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November 20, 2013 2:55 pm

Pillar of Defense: A Year Later IDF Soldier Reveals How Flow of Humanitarian Aid Was Maintained

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avatar by Joshua Levitt

An Arab patient from Gaza enters an ambulance for Israel to receive emergency treatment. Photo: IDF.

An Arab patient from Gaza enters an ambulance for Israel to receive emergency treatment. Photo: IDF.

A year after the Israel Defense Forces’ Operation “Pillar of Defense,” a recently-immigrated soldier assigned to the Gaza border has revealed how humanitarian aid to Gaza was maintained by Israel.

Sgt. (Res.) Evan Pelz, an American who made aliyah to Israel, served as a lone soldier from 2011 to 2013, and now lives in Jerusalem and studies law at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. In a guest post on the IDF blog on Wednesday, Sergeant (Res.) Pelz described his time in the Coordination and Liaison Administration for Gaza (CLA) unit that acts as a liaison between the IDF and the civilian population in the Gaza Strip.

Last November, the IDF was forced to launch Operation Pillar of Defense after Gaza militants attacked southern Israel with rockets. At the time, I was based at the Gaza CLA, just a few kilometers from the Gaza border and not far from Israeli communities absorbing constant rocket fire, including Kibbutz Sa’ad, where I was adopted as a lone soldier. In the face of these dangers, my unit worked tirelessly to monitor the entrance of humanitarian aid, as well as to identify sensitive locations such as hospitals, schools and mosques in order to minimize civilian casualties in Gaza. We invested the military’s resources and risked our lives by serving in an area showered with rockets, all in order to preserve what we could of routine life for Palestinian civilians.

As I worked from a bomb shelter, talking on the phone with the Red Cross and United Nations agencies on one phone and with the relevant IDF bodies on another, I represented the cooperation that is not seen or reported. While the world watched the operation as a continuation of Hamas rocket attacks and Israeli air strikes, it did not see our endless conversations with Palestinian and international workers of the Red Cross as we tried to take lists of necessary medical supplies and protect the movement of ambulances. The world did not see UN officials sleeping in our base, working personally with soldiers during each minute of the operation. The world did not see our base’s officers who were ready to enter Gaza in the case of a ground operation with ground forces to monitor the military’s actions and ensure the IDF worked in accordance with civilian needs.

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Throughout my IDF service – whether rockets were falling on Israel or not – we worked on a daily basis with our Palestinian counterparts in the Gaza Strip, with common goals of entering as many supplies and people as possible through Israeli crossings. This is because the unit’s mission is always focused on humanity, on ensuring that even while maintaining necessary security precautions, it can look out for the interests of the civilian Palestinian population in the Gaza Strip.

He wrote that the unit works solely for civilian needs in Gaza; sending Israeli electrical teams to make sure power lines entering Gaza function; coordinating the transfer of Palestinians requiring medical care from Gaza to Israeli hospitals for treatment; and transporting exports from Gaza through Israeli borders and ports to boost the Palestinian economy. On a daily basis, the unit connects the military to various bodies within Gaza, including international organizations such as the Red Cross and UN Agencies, the Palestinian Authority Ministry of Health and Palestinian media, as well as various Palestinian officials.

At all times, the unit’s main mission is to keep the peace – to connect the IDF forces to our Palestinian representatives in order to maintain calm on a hostile border. But even during the harsh conflict of last November – when militants attacked Israel from positions located within civilian areas – we kept the aid flowing to Palestinians. In my view, this is the IDF’s greatest strength – its ability to root out terror while ensuring the health and well-being of Palestinian civilians in hostile surroundings.

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