Former IDF Soldiers Talk Life In Israel, Palestinian Conflict

Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.

Two Israeli speakers came to campus on Tuesday to host an event titled “Striving for Peace: A Unique Perspective on Life in Israel.” Keren and Haitham, former IDF soldiers whose last names are concealed for security reasons, shared, with a room of about fifteen students, their perspectives on living in Israel.

Matthew Stein ’20 organized the event because he felt as though students on campus were being provided with a one-sided view of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that, in his view, fails to take into account all the perspectives of people from the region.

“I decided to organize this event because I felt IDF soldiers, and Israel generally, are highly stigmatized on campus. I wanted to bring in speakers to humanize IDF soldiers and show that there are many different perspectives within Israeli society on life and on the conflict,” he said.

The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) make up Israel’s military, and they have, in the past, been accused of abuses in the Palestinian territories, including targeting civilians and committing war crimes.

Through a fellowship at StandWithUs, Stein was able to connect with both Keren and Haitham and invite them to campus.

Keren, a 24-year-old from the city of Beersheba, spoke about her experience growing up in East Brunswick, New Jersey and the anti-Semitism she experienced in school. She recounted a time when, in 8th grade, she found a swastika drawn on a locker in her school.

“I never took my freedom for granted,” she said.

Keren, whose grandparents are Holocaust survivors, decided to move to Israel after her sophomore year of high school.

“I always felt that Israel was more my home, so when I was 16, I permanently moved to Israel,” she said.

After completing high school, she joined the IDF, and served for six months on the Gaza border. She noted that since 2005, over 11,000 rockets have been shot into Israel from the Gaza Strip, many of them made from supplies provided to Palestinians by Israel.

“Instead of using [Israeli] pipes for water, they use them against Israeli civilians,” she said.

Keren, after completing her IDF service, worked as a waitress at a restaurant in the vicinity of the Gaza border, and described her experiences of having to take shelter from incoming Hamas rockets.

“We had a minute and a half [from the start of the sirens] to find shelter,” she said.

Today, Keren is a student at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, and she had the chance to attend Beersheba’s first Pride parade.

“To bring pride to a conservative area, it was really amazing,” she said.

She closed on a hopeful note for the region, pointing out the importance of education.

“Educating kids from a young age to be accepting of others is the only way we’re going to achieve peace,” she said.

Haitham, the second speaker, told of his experiences as an Israeli Arab. A 30-year-old Bedouin Muslim who goes by Tom, Haitham grew up in Bir-El Maksur, the largest Bedouin village in northern Israel.

“We like our freedom very much,” he said, noting that Bedouins are not obligated to serve in the IDF, but many, including himself, opt to do so anyways.

Bedouins are nomadic people native to the Middle East, and are a part of the nearly 20% of Israel’s population that is ethnically Arab.

“The Arab population in Israel is incredibly diverse, even in terms of ideology,” Haitham said. “It’s the great part of living in a democracy.”

Haitham also told stories of his experiences as a soldier in an anti-aircraft unit in the IDF. He related how he was the target of stones and Molotov cocktails on a regular basis and described one encounter with a Hamas terrorist in much detail.

After his unit caught wind of this particular young man planning a terrorist attack, they moved in to arrest him.

“We arrested him without a struggle,” Haitham said.

While on the way to the station, Haitham decided to inquire as to why a young man like him would plan such an attack.

“I asked him why he wanted to do this terrorist attack,” he said.

After Haitham asked multiple times, the young man decided to finally speak up.

“He looked back and said, ‘You’re free. You have a decent life in Israel, but we don’t enjoy that. We don’t have that [in Palestine]. The Palestinian government doesn’t care about us. If I commit a terror attack, I’ll become a hero back home, and the Palestinian government will give my family money for it. I know that at least in the Israeli jail, I will end up with a decent life.’,” Haitham said, pointing out that Palestinians are able to receive an education and earn a degree while in Israeli jail.

Haitham also lamented the leadership of the West Bank, which, in his view, incites terrorism and violence and prevents peace.

“Most of the Israeli people want peace, and most of the Palestinian people want peace,” he said.

Haitham is now a student at the Academic College for Science and Law, working towards a degree in Law, Government, and Management.

He also works part-time at a non-profit that primarily prepares teenagers for military service through physical training, but explained that the organization does more than just that.

“We teach them about equality and tolerance, and help them make something of themselves,” he said.

The event closed with an audience Q&A, followed by Keren and Haitham posing for a picture with the attendees.

Featured image courtesy of author.

Siddharth Srivatsan

Sid is a sophomore from Ashburn, Virginia (NoVA!) planning on double majoring in Mathematics and Economics. He enjoys backpacking, and DJ’s a radio show on WSRN-FM. You can probably catch him watching Law & Order or reading The Economist.


  1. I think it’s great that this was put together, but attempts to highlight the Israeli side of this tend to incite student protests; was this the case here?

  2. I wonder if anyone asked them if they understood why black people in the American south were angry in the 1950s, and why the Black Panther group got as far as they did. After all, white people gave those black people SCHOOLS out of the goodness of their hearts, and those ungrateful black people turned around and tried to overthrow the white people’s discriminatory social order /just/ because the ‘schools’ were shitty barely-functional shitholes and the Jim Crow apartheid policies humiliated and disenfranchised black people on a daily basis. How DARE they! So ungrateful, just like the Palestinians, attacking Israel because they’re sick and tired of being locked in the Gaza Strip (where there’s jack and shit to do but beg the Israelis for work and sit in your room until you die of boredom and/or starvation), blockaded, having their land stolen in the West Bank, being locked in metal cages for hours with dozens of other people every time they try to go to work and even then only being allowed to go to work if the IDF aren’t feeling particularly dickish that day, denied statehood, looking every day at Israel and seeing white people wandering around having fun on the land that was Palestinian 70 years ago before the Israelis stole it with the British giving the OK, and generally treated like black people in ’80s South Africa or ’50s America.

    Yeah. How fucking ungrateful. What a load of horse shit.

    The IDF and Likud’s stooges can go fuck themselves. I’d be surprised at the speakers’ hypocrisy, but Donald Trump used up my capacity to be surprised and really I can’t be disgusted anymore by anything less than an actual genocide accompanied by lunatic tweets about the President’s alleged IQ.

    (And in case my sarcasm doesn’t come through above, yeah, I oppose any form of apartheid or institutionalized discrimination, be it in Israel, South Africa, or America, because racism is pointlessly dickish and brain-hurtingly stupid)

    • Feel like this would make a little more sense if white people in the 50s gave black people foreign aid, which the government of the black people used to build tunnels for terrorist attacks instead of trying to helps its own citizens.

    • While protesting Israel, why don’t you throw in Hamas’ treatment of women, who get arrested for showing their ankles, or singing, running, or playing music in public, while being denied equal education to men (many books are banned for women). The UN cancelled a 5K because women were not allowed to run.
      There could be plenty of jobs in Gaza, such as in construction and design, if Hamas did not use millions of dollars and substantial amounts of raw materials to build missiles and terrorist tunnels, to try to destroy Israel.
      By the way, Israel is not in Gaza, so any apartheid and sexism are enforced by Hamas laws. Hamas keeps Gazans in slavery. During the last war, the leaders went to luxury hotels in Qatar, while ordinary folks bore the brunt of it, with not much rebuilding yet. Last New Year’s Eve, Hamas dictated that owners of any hotels or restaurants that had celebrations would be arrested. Very repressive regime being run by Hamas.

      • You want to know why Hamas has popular support in Gaza?

        Israeli blockade.

        It’s really damn simple. Due to the Israeli blockade, the lack of trade, the lack of access to natural resources, the overcrowding, the fact that the only decent jobs are in American-funded Israel (where a Palestinian literally has to stand for hours in a metal cage starting early in the morning and waiting for the border guards to decide whether or not they particularly feel like letting the brown people in today or if they want to be dicks), and the generalized dickery of the Israeli regime, a Palestinian in Gaza has three options: Beg from the Israelis, which is humiliating and may not even work; sit in your room bored until you die, which is just miserable; and join Hamas, which promises you a chance to kick the Israelis who treat your people like shit in the balls.

        Given three terrible options, most people will take the option that lets them kick the imperialistic thugs in the balls. And it doesn’t matter that they’re sexist, it doesn’t matter that they’re religious fundamentalists, /they are the only guys actually doing something about Israel and their jackbooted thugs/.

        Given the choice between populist terrorists and sucking up to jackbooted racist imperialists who happily vote for the lying, thieving scumbag who promises every election cycle to continue with more of the same and whose Likud party is only better than the ultra-Orthodox extremists because Likud wants to keep Palestinians around as a bogeyman instead of removing them, it really should be no surprise that the people of Gaza choose the populist terrorists, no matter how corrupt they are, because at least they aren’t actively kicking the people in the fork.

        Your pro-Israel bias shows a complete lack of understanding of the situation and quite frankly is nakedly biased in favor of Israel, an authoritarian kleptocratic state where a considerable fraction of the population bars women from showing their hair in public and LGBT pride parades are attacked by knife-wielding homophobic psychopaths, where Netanyahu steals and bribes his way around the government with complete lack of care for his responsibilities to the people as he race-baits around every election cycle, where the government drops huge rocks in Palestinian houses and on Palestinian streets to stop free movement and prevent people from expanding their houses (which is some kind of tradition in Palestine, I forget why exactly), and where tens of thousands of people are denied statehood due to a nuke-wielding band of thugs and their glorified goon squad of an army.

        Not a great place, Israel is. Nor is it a very nice regime being run by Likud.

        • The blockade was instituted in reaction to Hamas being elected by the Palestinian people. Which came after Israel had left Gaza. While Fatah’s incompetence and corruption likely helped Hamas’s cause in those elections, it’s hard to say the blockade made Hamas popular if they’d already been voted into power in Gaza before the blockade began.

          You also left out Egypt’s part in all this. Although that might compromise this “brown people are all victims” narrative you’ve been building up.

        • Also, I have to say, it always makes me laugh a little when people bring up anti-LGBT bias in Israel. Sure, gay marriage in Israel is illegal, and I wish that weren’t the case, and obviously a private citizens attacking and LGBT pride parade is a terrible thing. But the LEADERSHIP IN GAZA WILL EXECUTE YOU IF YOU’RE A HOMOSEXUAL. Ask any LGBT person in the Middle East which side of the border they’d feel safer on.

          • Hi! Actually I would just like to let you know that the IDF regularly targets LGBT Palestinians because they are considered the “weakest link”. Many LGBT Palestinian (men especially) are blackmailed, kidnapped, and are threatened with violence and forced outings by the IDF if they do not collaborate. When these men stop being useful to the IDF they are usually outed anyways and deported back to West Bank and are prevented from entering Israel. If you do not believe me please look up the Unit 8200 letters that former IDF soldiers wrote in protest of this practice. So no if you are LGBT and Palestinian in Israel, Israel does not care about you because you are Palestinian plain and simple.
            -A queer Arab 🙂

          • Hi. Actually the IDF regularly targets LGBT Palestinians because they are considered “the weakest link”. Often LGBT Palestinians (usually gay men) are threatened with kidnapping, blackmail, physical violence, and forced outings if they do not cooperate with the IDF. And when these men stop being useful to the IDF they are outed anyway, sent back to the West Bank or are arrested, and are stopped from entering Israel. So no, if you are Palestinian and LGBT Israel does not care about your safety or wellbeing because you are Palestinian. If you do not believe me, read the letter Unit 8200 soldiers wrote in protest of the practice of targeting marginalized communities for harassment.

            -A queer Arab 🙂

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