Monday, November 20, 2006

NewU Feature: A Lonely Soldier

Following up on this previous post:

Link to article

A Lonely Soldier
By Reut R. Cohen
Staff Writer

Adam Harmon is an American citizen, but he once served for the Israeli Defense Forces and has written about his experiences. He spoke at UC Irvine on Monday, Nov. 6. The Anteaters for Israel co-sponsored the event with the College Republicans and the Young Democrats in order to promote what AFI called “awareness” and “coalition building” on the UC Irvine campus.

Harmon, whose book is titled “Lonely Soldier,” described himself as coming from a “typical American Jewish family.” Originally from New England, Harmon had the opportunity to visit Israel as a teenager in 1984, at which time he knew that he wanted to live there someday. In 1990, the Palestinian Intifada was well under way and Iraq was invading Kuwait. Harmon, who had only seen Israel through the eyes of a tourist, was just out of college and decided to join the Israeli military.

Harmon became known as a “chayal boded” or “lonely soldier,” the official term for a newcomer to Israel.

“On the one hand, I’m an American … but there is something about my connection to [Israel],” Harmon said, adding that each time he visited Israel, he felt “an even stronger relationship” to the country, even coming to feel that “Jerusalem [is] like home.”

The transition for Harmon was difficult because he could not speak Hebrew. He described entering the military as something new and a bit scary, but felt that he needed to do this because he “came to the country [to] build a life there.” Harmon knew that joining the Israeli Defense Forces was something that he wanted.

“Like every other Israeli, I had to serve in the army. I knew that I wanted to,” Harmon said.

In the army, Harmon, who became a paratrooper, learned much about the Israeli military culture and general way of life.

“I’m not a person who does well with authority figures,” Harmon said. “Israeli commanders didn’t scream in my face.”

Harmon suggested that the experience was “far more hospitable” than he had expected and that it was “fair.” Harmon characterized his time with the military as “good” and “positive.”

Harmon emphasized that the Israeli military is unique in its high regard for individualism. His commanders relied more on achieving agreement than on issuing commands. Harmon said that every soldier has the moral obligation to disobey an order.

Harmon also said that the “Israeli military experience is informing the American experience in Iraq today.”

Brock Hill, a fourth-year political science major and president of the College Republicans at UCI, said that the event was very engaging and that he was happy to have co-sponsored it with AFI.

“It was really informative,” Hill said. “Personally, I found this event right up my alley. I’ve always been interested in the IDF because this military is focused on urban warfare. The United States has a lot to learn from their military.”

“It was a really interesting event,” said Emily Shaaya, a second-year social ecology major and co-president of AFI. “It was a great way for AFI to work with other clubs at UCI and to educate the fellow students and community members about Israel.”

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