LOS ANGELES - At the age of 19, Etay Levy served for over three years in the Israel Defense Forces, the IDF. He says, "I got to a point where I wanted to shoot myself in the head, I really did. It was terrible."
The State of Israel requires every citizen over 18 to serve in the military. Levy said what he witnessed shaped his perspective.
"As soon as you join, they just start feeding you propaganda," he said. "Honestly, I don’t think it really affected me so much (because) I could see right through it, and I wasn’t buying into it, I wasn’t buying into the lie."
The lie he’s referring to is what he calls the "dehumanization of Palestinians." Levy said growing up in Israel, all he heard were horrible things about Palestinians. "Them calling Palestinians human animals is because they treat them like human animals and that’s why there’s bloodshed on both sides, except that it’s never even," Levy said.
Levy jokes that he’s an extremist, but that’s what his family back in Israel truly believes; some even call him a traitor. Levy shrugs it off, "It made me care less actually, I feel sorry for them."
Daniel Zaidenstadt says he was not political. He was more interested in music, but at age 15, friends invited him to a peaceful demonstration in the West Bank, and for the first time, he saw the living conditions there.
"I remember thinking ‘This is no way to do anything. This is not a way to treat any other human beings, and it’s not a way to treat anyone you’re hoping to have any kind of peace with,’" Zaidenstadt said.
As the afternoon progressed, Zaidenstadt said IDF border patrol shot a tear gas grenade into the crowd, "so all of a sudden, everything is covered in smoke, and before I know it, people are getting killed in front of me." The story given was the IDF was targeting high-level terrorists, but all Zaidenstadt could think about was the amount of collateral damage.
"I remember coming back and thinking like, ok, it’s not black and white, it’s not, Israel is the good guys and Palestinians the bad guys," Zaidenstadt said. "We are complicit in stoking the flames of Palestinian valiant resistance."
So when he turned 18, and it was time to join the IDF, Zaidenstadt found a way to escape it, by claiming "to be mentally unfit, so there was an organization that helped kids like me say the right things to get out."
Sharing their personal views on such a polarizing conflict isn’t easy, but for these two Israelis, it’s crucial to recognize the shared responsibility for the atrocities in the Israel-Hamas war. Zaidenstadt says, "Fighting over who started this, who is right about this, all that stuff is just ways to excuse immoral behavior for both sides."