Letter From a Reserve Israeli Soldier

My name is Aron Adler.
I am 25 years old, was born in Brooklyn NY, and raised in Efrat Israel.

Though very busy, I don’t view my life as unusual. Most of the time, I,  am,  just another Israeli citizen. During the day I work as a paramedic in Magen,  David Adom, Israel’s national EMS service. At night, I’m in my first year,  of law school. I got married this October and am starting a new chapter of,  life together with my wonderful wife Shulamit.

15-20 days out of every year, I’m called up to the Israeli army to do my ‚  reserve duty. I serve as a paramedic in an IDF paratrooper unit.

My ‚  squad ‚  is made up of others like me; people living normal lives who step up to ‚  serve whenever responsibility calls. The oldest in my squad is 58, a father ‚  of four girls and grandfather of two; there are two bankers, one engineer, ‚   ‚  a holistic healer, and my 24 year old commander who is still trying to
figure out what to do with his life. Most of the year we are just normal ‚  people living our lives, but for 15-20 days each year we are soldiers on the front lines preparing for a war that we hope we never have to fight.

This year, our reserve unit was stationed on the border between Israel, ‚  Egypt and the Gaza Strip in an area called “Kerem Shalom.” Above and beyond ‚  the “typical” things for which we train ““ war, terrorism, border ‚  infiltration, etc., – this year we were confronted by a new challenge.

Several years ago, a trend started of African refugees crossing the ‚  Egyptian border from Sinai into Israel to seek asylum from the atrocities in Darfur.

What started out as a small number of men, women and children fleeing from ‚  the machetes of the Janjaweed and violent fundamentalists to seek a better ‚  life elsewhere, turned into an organized industry of human trafficking. In ‚  return for huge sums of money, sometimes entire life savings paid to Bedouin “guides,” these refugees are promised to be transported from Sudan, ‚  Eritrea, and other African countries through Egypt and the Sinai ‚   desert, ‚  into the safe haven of Israel.

We increasingly hear horror stories of the atrocities these refugees suffer ‚  on their way to freedom. They are subject to, and victims of extortion, rape, murder, and even organ theft, their bodies left to rot in the desert. ‚  Then, if lucky, after surviving this gruesome experience whose prize is freedom, when only a barbed wire fence separates them from Israel and their ‚  goal, they must go through the final death run and try to evade the ‚   bullets ‚  of the Egyptian soldiers stationed along the border. Egypt’s soldiers are ‚  ordered to shoot to kill anyone trying to cross the border OUT of Egypt ‚   ‚  and ‚  into Israel. It’s an almost nightly event.

For those who finally get across the border, the first people they ‚  encounter are Israeli soldiers, people like me and those in my unit, who are tasked with a primary mission of defending the lives of the Israeli people. On one side of the border soldiers shoot to kill. On the other ‚  side, ‚  they know they will be treated with more respect than in any of the ‚  countries they crossed to get to this point.
The region where it all happens is highly sensitive and risky from a ‚  security point of view, an area stricken with terror at every turn. It’s just a few miles south of the place where Gilad Shalit was kidnapped. And ‚  yet the Israeli soldiers who are confronted with these refugees do it not with rifles aimed at them, but with a helping hand and an open heart. The ‚  refugees are taken to a nearby IDF base, given clean clothes, a hot ‚   drink, ‚  food and medical attention. They are finally safe.

Even though I live Israel and am aware through media reports of the events ‚  that take place on the Egyptian border, I never understood the ‚  intensity ‚   and complexity of the scenario until I experienced it myself.

In the course of the past few nights, I have witnessed much. At 9:00 PM ‚  last night, the first reports came in of gunfire heard from the Egyptian border. Minutes later, IDF scouts spotted small groups of people trying to ‚  get across the fence. In the period of about one hour, we picked up 13 ‚   men ‚   ‚  – cold, barefoot, dehydrated – some wearing nothing except underpants. ‚   ‚  Their bodies were covered with lacerations and other wounds. We ‚   gathered ‚  them in a room, gave them blankets, tea and treated their wounds. I don’t ‚  speak a word of their language, but the look on their faces said it all ‚   and ‚  reminded me once again why I am so proud to be a Jew and an Israeli. ‚   Sadly, ‚  it was later determined that the gunshots we heard were deadly, killing ‚  three others fleeing for their lives.
During the 350 days a year when I am not on active duty, when I am just ‚  > another man trying to get by, the people tasked with doing this amazing job, this amazing deed, the people witnessing these events, are mostly ‚  young Israeli soldiers just out of high school, serving their compulsory ‚  time in the IDF, some only 18 years old.

The refugees flooding into Israel are a heavy burden on our small country. More than 100,000 refugees have fled this way, and hundreds more cross the ‚  border every month. The social, economic, and humanitarian issues ‚   created ‚  by this influx of refugees are immense. There are serious security ‚  consequences for Israel as well. This influx of African refugees poses a crisis for Israel. Israel has yet to come up with the solutions required to ‚  deal with this crisis effectively, balancing its’ sensitive social, ‚  economic, and security issues, at the same time striving to care for the ‚  refugees.

I don’t have the answers to these complex problems which desperately need ‚  to be resolved. I’m not writing these words with the intention of ‚   taking a ‚  political position or a tactical stand on the issue.

I am writing to tell you and the entire world what’s really happening ‚  down ‚  here on the Egyptian/Israeli border. And to tell you that despite all ‚   the ‚  serious problems created by this national crisis, these refugees have no ‚  reason to fear us. Because they know, as the entire world needs to ‚   know, ‚  that Israel has not shut its eyes to their suffering and pain. Israel has ‚  not looked the other way. The State of Israel has put politics aside ‚   to ‚  take the ethical and humane path as it has so often done before, in every ‚  instance of human suffering and natural disasters around the globe.

We Jews ‚  know only too well about suffering and pain. The Jewish people have been ‚  there. We have been the refugees and the persecuted so many times, over ‚  thousands of years, all over the world.

Today, when African refugees flood our borders in search of freedom and ‚  better lives, and some for fear of their lives, it is particularly noteworthy how Israel deals with them, despite the enormous strain it puts ‚  on our country on so many levels. Our young and thriving Jewish people ‚   and ‚  country, built from the ashes of the Holocaust, do not turn their backs on ‚  humanity. Though I already knew that, this week I once again ‚   experienced it ‚  firsthand. I am overwhelmed with emotion and immensely proud to be a member ‚  of this nation.

With love of Israel,
Aron Adler writing from the Israel/Gaza/Egyptian border

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