They have perhaps the most unappreciated and misunderstood jobs in the world. Terrorists target Israeli children, often waiting for kids to come in range of a weapon or bomb. On my birthday, I visited a little girl whose leg was lost because of a terrorist attack. Just last week, another suicide bomber waited until two IDF vehicles had passed by so he could blow himself up next to a school bus. Fortunately, in that attack, he failed and only killed himself. No country in the world would accept such terrorism.

The IDF follows a doctrine called “purity of arms” that dictates soldiers must not use their weapons except in desperate situations, and even then, they should not kill or hurt indiscriminately. This is not understood by Americans, who are only shown the videos of young Palestinian kids who get hit when they attack us. I find it ironic Americans are so quick to judge after the U.S. military killed scores of children in Somalia in 1993. If a single Israeli soldier opened up with his weapon, like so many American high school kids have, you would read about hundreds of dead Palestinians in a single day. This doesn’t happen here because most Israelis are dedicated to high ideals.

It also saddens me Americans are so critical of Israel when the IDF strikes back against terrorism. The US has bombed countries after Osama Bin Laden’s attacks and is executing Timothy McVeigh on closed-circuit television. What is the difference between the U.S. bombing Iraq or Yugoslavia for weeks, and Israel responding against mortar attacks in Gaza? What is the IDF supposed to do?

Egypt and Jordan are now joining Israel in seeking alternatives to Arafat’s leadership. The violence afflicting this region for the past seven months is creating the opposite effect from the first Intifada of 1987. Back then, Arafat and the PLO were granted recognition, eventually leading to the Oslo Peace Accords. In essence, he was given a chance to prove himself. Arafat failed the test not just for Israelis, but also for other moderate Arabs. His actions last summer and during the violence of the past several months raises a very serious question: Did Arafat ever really want peace?

Instead of leading to empowerment as happened after the first Intifada, Arafat has thoroughly discredited himself and the PA leadership. There is little trust left, if any. Israel is a democracy and the people have turned to the leadership of Ariel Sharon, a hard-liner. They aren’t hard-liners themselves, but they took a great risk for peace and have only paid for it in blood. Israel must reverse Arafat’s push to war.

Israel’s democracy stands in contrast to Arafat and the PA’s brutal dictatorship. The PA often arrests and executes political opponents, claiming they are being killed for collaborating with Israel. Most often this is bogus. Sometimes, however, it is true to the extent that a Palestinian seeks to avert an act of terrorism and thereby alerts the potential victims. This, in the eyes of the PA dictatorship, is a capital offense. The PA is saying it’s acting against collaborators, similar to the Chinese justification after the Tiananmen Square massacre. Moderate Palestinians are today terrorized by the PA and other terrorist radicals in their community. Therefore, it is extremely important for the IDF to defeat the terrorists and their supporters, if only to allow for cooler heads to emerge later among the Palestinians.

Arafat and his terrorist-supporting allies’ great offense to civilized behavior and values of decency drove me last fall to drop everything and come out. At the time, I anticipated being here for only a few weeks. That was seven months ago, and I’m still here. But I am happy and proud to be in the IDF. I believe that some things in this world transcend the value of my single life, and that the struggle for peace in the Middle East, especially for a good country like Israel, an ally of the United States, is a cause for which I willingly fight.