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Israeli students share stories from the front lines

They wanted to prove they were more than just soldiers on the front lines of Israel. They wanted to prove they had a face.

Israeli army veterans Adam and Lital, who requested not to be identified by last name because of their current involvement with the army, spoke at the USF Hillel on Wednesday night as part of an international campaign titled Israeli Soldiers Stories to bring faces to the stories of Israeli soldiers funded by the nonprofit StandWithUs.

Lital, now a senior at the Open University of Israel, joined the army about seven years ago as a combat solider. Equipped with protective headgear, a bulletproof vest and a rifle, she guarded the Israeli border against suicide bombers and other security threats in Hebron, a city in the West Bank.

Once, an ambulance carrying a Palestinian woman about to go into labor requested to cross onto Israeli territory. As a border patrol official, she said she searched the van and found explosive devices that could have done serious damage in Israel.

I knew that terrorists are using, time and again, women, children, the disabled in order to operate their suicide bombings, Lital said.

In her combat unit, about five percent of soldiers were women, she said. Military service is compulsory for both males and females, but women do not have to serve on the front lines if they dont want to, she said, and most of them opt for behind-the-scenes jobs relating to secretarial, educational and technical fields.

I decided to do a different kind of service because most of the women are not serving in combat units, she said. They dont have to. But I decided to volunteer to be a combat soldier because I really, really wanted to do the same as the guys, to get the whole experience of the army.

Lital is now studying journalism. As a TV reporter for the state-run Channel One, she has traveled back to many of the cities where about 11,000 Palestinian rockets have landed since 2000 including her fathers home in Ashdod.

Adam, now director of the International Organizations and Diplomatic Missions Department within the Isreali Defense Forces (IDF), decided to follow his childhood dream and join the army in his teens. During times of peace, he works on humanitarian projects for the Palestinians in the Gaza strip and West Bank. During times of war, hes on the front lines.

The army service is something were proud of, he said. Its something were waiting for. Were all waiting for our turn to give back. When I joined the army, I really loved it.

Adam, who has worked in areas like East Jerusalem and the West Bank, is a second-year student at Tel Aviv University majoring in political science. His entire education is paid for by the IDF.

Adam and Lital said those who refuse to serve in the Israeli army could serve a prison sentence, and many opportunities are closed to them.

Even after you finish your time of service, it will be one of the first questions someone will ask you on a job interview (or) on a date because it says so much about you, Lital said. Its a really, really big part of our lives.