While Israel Defense Forces (IDF) fought, killed ‘and were killed by’ Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, Aharon David related to his enemy in a very different way.
He gave them medical treatment.
“We see everyone as a human being,” David said, “and if they are hurt we will take care of them.”
David, the Hillel Jewish University Center’s new Herman and Helen Lipsitz Jewish Agency Israel Fellow, served as a combat medical officer in Gaza from 2006 to 2008. In fact, he was responsible for managing all IDF medical assistance for all medical events in that territory, including the treatment and care of injured Palestinian terrorists.
Taking care of everyone meant providing medical aid to Palestinians who, just moments before, may have been aiming weapons at IDF soldiers.
“We keep ‘The Spirit of the IDF’ pamphlet in our pockets,” David said. “We have to keep certain principles. We swear to keep purity of arms and respect for human lives. You don’t decide who lives or dies. When they [Palestinians] put their weapons down, you have to help them. Our oath as medical staff is to treat everyone who is wounded, including the enemy.”
David recently began a two-year stint on the staff at Hillel JUC. His job is to bring a taste of Israeli culture to campus, and to facilitate honest dialogue about Israel among Jewish students, and among the university populations at large.
In addition to five years of service as an officer in the IDF, David also worked worked in the security branch of Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
While at Hillel JUC, one of his jobs will be to serve as a resource for students seeking accurate information about Israel, according to Hillel JUC Executive Director and CEO Aaron Weil.
“One of the challenges we face on campus is the amount of misinformation, particularly among Israel detractors,” Weil said. “Aharon is an articulate representative of Israel whose knowledge and experience gleaned from the Foreign Ministry and the IDF make him highly effective with our students.”
While Israel continues to draw criticism from around the globe for defensive assaults in Gaza, David has another perspective.
“On my last Shabbat in Gaza, before I finished my service in 2008, there was a huge collision between Hamas and Fatah,” he recalled. “Hamas massacred Fatah. Fatah ran to the [security] fence and asked for refuge in Israel. They got permission to cross the border. We had to do triage and sort through 380 Fatah people, and treat 180. We sent helicopters, ambulances, and sent them to the Nahal Oz base. We took care of them there. The day before, they could have been shooting at us. That was our reality. As medical staff, we treat them.”
Born and raised in Holon, Israel, David received a special IDF acknowledgement of excellence for his work during his army service. He holds a bachelor’s degree in international relations and business administration from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
While he has borne witness to the principled behavior of the medical staff of the IDF in Gaza, David, 27, is ready to deal with hard questions students may have in regard to Israeli policies.
“I appreciate the trend to question Israel,” he said. “I’m not here to draw a perfect picture of Israel. I’m here to deal with the hard questions. The discussion is the most important part. I’m here to get pro-Israel people to use in better ways their pro-Israel intentions, and I’m here to engage indifferent people, and to engage people who criticize Israel.”
A realist when it comes to his homeland, David nevertheless contended Israel is sometimes not given fair treatment in the media.
“Nothing is perfect,” he said. “For me, it’s about saying ‘Israel has its issues, let’s talk about it.’ But there are lots of good things in Israel, and Israel is much better than it’s shown in the media. I’m here to talk about what our enemies and our neighbors are not here to talk about.”
This is the first time in five years Hillel JUC has had an Israel Fellow. In previous years, the Jewish student organization has had a few hours a week from the community shlicha at the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh.
“Aharon has an apolitical, dispassionate story to tell about Israel,” Weil said. “No matter what our students’ political leanings and background are, they are finding Aharon an interesting educator.”
So far, David has found Hillel JUC and Pittsburgh Jewish communities welcoming and supportive. He aims to increase students’ comfort level when discussing the Jewish state.
“My plan is to get students to feel comfortable about talking about Israel, comfortable celebrating Israel, and comfortable enough to stand up if they hear something they disagree with,” he said. “I am a source with facts and information. It’s about students knowing the material, and developing leadership.”
(Toby Tabachnick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)