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The Israeli Defense Force panel who spoke in Phillips on Sat­urday. Rachael Reynolds | Col­legian

The Israeli Defense Force shows that Israel’s diverse pop­u­lation is united in pro­tecting the country, two IDF reserve sol­diers said in a pre­sen­tation Sunday.

Their tour of America, spon­sored by inter­na­tional non­profit Stand­WithUs and brought to Hillsdale College by the Stu­dents for Middle Eastern Dis­course, gave an inside look into service in the Israeli mil­itary, which brings together Jews, Muslims, and others to defend Israel.

Hillsdale was the last stop in a two-week tour for Mohammad, a Bedouin Arab, and Ashager, an Ethiopian Jew, who joined the IDF at age 18 to fulfill their mandatory mil­itary service as Israeli cit­izens. Their last names are being excluded for security reasons.

“The state of Israel is not just for Jews. It is for my people, too,” Mohammad said to an audience of about 50 people. “We feel a duty to serve and protect our state.”

The state of Israel is nearly 20 percent Muslim, including 350,000 Bedouin Arabs, many of whom have coop­erated with and pro­tected Jews since the con­flicts sur­rounding its founding in the early 20th century, Mohammad said.

In his three years in the IDF, Mohammad served in the Search and Rescue unit of the mil­itary. After fin­ishing his service in the IDF, Mohammad joined the check­point authority and later studied political science at the Uni­versity of Haifa, which has a student body  half Jewish and half Muslim.

“The Arabs and Jews study side by side in the uni­versity,” Mohammad said. “This could only happen in a democracy like Israel. For me, this is Israel. Arabs and Jews work, study, and serve in the army together.”

Ashager’s family moved to Jerusalem, after expe­ri­encing per­se­cution in its native Ethiopia, and she said her family’s story echoes that of many other fam­ilies in Israel.

“You think my story is unique, but I promise it’s not. That’s why we have so much diversity in Israel,” Ashager said. “And the place you see it the most is the IDF. Everyone is coming together to defend our state. You’ll have the son of the CEO of Coca-Cola and the daughter of a cleaning lady serving together. The army is a great equalizer.”

Senior Hannah Fleming said the stories of Ashager and Mohammad helped her think about how life in Israel affects her, espe­cially after trav­eling to the country with other Hillsdale stu­dents in January.

“I have a ten­dency to get super focused in on what’s hap­pening here and now, but this helped me to reconnect with Israel and think about it more,” Fleming said. “I appre­ciated their honesty about problems like racism in Israel, but they’re open to talking about it.”

For Ashager, a former officer in a para­trooper recon­nais­sance bat­talion, the IDF is one of the equal­izing — and uni­fying — forces between diverse groups, she said.

“People have an image of the army as mil­i­taristic, and we do what we do to protect Israel,” Ashager said. “But the other side is the people. It’s a mirror of our society.”

And this unity is nec­essary for a country threatened on all sides, she said.

“It’s 45 minutes from where I live to Gaza,” Ashager said. “The West Bank is an hour from Jerusalem. This is what I mean by pro­tecting our­selves.”