By Christopher Galvan
Two Israeli Defense Force soldiers and one United States service member spoke at Cal Poly Pomona to a student audience on Thursday in the Bronco Student Center, as part of a yearly event held by the Broncos For Israel and Hillel clubs.
The annual event, titled Israeli Soldiers’ Stories, is a StandWithUs partnered event that provides students access to first-hand accounts of soldiers from one side of an ongoing and controversial international conflict. Retired U.S. Army Lieutenant Colonel Brad Letner introduced the two Israeli soldiers.
Their individual presentations were followed by a question-and-answer session with the three soldiers.
Second-year civil engineering student Thomas Lau is not a member of Broncos For Israel or Hillel, but wanted to hear what the soldiers had to say.
“I’ve never been to this event before but a friend invited me this year,” said Lau. “I’m pretty interested to hear what they have to say, and in their experience as soldiers.”
The third annual Israeli Soldiers’ Stories event went off without a hitch.
In previous years, some students on campus have utilized the forum to express opposing views to Israeli action in Gaza, Lebanon, and other parts of the world.
The absence of protestors appeared to be a silent decree of dissent, given that last year’s event resulted in ineffectual dialogue between the two sides.
University Police was also in attendance, hoping to reduce the risk of miscommunication between any opposition and provide a safe venue for guests.
“We just want to make sure that the student groups have a safe event and their rights are not infringed upon,” said Cal Poly Pomona Police Chief Bruce Wilson. “We were a little surprised last year. We staffed according to prior years, which were pretty uneventful as far as problems, but we had a lot of protestors.
“Just to be safe, we try to gauge events. It is kind of a moving target as next year may be uneventful, but we would rather be safe than sorry. We’ve all seen the news and there are a lot of things going on right now between the two sides” We don’t anticipate anything serious happening here tonight.”
Event organizers provided club merchandise and snacks while the three speakers presented their histories, points of view and reflections of their service with the armed forces. Talking points among the speakers often returned to a defense of Israel’s actions during Israeli-Palestinian conflicts, providing a window into the context of the event and its goals.
The IDF soldiers, using only their first names for security reasons, presented their experiences within the conscription military service that they say has been rewarding.
The first soldier to speak, Ashager, grew up in Ethiopia before moving to Israel with her family as a young girl. She says that joining the IDF was never a question for her, and that the compulsory service is a nonissue.
“[We live in] such a tough neighborhood, we have to defend ourselves,” Ashagar said. “War, going to war or going to the IDF is a necessity, it is not something that we choose. Every parent does not want their child to be involved in a such a state of conflict” but the reason that we need the army is because of the state that we are in.”
The second speaker, a 26-year-old Israeli soldier named Eyal, spoke of his experiences with the IDF during the second war in Lebanon. He joined in 2006.
“After high school, most American teens go to college,” Eyal said. “We, on the other hand, enlist in the Israeli Defense Force” I was responsible for the strategic and tactical cooperation between the IDF and the UN.”
Eyal critiqued media accounts of Israeli conflicts, specifically of the IDF’s checkpoints in the West Bank. He says that these checkpoints are similar to those everyone must face when traveling through airports, and that they are misrepresented in the news.
“I wait in lines, I put my hands up to be scanned, my luggage is checked and sometimes they are not always so nice to me,” Eyal said. “The same applies to Israelis; we are human beings and sometimes we don’t have a good day, but in general I try to be a nice and kind person” I never encountered [at checkpoints], and not in my unit, any unlawful act or any action that was not as it should have been.”
StandWithUs is an international pro-Israel organization.
Zoran Liu-Moy / The Poly Post
Broncos for Israel
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