COLUMBIA — In front of a small audience in Memorial Student Union's Walt Disney Room on Tuesday evening, Matan Katzman recounted the time his infantry in the Israel Defense Forces had to take over a house being used by a known terrorist as a weapon depot and command center.
Katzman, who served three years as an active duty soldier in the Israel Defense Forces and is a now a commander in the military reserves, asked the audience what they would have done to gain control of the house, which may have had families inside.
One person suggested the soldiers jump on the roof, and another said they could use smoke bombs.
Katzman told the audience the simpler answer that his commander suggested: "Bomb it." But that idea was not acted upon.
That was one of the many experiences that Katzman and Shachar Liran-Hanan, reserve soldiers in the Israel Defense Forces, spoke about in an hour-long presentation about the ethical choices soldiers make in high-stakes situations. In 2015, Katzman and Liran-Hanan started My Truth, an educational organization of Israeli soldiers that seeks to tell soldiers' stories.
Students Supporting Israel, a pro-Israel group at MU, invited the two to speak about their experiences as soldiers in the Israel-Palestinian conflict.
In the end, Katzman's infantry entered the house through holes they made in the walls because they did not want to risk killing innocent people. Katzman showed a picture of the guns, rocket launchers and grenades found in the house, as well as a backyard hut containing more weapons and manuals for building explosives.
Katzman’s men didn’t bomb the home, but they detonated the hut.
"They both do a really good job of explaining how difficult it is to try and stop terrorism while saving innocent lives at the same time," said Sarena Krojanker, vice president of Students Supporting Israel.
Israel and Palestine have been in conflict since the mid-20th century, with Israeli forces occupying parts of Palestine since the Six-Day War in 1967. Israeli forces are currently in conflict with the Palestinian militant group Hamas, which formed in 1987.
Liran-Hanan was a lieutenant in the Israel Defense Forces, and she now takes testimonies of Israeli soldiers and their experiences. She related a time when soldiers were set up in a man's home observing a neighbor who was planning a suicide attack. The grandfather of the home they were staying in began to have chest pains, and the team had to decide if it should risk exposure by helping him.
"It was one life versus the life of 60 to 70 soldiers,” Liran-Hanan said. "We didn’t know if the man was telling the truth about his pain or if he was a terrorist, too."
When asked, some audience members said to let the man die and not risk the mission. Others argued that the Israeli army is known for its moral reputation and that the soldiers should get him help.
Liran-Hanan said the infantry examined the man’s medical records and called an Israeli ambulance. Some soldiers accompanied him to the hospital to make sure he didn't give out any information.
“They decided not to take any chances on the expense of this man,” Liran-Hanan said.
Liran-Hanan said My Truth was created after the Israeli organization Breaking the Silence released the testimonies of about 60 Israeli soldiers in May 2015. Liran-Hanan and Katzman said that some soldiers doubted or disagreed with some of the testimonies, and so they began to tell their own stories in response.
"To find the truth, we must create a comprehensive picture," Liran-Hanan said about the importance of the organization.
“What we’re really lacking is a good, healthy, knowledgeable conversation,” Katzman said.
Some in the audience were surprised by the outcomes of the situations Katzman and Liran-Hanan described. None of the audience suggestions matched up with the real decisions the soldiers made.
“These are daily dilemmas that soldiers face. We’re not talking about experienced, high-ranked commanders or leaders,” Liran-Hanan said. “These are 18- or 22-year-old soldiers who need to make a split of a second decision to shoot or not, whether to risk the life of men or save the lives of their soldiers.”
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