On October 12, 110 students from across the tri-state area, including six from the Stella K. Abraham High School for Girls and their advisor, Mrs. Sheila Leibtag, were privileged to partake in a unique program at Magen David High School in Brooklyn, featuring a panel of Gilad Shalit and his entire army unit equipped with post-traumatic psychologists. The purpose of the unit’s ten-day trip to the United States was part of an intervention to aid the unit and administer closure after the trauma resulting from Gilad’s capture and the death of two soldiers who fell in the same battle. Additionally, the unit wanted to relay the importance of understanding what a soldier goes through, how the IDF functions and operates, and the ethics and morals that back the IDF. In order to achieve this goal, the panel of soldiers, commanders, and psychologists answered questions that addressed their personal perspectives and experiences regarding their intense position.
On June 25, 2006, nine terrorists attacked the unit’s tank in the Gaza Strip, killing the commander as well as another soldier and capturing Gilad Shalit. Professionals were immediately sent to prevent the soldiers from falling apart with grief and to help them continue with their everyday tasks, some as minor as cleaning their guns. Several of the remaining soldiers were wounded physically while the entire unit suffered emotional scars. They requested special permission from the ramat kal to stay in their location at the Gaza Strip at the outbreak of the Second Lebanon War, rather than transferring North, in order to remain close to Gilad. During the first week, they had to deal with the loss of three friends; however, companionship unified the soldiers and served as a continual motivation towards staying strong throughout the hardships they endured.
When asked about the importance of serving in the IDF, one of the soldiers remarked, “No one else can do this. It’s our time and everyone will have their time. After three years, I know it will be good. I did it. Everyone in Israel recognizes their responsibility and we grow up knowing it’s the routine. If we don’t do it, no one else will.”
Another soldier, when asked about his motives, responded, “They’re grown up educated that this is their homeland and it’s like no other place in the world. It’s the Jewish Promised Land. After the Holocaust, this is the answer for those who think we can be the same amongst the other peoples. It makes you want to move forward and participate in the responsibilities of being a soldier.”
The mefaked and three other soldiers, two of whom were religious and two not, were together in one small tank for a short period of time, carrying with them such different views, backgrounds, and perspectives. The intimate atmosphere of the tank allowed the soldiers to discuss issues that they were not previously exposed to.
In an operation in the Gaza Strip, the commander instructed the soldiers to destroy a wall that several terrorists were hiding behind. The soldiers would normally have destroyed it immediately; however, there was a group of Arab children playing near the wall. The IDF, sticking to their moral code of not harming children, took the risk and waited to destroy the wall, hoping the children would leave. Eventually the children left and the IDF was successful in killing the terrorists.
Newspapers and the media often portray Israel as an army with immoral values, while in reality, the army educational unit teaches every soldier to behave in a moral and ethical manner. The purpose of the army is not to hate, but to defend, as they are the Israeli Defense forces.
It’s part of Tzahal’s obligation to bring all soldiers home—whether dead or alive—and to never leave a soldier behind. They understand the risks when going into the army but believe it is the government’s and army’s responsibility to do everything in their power to bring every soldier home. When the army was unable to free Gilad in a military operation, it became a question of how much the government should become involved. Ultimately, they came to a conclusion and Gilad was released after being held in captivity for five long years.
Gilad remarked that the most difficult part of his captivity was transitioning from being surrounded by family and friends to complete solitary confinement. He was originally unable to interact even with his captors but was eventually able to converse with them, although never about politics, or focus on sports via radio or television. During the first two years of his captivity, Gilad had little information of the efforts being pursued worldwide on his behalf. Afterwards, he was given a radio, and for his remaining time in captivity, was able to follow events.
Dr. Levy, Gilad’s psychologist, explained the first steps to recovery, “In the beginning stages, it is crucial to stay physically close to where the trauma took place and it is important to move through the process slowly. Many soldiers don’t experience trauma until much later. As a psychologist, I continue to help soldiers dating back from the War of Independence in 1948. This is unique to the IDF.”
Following the panel of soldiers, the students involved in the program were split into groups where they discussed some of the issues and perspectives that the soldiers brought to the forefront. The students left understanding that while the IDF functions to physically protect Israel, we as Jews and supporters of Israel must protect our country by enlightening the outside world.