For the second time, two Israeli reservists who are part of StandWithUs’ Israeli Soldiers Tour came to Rhode Island to talk about their experiences in the Israel Defense Forces.
Keren and Haithem were part of six IST teams that traveled across the United States this fall to speak at colleges, high schools, synagogues and churches.
“IST is one of the most effective counters to the BDS [Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions] campaign and the annual campus Israel Apartheid Week. Although anti-Israel students protest the soldiers with accusations and lies, they simply can’t refute their eyewitness experiences. These are stories from the front lines, not the headlines,” said Bracha Stuart, executive director of the Rhode Island chapter of StandWithUs.
Keren and Haithem presented at Bryant University Hillel Nov. 3 in a program arranged by Gal Ben-Arush, the 2017-18 StandWithUs Emerson Fellow there. They also spoke at Temple Emeth, in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts, and the Chai Center, in Canton, Massachusetts.
Haitham, 30, is a Bedouin Israeli, born and raised in Bir al-Maksur, a Bedouin village in northern Israel. Although Bedouins are not required to serve in the Israeli army, many join. Haitham served in the Iron Dome unit of the Israeli Air Force.
Stationed in the West Bank, he arrested a Palestinian in his home. The young man did not resist, as if he wanted to get captured. On the way to jail, Haitham, who also goes by Tom, asked the man, “Why? We are both Muslims and the religion forbids murder.”
His answer shook Haitham:
“You are free, you have a decent life in Israel,” the Palestinian said. “We don’t have that. No one from the Palestinian Authority cares how we live or what we need. I did this for my family. Yes, I will go to jail, but the Israelis take good care of us in jail, and because of this terror attack, I will be a hero and my family will be heroes, and they will get money on a monthly basis from the Palestinian Authority – more than we can get even if I work the whole month back home.”
Haitham is getting his degree in law, government and management at the Academic College for Science and Law. He works for Acharai (“Follow Me”), a nonprofit that prepares teens for military service and guides them to be more socially involved and responsible.
Keren, 24, was raised in New Jersey, where she experienced anti-Semitism when a swastika was drawn on her school locker. Keren made aliyah at age 16, on her own, after finishing high school. Her goal was to enlist in the IDF and defend Israel, as her parents and grandparents had done.
Keren served as a basic training commander and later with paratroopers. She was stationed on the Gaza border near the Erez crossing. She said Hamas steals from its own people – its leaders live in luxury, while the people suffer.
Hamas frequently launches rockets into Israel’s southern towns and, one night, the siren went off, giving people 15 seconds to run to the bomb shelter. It was a night of constant shelling, yet in the midst of the fear, the 200 soldiers did what they could – and created a strong bond.
This bond lasted. Even after she finished her service, Keren was quick to help her fellow soldiers by raising money and bringing them food when the IDF entered Gaza to destroy the underground tunnels that lead to Israel.
Currently, Keren is studying politics, government, the Middle East and Israel at Ben Gurion University of the Negev.
Submtted by the Rhode Island chapter of StandWithUs, a nonprofit Israeli education and advocacy organization.