Israel Defense Forces share their stories

About 30 individuals gathered at the Congregation Shomrei Torah in Santa Rosa on Thursday to hear stories from two Israeli soldiers, Korkit and Tsil, who spoke about their experiences while serving in the Israel Defense Forces. The lecture tour, which was sponsored by StandWithUs and co-sponsored by Hillel of Sonoma County, is taking the two soldiers through the entire north west.

Hillel is the largest Jewish student organization in the world and they have a strong presence on the Sonoma State University campus. The Sonoma County chapter caters to both the Sonoma State and Santa Rosa Junior College campuses.

Korkit was born in Ethiopia and moved to Israel when she was a toddler. As a child, Korit served as a translator for her parents and grew up with opportunities that weren’t available to her in Ethiopia. Israel provided a safe home for her family and gave them equal employment, and education opportunities.

“When you turn 18, you join the Israel Defense Forces,” said Korkit. “We live in a tough neighborhood with the Hamas.”

Conscription is a requirement for all individuals over the age of 18 in Israel, except some individuals are exempt because of religious beliefs. Men are required to serve at least three years, while girls are required to serve at least two years. 

The Hamas are an Islamic political organization that exists in Palestine and they have a military wing associated with them. Restricted to the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, the Hamas operate within the Palestine population and are always a threat to the safety of Israel’s citizens. 

Korkit proved herself in the Israel Defense Forces and quickly worked her way up to officer. She served as an officer for the Department of Basic Training and for the pilot cadet course.

After completing officer training, Korkit described seeing her mother cry at the ceremony. Korkit explained these were tears of joy because her mom was overwhelmed by the opportunities Israel had given her family. 

Currently, Korkit is a reserve soldier and studies law, and government at IDC Herzliya University. 

Tsil was born in Northern Israel and has served four years in the Israel Defense Forces. He has a bachelor’s degree in political science and communications from Tel Aviv University, and is still a reserve duty officer for the Israel Defense Forces. 

The missions Tsil described involved him and his unit searching out Hamas tunnels, which were often dug into hospitals or schools. There is a code of conduct that all Israel Defense Forces soldiers follow and this code prevented them from firing rockets directly at an abandoned hospital suspected of Hamas activity. 

“We will never fire on a humanitarian facility, without being 100 percent sure of Hamas activity inside,” said Tsil. 

The code of conduct was put into place to protect civilian life during conflict, but it comes at a price to soldiers. When searching out the abandoned hospital, the Hamas fired a rocket directly at them. The Hamas had stuffed the walls of the hospital with explosives and the attack killed three of Tsil’s fellow soldiers. 

The Hamas are constantly firing rockets at Israel and usually the intended targets are the civilian population. The Israel Defense Forces have built strong defenses against the Hamas and they can usually sound a siren to warn of a rocket.

“If you live in the red zone, you have about 15 seconds to make it to cover,” said Tsil. 

Obtaining peace with the Hamas is nearly impossible, considering the Hamas do not recognize Israel’s right to exist. The Hamas have been notorious for breaking cease fires in the past and Tsil believes it’s only a matter of time before fighting erupts again.

After recounting their stories, the soldiers answered questions and spoke with members of the audience, some of which have family currently serving in the Israel Defense Forces. Many of the questions focused around military campaigns the soldiers were involved in, but some were eager to hear about the soldiers’ careers and studies outside of the Israel Defense Forces.

Disclosure: Korkit and Tsil’s last names were withheld from this story for security reasons.