Israeli Defense Forces Flickr | Courtesy

Two Israeli Defense fighters visited Hillsdale on Sat­urday to share their expe­ri­ences in the Israeli Defense Forces and ended their speaking tour of the United States after giving over 35 talks at college cam­puses.

Brought to campus by the student club SHALOM, Stu­dents for Middle Eastern Dis­course, Carlos and Shir each served three years as IDF sol­diers in Israel, and for security reasons their  last names remain unprinted. Spon­sored by Stand With Us, a pro-Israel orga­ni­zation ded­i­cated to com­bating Anti-Semitism, Carlos and Shir’s visit mark the second time IDF sol­diers have visited campus since last spring.

“It’s a very unique oppor­tunity to hear from IDF sol­diers and my hope is to raise awareness for Israel with them being here,” Emily Rinaldi, Pres­ident of SHALOM, said.

Both Carlos and Shir said they hoped Hillsdale stu­dents in atten­dance could take their stories and coun­teract the inac­curate por­trayal of the nation of Israel often rep­re­sented in the media and public imag­i­nation.

Raised in Bogota, Colombia, Carlos attended Jewish schools growing up and played on a Jewish soccer team that was ranked second best  in the country.

Despite learning Jewish prac­tices within a devout family, Carlos struggled to feel con­viction in his Jewish identity, asking as a high schooler, “Why do I need to learn Hebrew? Why do I need to study Israel’s history? What does it all mean to me?”

He carried these ques­tions with him in his senior year high school trip to Israel. There for the first time, Carlos placed his hand on the Western Wall, and though “it sounds cliche, I felt a con­nection,” Carlos said. Inspired by the example of his grand­father who fought in the initial clashes with Palestine as the nation of Israel was estab­lished, Carlos enlisted as an Israeli Defense Fighter in August 2006 with his three-year com­mitment ending in Feb­ruary 2009.

“I will be forever proud to be part of an army that pro­tects their own citizen’s lives and others,” Carlos said. “I don’t want to see Pales­tinians suf­fering anymore, I don’t want to see Israelites suf­fering anymore.”

Prior to the Gaza strip being given to Palestine in 2005 as part of the Israeli-Palestine peace set­tlement, Shir grew up in a small town in Gaza where her father owned a supply store and employed many Pales­tinians.

In November 2001 when Israeli-Pales­tinian fighting inten­sified around them, Shir’s parents did not flee from the danger.

“When I asked them why they wouldn’t leave, they told me, ‘You can’t sur­render to terror.’ We believed our presence in the Gaza strip was important,” Shir said.

Shir enlisted in the army from Feb­ruary 2010 to May 2013 and rose to the rank of first lieu­tenant. Returning to the land her family was forced to evacuate, Shir coor­di­nated ground forces and orga­nized sup­plies to the IDF troops crossing the Gaza border at the time.   

Speaking from her expe­rience of working alongside Pales­tinians in her father’s store, Shir believes that rec­on­cil­i­ation with Palestine is a very plau­sible reality.

“My main message is to encourage speaking with the other side. We truly believe that this peace is achievable through dia­logue,” Shir said. “My hope is for the people in Gaza to rise up and say ‘Stop.’  I think that once they do rise, the road to peace will be very clear to them.”