Life in Israel
With a clear eye to his high school audience, Bar-Yoshafat described life in Israel, emphasizing democracy and diversity, but also partying and informality. He is from just north of Tel Aviv, which unlike New York, he said, is really a "city that never sleeps."
America and Israel not only share values like democracy, they share TV shows and music. "My high school life was like your high school life," Bar-Yoshafat explained, with one important difference, the Second Intifada, which began in 2000.
Until then, he had no problems with Palestinians. He still doesn't, and believes a majority of Palestinians want peace, but his enemy is now Hamas. As a Special Forces soldier he fought terrorists, and he is still in the Reserves. He made good friends in the army, one of whom was killed with his girlfriend and others standing at a bus stop. "I have a list of all the friends I have lost to terror," he said. "Hamas is like having al-Qaeda as a neighbor."
The students listened with intense interest as Bar-Yoshafat described his experiences in Special Forces. His job was to capture terrorists. To grab them, he said, not to shoot them.
The IDF "isn't perfect." Bar-Yoshafat readily admitted. Soldiers do misbehave, and when they do they are tried in civilian courts. They are the exceptions. He and his friends are "the rule."
He told how he and others captured a terrorist with 150 lbs. of explosives. They did it by walking through his neighborhood, not by "dropping a bomb." Another time they chased after and failed to catch five fleeing terrorists. Why didn't they shoot? Because their targets were running away and it was not a self-defense situation. "The rules said no shooting."
"I put my life on hold for a couple of months to come to the Pacific Northwest," Bar-Yoshafat said, an area which is "known for its hostility to Israel." There is nothing wrong with criticism, he said. "I don't know any Israelis who are not critical of Israel. But there is a difference between criticizing and demonizing."
He recently went to the University of California at Davis "to have a dialogue" on Israel. Three student groups got together to disrupt the meeting. There was a mass walk out, and hecklers telling him to "shut up and get out," and calling him "rapist, child molester, murderer."
Bar-Yoshafat explained his hope that the high school students who have met him, when they get to college, will resist these anti-Israel pressures by "remembering the Israeli they met." He assured his audience that he recognized Palestinian suffering. He just does not think it is his fault. Finally, he showed a video of a terrorist using a child as a human shield. "And these people tell me I kill for fun."
Some questions from the class
The Lincoln High School kids had quite a few questions. Here's a sample, with Bar-Yoshafat's answers:
Q. Do you have McDonald's in Israel?
A. Of course.
Q. What do you think of our government?
A. We have so much in common that it doesn't matter who is the president.
Q. Have you ever been to the 'Wailing Wall?'" "To the Dead Sea?"
Q. Why do you care what people think of your country?
A. I love my country. I'm proud of my country.
A learning experience
The class we attended was only one of several 11th and 12th grade Lincoln High School classes to be visited by Bar-Yoshafat that day, all taught by Susan Westberg. We asked her how she had come to invite him to speak with her students.
Westberg explained she had responded to an email from StandWithUs. And why? "I want my students to be open" she said, and to learn how to "agree to disagree."
You can hear Ran Bar-Yoshafat speak about his experiences as shaliach in the Pacific Northwest at an adult luncheon held at Temple Beth El in Tacoma, Thursday, May 24, at 12 noon. See our event announcement.
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