My name in Nitzan Regev-Sanders, I’m an Israeli and I have served 21 in the Israeli defence forces. Let me explain. As my father was an air navigator in the Israeli air-force I was born and raised in army bases. In a sense I was drafted to the Israeli army the day I was born.
As the bases were always surrounded by fences and guards, I grew up in a seemingly safe and secured environment, which allowed me to be very independent since I was a young girl. However, the experience of growing up in army bases was also speckled with fear. As my friends’ fathers around me were killed and injured I was constantly anxious and afraid that a war might break out or that something horrible would happen to my father. I would watch out the window, terrified that an officer would arrive at my doorway and give us the news we didn’t want to hear; luckily that knock on the door never came. Therefore I calculated, in an innocent child-like way, that the only thing that could save my dad would be peace. If I only had the chance to speak to ‘the Palestinians’ and explain that we were actually good people, the conflict would be resolved, I thought.
In the base I grew up in we had weekly meeting of a youth movement. In one of the meetings our guide, who was about 16 years old, took a duct tape and divided the room in to two part. She then asked us to choose a side. She said “whoever believes that a land is worth more than human life go to the right, and whoever believed that human life are worth more than land go to the left”. Even though I was only 8 years old, I had no hesitation; the answer to me was obvious human life is worth more. But when I turned around, I was stunned. I was standing alone on the side of humanity. That was the first time I took a stand, little did I know then, that this will be such a defining moment in my life. Although I was just 8 years old, I was not ashamed of being the odd person out. I was proud of my choice.
As I grew older and entered my teenage years, and my family and I moved out of the army bases and into a small community suburb, the Israel defence forces continued to play a demanding role in my life, as it does in the life of many other Israeli teens. You see, for you high school revolves around getting good grades in order to get in to the best colleges, but in Israel we are more preoccupied with army examinations in order to get accepted to the best possible army unit. I’m presuming that many of you were encouraged to choose football or cheerleading as your afterschool activity, we were mostly encouraged to enrol in combat capacity courses. We grow up with the understanding that our destiny was to serve in the military forces. We are raised to become fighters as our fathers and grandfathers were.
In fact, just before I came here to DC I had a very interesting conversation with my grandfather, Uziel who we call Uzi, in the family’s garden. He was sharing stories from the distant past about the formation of Israel and the part he took in the fight for Israeli independence. He then asked me; “what is the point of you going to Washington, why are you joining a program like NSL?”. I paused for a minute, and took a deep breath. You see, I told him, you fought in 1948 in order to create a secure space for your future children, grandchildren and the entire Jewish people. But the fight is not yet finished. Now I feel like I should fight to secure a peaceful future for my children, grandchildren and all human beings living in the region. I love Israel just as much as you do, this is my home, and this is where my heart is. And for that reason I am here today standing before you, a fighter from a different kind. I am fighting now so that my future children will not have to go to the army when they reach the age of 18, I am fighting now so that my future children will be able to play on the playground together with my Palestinian friends children, without passing any check point, I am fighting now for better future for both the Israeli and Palestinian communities.
But I am not the only one. Now, 18 years after that day in the youth movement, I know that I no longer stand alone on the side of humanity. I see an army of change gathering in front of my very eyes with the friends I have accumulated throughout the years, with the young people who are protesting as we speak for social justice in Israel, with my 9 amazing NSL friends and with the young woman who is sitting next to me, my host sister Yara. We have been living together for the last 3 weeks, and we have been through a lot together (including two trips to the emergency room and one very long power out- but that is a different story), but the one thing that bonds us most than all is our passion for change. We are sisters in our fight. And we will not surrender; we will not yield until we see the spark of change ignite. And so, we stand here before you, inviting all of you sitting here today to take that long needed leap of faith, and join us on our side of the line, in the ultimate fight for peace.
by Nitzan Regev Sanders