Boston University Students for Israel hosted two Israeli soldiers Monday who spoke about their experiences in the Israeli military to promote further education about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
“When you ask people about it, a lot of them are very confused,” said BUSI member Samantha Felder, a College of General Studies freshman. “These are the facts and what’s really going on. If people hear this, hopefully people can form a balanced opinion.”
BUSI coordinated the event with StandWithUs, an international non-profit organization that sponsors programming in support of Israel.
StandWithUs sponsors Israeli Soldiers’ Stories, which sends reserve duty Israeli college students to high schools, colleges and other venues across the country.
Hen, 24, an openly gay lieutenant who served for five years within the Israeli Defense Forces, and Sharon, 26, a female Interception Officer in the Arrow Missile Unit, both spoke at the College of Arts and Sciences Monday. Sharon and Hen’s last names were undisclosed in order to protect their identities, the speakers said. Both speakers said they aimed to alleviate prejudice against Israel, and hoped their stories could prove the IDF is not what the media portrays it to be.
“We’re fighting hate speech with love speech, because that’s the only way to fight hate speech,” Hen said.
Hen, Sharon and others selected for the Israeli Soldiers’ Stories program are not only members of the IDF, but are also graduates of the StandWithUs Israel Fellowship, which selects and trains 150 student leaders each year from six Israeli universities, according to the StandWithUs website.
As part of the IDF’s humanitarian unit, Hen said he was responsible for ensuring the safety and well being of hundreds of Palestinians who were not directly involved in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Hen helped build infrastructure and maintain military law in Palestine, he said.
Sharon said she worked on a team charged with intercepting long-range missiles approaching Israel. At certain points during her service, she felt there was not much she could do to help, she said.
“Every half-hour, every hour, missiles were launched, and the only thing my unit could do was warn the civilians to run for their lives,” Sharon said.
Sharon said during her service, she looked at a radar screen and saw that 12 missiles were approaching her hometown. She said she quickly activated the sirens in that area, hoping to give civilians at least 20 to 40 seconds to find shelter before the missiles landed.
Later, Sharon said, she received word that her family was safe. She said her father informed her that the sirens had given everyone in his building time to find safety and all had survived. Sharon was only 18.
“The event made me realize how much we can contribute as soldiers in the IDF,” Sharon said.
CAS freshman Solomon Tarlin later asked Hen and Sharon how to promote Arab-Israeli peace in America.
“If you want to bring peace, the first thing to do is to educate,” Hen said.
Hen also encouraged Tarlin and his fellow students to join organizations that work to build connections between Palestine and Israel.
Associate professor of history Richard Landes asked Hen and Sharon why many college campuses perceive the IDF negatively, noting the large number of anti-Israeli and pro-Palestinian groups present at American colleges and universities.
Sharon said students view the IDF in a negative light due to biased information presented to them through American media.
“Most students are naïve,” Hen said. “Hatred today is against Jewish people, and we see it in the media today.”