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.”