December 10, 2002
Israeli soldiers visit LV during U.S. tour
By Ed Koch
LAS VEGAS SUN
American-born Israel Defense Force soldier Yoni Bedine passionately argues that when he and his comrades are hunting terrorists they try to avoid killing Palestinian civilians.
"Our moral values dictate to us not to kill innocent Palestinans," Sgt. Bedine said Monday prior to a Las Vegas speaking engagement.
"We know a large part of Palestinian society suffers, and whether their mainstream supports terrorism I do not know. But we do try to minimize their suffering while safeguarding the state of Israel."
Since the September 2000 uprising in his country, an estimated 1,700 Palestinians have been killed, as have 668 Israelis, Reuters News Agency reported this week. Also, more than 120 suicide bombers have attacked locations inside Israel in the last two years, according to published reports.
Bedine and four other young soldiers from Israel were at the Bellagio Monday night to speak to a crowd of about 800 at an event sponsored by the Jewish Federation of Las Vegas.
"We didn't want retired generals, but rather young, active soldiers to share their experiences," said Meyer Bodoff, executive vice president of the Jewish Federation of Las Vegas. "We wanted the community to hear their story."
Bedine, who celebrated his 25th birthday Monday, was born in Baltimore to a Zionist family and grew up in the United States.
He said he believes there is a misconception among Americans that Israeli soldiers fire at shadows in Palestinian neighborhoods and do not care if they accidentally shoot and kill innocent Palestinians.
On the website of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, for example, the 22-year-old national association of Arab-Americans paints a bleak picture of what life is like for Palestinian people confronted by Israeli soldiers.
"Both sides have committed acts of violence against unarmed non-combative civilians," according to the group's website. It alleges that "the violence committed by Israeli forces, however, is far greater than by Palestinians."
"Such acts must be condemned and halted," the Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee site says. "The UN and the international community should send peacekeeping forces to protect the civilian population."
Bedine, who has dual U.S. and Israeli citizenship, said he and fellow soldiers already do protect the civilian population, sometimes at the expense of the soldiers' safety.
"It would be so easy to safeguard ourselves -- to take out all possible threats -- but we don't do that," he said. "We don't shoot people who are just walking by. We respect human life."
Bedine said he was on guard duty one night near some caves frequented by Palestinian drug addicts. Although a noise was heard from the caves, the Israeli soldiers held their fire. Moments later, a spotlight shined on a suicide bomber coming from another direction who apparently panicked and blew himself up.
"If he had made it past our tank, he would have gotten to us," Bedine said, noting that such incidents are commonplace at Israeli posts.
Lt. Tori Shmueli, 22, who also spent some time in the United States as a youth, also said precautions are taken for civilians while hunting down terrorists.
"It is easier to use tanks in (Palestinian) neighborhoods but we choose not to use them and instead go door-to-door with (small) explosives to breach doors and walls," Shmueli said. "In some cases the lives of our soldiers are put at risk to spare Palestinian women and children."
Lt. Sivan Glazer, 21, a commander in the Israeli Navy, was promoted recently for her actions in North Gaza, when she alerted sharpshooters to two objects in dark night waters headed for shore. That action halted a terrorist attack.
"Israelis are afraid to go to the malls, but they are not afraid to go to the beach because incidents have been few and minor," she said. "There would have been hundreds of people on the beach the next morning. Terrorists could have been targeting our post or trying to kidnap them."
Before shooting the two advancing divers, Glazer ordered her troops to make sure the area was clear of possible civilians like Palestinian fishermen. After the incident, the bodies of the two divers with machine guns and a bag containing 40 grenades washed up on shore, Glazer said.
Bedine says Israeli troops are motivated by a desire that, whether there ever will be peace in the Middle East, the quality of life for Israeli citizens will improve with each passing generation.
"Jewish people have suffered throughout our entire existence," Bedine said. "I feel we are much luckier now than we have been in any generation before me.
"Things may or may not improve but we cannot allow frustration to lower our motivation or distort our perspective."
The Israeli soldiers will finish their 10-day tour of the United States with a speaking engagement in Palm Springs, Calif., this week, Bodoff said