IDF soldiers to battle for public opinion on US campuses
Soldiers Inon Tagner and Lior Prosor 311
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Soldier will speak about challenges faced on everyday basis experiences during wars in hope to reach US audiences.
In 2006, at the height of the fierce battle with Hizbullah over the southern Lebanese town of Bint Jbail, Inon Tagner, then an infantryman in the Golani Brigade and barely 20 years old, faced an almost impossible dilemma, with potentially fatal consequences.Through the sights of his rifle, Tagner thought he saw a Hizbullah terrorist strapping an explosives belt on an elderly woman, who then started walking toward where his platoon had taken cover; but he wasn’t sure.Despite persistent calls from him and other soldiers for the woman to halt, she kept approaching, and Tagner had to make a decision: Should he open fire or not? After some rapid thinking, the decision was made to hold off until the last possible moment.When the woman came near enough to be identified with certainty as carrying an explosives belt, the order was given to open fire, and she was shot dead. Upon inspection, it turned out Tagner’s platoon had made the right decision. The dead woman – Tagner said he didn’t know if she has ever been identified – did indeed have an explosives belt wrapped around her.But it was a close call, and things could easily have turned out worse had the soldiers not waited long enough – or, conversely, waited too long to make a decision. Tagner’s story illustrates the challenges IDF soldiers face on an everyday basis in trying to balance their mission to protect Israel from its enemies with respecting human rights. It is one of many that StandWith- Us, a pro-Israel advocacy group, hopes will reach US audiences during a speaking tour it has organized for several former IDF soldiers this month, planned to take place at dozens of campuses, synagogues and churches.“Their itinerary is very packed, between three to four events a day,” Maya Epstein, a coordinator for the organization, said on Wednesday.Lior Prosor, 26, will be speaking alongside Tagner about his experiences as an officer in an elite Paratroopers unit. Prosor says that he is aware of the difficulties the task entails and knows Israel does not have an immaculate record; but he says an entire army cannot be held to unrealistic standards, and then judged in its entirety for the sins of the few.“I was a commanding officer in the Paratroopers Brigade, so all of my soldiers were highly motivated and came from good backgrounds – but I’ve heard some bad stories,” he said.“During Cast Lead [in Gaza in January 2009], too, I heard about some things that shouldn’t have been done [by Israeli soldiers].But to take pinpoint incidents and project them onto an entire army? I don’t think that’s fair.”Aside from these military issues, some of Israel’s other policies are also highly controversial within Israeli society itself.For instance, many Israelis believe the West Bank settlements are a major obstacle to peace. Asked how he will respond to criticism of Israel’s presence in the area when even in Israel there is significant opposition to it, Prosor said he would emphasize that most Israelis are in favor of a two-state solution involving a territorial compromise, and that “there’s talk of land exchanges.“To put it simply, there’s a process going on since ’93, and today an overwhelming majority in Israel supports a two-state solution. Nobody wants to control the Palestinians, but time and again we see we’re not given a choice.“I was in Gaza before the disengagement and I was there afterwards. I can tell you things have gotten a lot worse since we left,” Prosor said.Tagner and Prosor are currently touring the US East Coast, while two other teams will be speaking on the West Coast and in the Midwest. One of the groups will even pay a visit to the University of California, Irvine, a school whose Muslim student union has been banned for disrupting pro-Israel lectures.“We don’t want [our groups] to be preaching to the choir,” Epstein said. “We want them to give information to the audiences that will give a more balanced picture of what the Israel Defense Force does, and why its mission is important.”Epstein said information on the tour’s itinerary can be found at www.soldiersspeakout.com and that those interested in knowing more are invited to send an e-mail to soldiersspeakout@ gmail.com.She added that the tour’s six participants were selected by StandWithUs because of their experiences in the army, their personalities, and their ability to communicate in English.Prosor speaks English well as a result of a three-year spell living in London, where he attended the Jews Free School. Tagner’s English, however, wasn’t as good, Prosor said. But he quickly added that it didn’t matter.“While Inon’s English is not fantastic, it is not his native tongue but his personal story that is the main thing here, and it’s much more powerful than any linguistic skills,” he said.