Journey From the Battlefield: Israeli Non-Profit Helps IDF Soldiers Move Forward
Five months ago, Nufar Gross was on the battlefield treating wounded soldiers. The 33-year-old IDF paramedic spent her summer providing medical treatment to both wounded soldiers and civilians during Operation Protective Edge, which lasted 50 days. It was not the first time that Gross saw life and death flashing before her eyes – nor will it most likely be her last.
As a reserve paramedic, Gross is called up to treat IDF soldiers whenever war breaks out. “Suddenly, you find yourself in a dangerous situation – away from your home and family – doing everything possible to save lives,” Gross told Tazpit News Agency. “One day you are a student in the university and the next, in a life-and-death-situation. I witnessed blood, injuries, and death when I was in Gaza.”
Gross explains that the experiences she has had on the battlefield in past operations have always left their mark. “All those images stay in your mind even after you leave the battlefront and go back to normal life.”
“In the past, when I’d get these war flashbacks at university or at work, I found that I couldn’t sleep at nights. I’d have nightmares. It was a huge transition to get back to civilian life.”
But after this last operation, Gross found that she could deal with the battlefield experiences as well as the transition back to civilian life more easily, thanks to her participation in an organization called Bishvil Hamachar.
Bishvil Hamachar (On the Path to Tomorrow) is a non-profit, volunteer-based organization that was established after the Second Lebanon War in 2007 to assist IDF soldiers in coping with difficult combat memories and adapting back to civilian life. The association was established to professionally work with soldiers, and utilizes out-door activities – trekking and other physical activities in nature both in Israel and abroad – combined with psychotherapeutic tools within verbal group sessions. According to the organization’s founder and head, Anat Samson-Joffe, the methods help the soldiers, who come from across Israel and are of various backgrounds, to acquire tools for coping with their experiences and return to normal life.
“The idea is to enable our soldiers to build resilience through the power and calm of nature,” said Samson-Joffe in an interview with Tazpit News Agency. “Even when our young men and women come back home, they are often mentally ‘stuck’ on the battlefield,” she explained.
“War leaves emotional scars on everyone – these soldiers face some of the worst scenarios. The past Gaza war was extremely dangerous and stressful – our soldiers faced explosive tunnels, unexpected guerrilla attacks, human shields and more,” said Samson-Joffe who comes from central Israel.
“What we do is work to build these young people’s resilience so that they can continue on with normal lives when they return from the battlefield.”
Doron Zilber-Sporen, 30, from Tel Aviv, served in Givati and was involved with the explosives unit. He lost five fellow IDF soldiers on his team when an RPG exploded on their jeep in Gaza during one operation. “I didn’t talk about it because I thought that no one would understand, not my family or my friends…not even those best friends with me in the army,” he said.
In Bishvil Hamachar, Zilber-Sporen found a platform where he and his army buddies could talk about what had happened. “The organization took us on a trip to Romania into the beautiful nature and just isolated us. It was there that we talked about what happened and share our feelings and heard our commander’s point of view.”
“Today I feel more at peace with what happened,” said Zilber-Sporen, who does reserve duty with the other soldiers.
“I lost a friend from high school, who was my age in a Gaza operation,” recalls Alex Fishkin, 25, another participant in Bshvil Hamachar, who served in Gaza in 2007. “It was the first time I’d ever experienced losing someone my age. I also lost my officer and another friend a year later. This really affects your life.”
Saray Fang, 30, an IDF airborne paramedic who served during the Second Lebanon War, shares similar experiences. “One of my friends, a fellow paramedic was killed in the war. That really shook my team because we didn’t think that a paramedic could ever be killed. I mean we are the ones that treat others,” she emphasized.
“I felt very confused after my service, nothing seemed worthwhile,” says Fang from Jerusalem. “I felt that nothing I did was as important as what I had done in the army.”
“Then I went on a sailing trip in the Netherlands and talked with others who went through similar experiences like me. It was there that I reached the conclusion that I can still manage a full life,” explained Fang.
Nufar Gross believes that the organization’s unique journey programs have truly helped her. “I discovered new ways to deal with issues by hearing and learning from others. It made the chaos in my mind more manageable.”
“During this summer’s Tzuk Eitan [Operation Protective Edge], I found that during my reserve duty, I was better able to deal with the intensity of the battlefield. There was much more order in my mind,” she said.
“The hundreds of IDF soldiers who have gone through our programs have been able to gain a new key to life,” says Samson-Joffe, whose own father was killed in a terrorist attack when she was 12. “In war, there are no victories, only losses. But we can help our young men and women move forward on their own personal journeys.”