Non-Israeli Jews signing up for the Israeli army brings a multitude of potential problems, not least the rules of engagement by foreigners fighting in a rabble army and managing an illegal occupation on Palestinian land. How many Australians have signed up? An investigation that must come soon:
It used to be the kibbutz and its images of fruit picking and communal living that attracted streams of Jewish volunteers to Israel. Now many are looking for a different kind of service, one involving pre-dawn starts, a dose of boot camp and the very real possibility of some frontline action.
A new organisation is actively recruiting scores of non-Israeli Jews, many of them American, to serve in the Israeli army as it faces threats on multiple fronts in a region largely hostile towards it.
“We feel that Israel is fighting for its life,” said Jay Schultz, the executive director of Aish Malach, a new Israeli body set up to help foreigners enlist. For many, he said, “this is the right thing at the right time”.
While their peers may be easing into university life or setting off on their world travels, Israel’s foreign hopefuls are more likely to be wriggling through muddy streams or jumping over walls.
A rigorous six-week boot camp weeds out those not completely committed to a year of military service. Aish Malach is putting its first intake of 20 youngsters through their paces this month before placing them in selected units. Once in, the recruits could be deployed to frontline combat units guarding Israel’s volatile borders or to the occupied West Bank, where Israeli troops are often violently pitted against Palestinian civilians.
“They [the army] will send them where they need them. If they say ‘Go to Rwanda’, you go to Rwanda. If they say, ‘Go to the border of Lebanon, you go to the border of Lebanon’,” said Mr Schultz.