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