Israelis Share Visions of Peace, Detail Military Experiences to Students

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Three Israeli students spoke at UC Berkeley yesterday to offer a "real world" view of life in Israel.

Ben Baum, Revital Leizarovitch and Dor Shapira, all of whom have served in the Israeli army, spoke to a packed room at Boalt Hall School of Law as part of the Israel at Heart program.

"We want to tell you what is really going on (in Israel)," Shapira said. "The liberal voices are very loud (at UC Berkeley). I don't want people to think that liberals are only pro-Palestinian. Liberals are also pro-Israel. It's important to hear the other side."

The Israeli students said they were concerned with the depiction of Israel in global media.

"I feel that often Israel is portrayed in an unfair light in the media," Baum said. "It was hard for me to do one thing and hear another thing being reported. I wanted to come here to tell my story. We're the people that fought behind the headlines."

Baum, who served in the controversial Operation Defensive Shield at Jenin in the West Bank, said he remembers being shot at by a Palestinian gunman who was hiding behind a row of children.

Following several suicide bombings in March, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon declared a "war against terrorism" and sent the Israeli army to Jenin and other West Bank cities.

Photo/Anna Browne

"The commander ordered (us) not to fire back," Baum said. "In the end one person was shot in the lower back and paralyzed and another shot in the leg. And that's the price we pay for not firing back. Then we opened the newspapers the next day and it says 'Israeli soldiers use Palestinians as human shields.'"

The speakers said they all come from different political backgrounds and their opinions do not reflect those of Israeli officials. But they all said they desire peace between Israelis and Palestinians.

"I want my two nieces to be able to go to Kindergarten without being afraid," Leizarovitch said. "I can't explain the awful feeling of going to a funeral of my best friend who is only 20 years old. I really want peace. I don't want war. I want a normal life."

Baum said Israelis and Palestinians can only coexist in peace when there are two people under two states.

The three Israeli students said there is a need to work for peace through gradual steps and a joint effort between Israelis and Palestinians.

"I'm an optimist," Shapira said. "I know there will be an end. I don't know when. I don't know how. But I'm sure it will happen."

Some UC Berkeley students said they were upset by the adversarial tone of some of the audience's questions.

"There's a lot of anger," said Boalt Hall student Meri Madon. "I don't think peace comes from this anger."

Photo/Anna Browne

Others said they appreciated the opportunity to gain first-hand insight into the current situation in Israel.

"It's important perspective to get out so that students here can learn about what's really going on in Israel," said Boalt Hall student Riva Horwitz.

But Boalt Hall student Will Youmans, a Students for Justice in Palestine member, said the speakers did not leave him more confident in a peaceful solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

"They didn't seem to think anything other than the same sort of clichés we always hear," he said. "There was nothing there that showed me the Israelis are really willing to engage the seeds of the conflict."

The program was sponsored by the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which is sending 39 other Israeli students to speak at colleges around the country.


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