Sunday, December 16, 2018

Coming to Israel to play ‘Call of Duty:’ The American “Lone Soldiers” in the IDF


By Naomi Kundera - July 03, 2018
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Section: [Main News] [Features]
Tags: [IDF]

Aerial shots of palm trees, beaches, and spiraling settlement complexes flash before you with upbeat hip-hop music playing in the background. It seems more like a “visit Israel” ad for an early 2000s travel agency than a documentary about Lone Soldiers in the Israeli Defense Force (IDF). 

“I think it was the 10th grade. I saw a movie on TV called Raid on Entebbe,” Mikey Hartman, Founder of the IDF Shooting School and retired Lieutenant Colonel, explained in the video how he decided to join the IDF. “And this was great stuff. There’s heroes running and saving hostages. Seeing that, I said 'That – I want to be that. I want to be a hero. I want to be a sniper in the Israeli army.”
 
Hartman was born and raised in Los Angeles, California. He immigrated to Israel to join the IDF. And he did so, as he claimed, to reenact an action film.
 
Over 2,800 foreign nationals (or new immigrants) currently serve in the Israeli Defense Force (IDF). Known as “Lone Soldiers,” roughly 1,200-1,400 enlist each year. Of these, at least 25 percent are from the United States (US).
 
Despite having no family support in Israel, and most of them without any functional knowledge of Hebrew upon entry, the number of Lone Soldiers in the IDF is steadily increasing. Since 2013, new immigrant recruits have been increasing between 5 and 10 percent each year.
 
Yoseph Shapiro*, a 23-year-old American Lone Soldier currently in service, explained he went to Israel to escape his broken family life at home. “A lot of Lone Soldiers will tell you either that [they] wanted something meaningful to them or that they wanted to get away from America” as reasons for joining the IDF.
 
He went on to explain the different types of Lone Soldiers he sees while in service.
 
“There’s 'type A’ which is like a super Zionist just coming to Israel to draft because we think that it’s the right thing to do and, you know, everything is perfect at home and whatever else. [It’s] just pure motivation of Zionism.
 
“Then there’s 'type B’ which is like, 'well, things were shi**y at home and I needed something to do and I kind of like Israel and I’m a Zionist and this sounds like a really cool experience, so let’s do it.’
 
“Then there’s 'type C’ which is like, 'I’m crazy and I kind of just want to go shoot some stuff.’”
 
The “type C” Shapiro mentioned seems to correlate a lot with Hartman’s action movie inspired reasonings.
 
Shapiro went on: “You always find that a lot of Lone Soldiers tend to be a little crazier, a lot more 'run at 'em type’… they have that fire... I’m not sure if that’s attributed to the American attitude or just that [the IDF is] something new, something different, but you see a little bit of that, I don’t know, spark of crazy.”
 
Mordechai Halpert*, 26-year-old veteran Lone Soldier from the US, joined the IDF in 2012. His decision was made back when he was eight years old and visited Israel - which happened to be during the Second Intifada. An experience of being in Jerusalem the same day that a bomb went off in the city shaped his outlook on the necessity of defending Israel.
 
When asked who he thought Israel needed defending from he responded: “I think that every person who calls himself a Palestinian, is making themselves an enemy of Israel.”
 
With the notorious American obsession with guns coupled with the underlying racism of US history and its institutions (see: the recent US Supreme Court decision to accept Trump’s Muslim ban), the idea that Americans will voluntarily leave the US and go fight for Israel becomes a little more digestible.
 
Especially when you factor in the shiny appeals of a strong, democratic, fun-to-party-in “Jewish homeland” that needs constant defending from its aggressive neighbors.
 
Being in the IDF is not easy - especially for Lone Soldiers. But thanks to the help of support groups like Garin Tzabar and The Lone Soldier Center, an achievable picture is painted for new recruits. Advertisements for Shabbat dinners, pub crawls, and homestays are offered to the non-Israeli soldiers.
 
But Shapiro told Palestine Monitor, “[the appeal of being a Lone Soldier] also comes from a little bit of a misconception of what the Israeli army is. People hear about the Israeli army and hear about all these wars and you know it sounds cool to an 18 year-old American: 'Oh I’m gonna go to war and I’m gonna shoot this and I’m gonna play Call of Duty’ and then you get to Israel and then all of a sudden you realize that it’s not that. It’s real.”
 
Nearly half of all Lone Soldiers end up leaving Israel after their service. This statistic led The Lone Soldier Center to launch a new program a few days ago in an attempt to keep these new immigrants in the country.
 
*Names have been changed to respect privacy
* Lead image taken from Facebook

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