A few years ago, Jake Goldstein was fighting for Israel on the campus of the University of Ottawa, marshalling talking points to arm supporters facing a constant barrage of anti-Israel agitation.
Last month, his fight for Israel was much more hands-on. Not content to push papers and arrange speakers as part of the campus’ Israel Awareness Committee, Goldstein enlisted in the Israeli army nearly two years ago.
During Operation Protective Edge he served in the 202nd Paratroop Brigade. His unit was tasked with taking out the “terrorist tunnels” in central Gaza from which Hamas operatives aimed to attack Israeli communities, kill civilians and take hostages.
Armed with a M4 assault rifle, Goldstein, 23, was often one of the first men into suspected terrorist hideouts.
His unit saw plenty of action and they paid the price. “We sustained injuries,” he said. “There were firefights everywhere in Gaza. They were waiting for us.”
“There were a couple of times when it was very busy,” he said. Once his unit took over “a Hamas village… they’d pop out of the tunnel, fire at the house [where Israelis were stationed] and we’d fire back.”
Goldstein never saw civilians in the line of fire. They had been forewarned through leaflets and text messages to leave the combat area or face the consequences.
“The only people we encountered were terrorists,” he said.
“Our unit was instrumental in the discovery of several Hamas tunnels,” he added.
“Our intelligence is next to none. They really provided us with many tunnels.”
There were a number of techniques employed by the Israel Defence Forces to flush terrorists out of the tunnels, he said, but he declined to reveal operational details.
Once the route of a tunnel was known, engineers came in and destroyed it, Goldstein said.
Israeli troops would never enter a house through the door, which could be booby-trapped, he continued. Instead, they’d use an explosive device to create a hole in the wall and enter through that.
The unit found plenty of pamphlets and documents recruiting young men to Hamas. “We found literature for young adults that Hamas is cool, look at the guns you get to fight the occupation,” he said. “They make it cool to join Hamas and fight Israel.”
Goldstein said the Israeli army encountered plenty of teenage Hamas fighters, although the guys he went up against were older.
“I heard from friends in other units that they went against younger teenagers in Hamas units,” he said.
Despite the life-and-death aspects to combat, the Israeli soldiers had high morale, Goldstein said.
“You feel you’re protecting your home, your family, the elderly man in Sderot [the Israeli town close to the border with Gaza] who has 15 seconds to get into a bomb shelter [when sirens sound a warning].”
“Our unit had high morale and we were willing to do the job if it took 15 days or 15 months,” he said.
Goldstein admits his parents, Richard and Lorena, weren’t too keen at first about his decision to enlist in the Israeli army. He had been planning to enter law school, and despite his Zionist upbringing and a memorable visit to Israel on a Birthright Israel trip when he was 18, they didn’t think he was serious when he first told them his plans.
But he has no regrets, even if it meant that to get his wings he had to jump five times out of an airplane at 1,400 feet, despite being afraid of heights.
“And to get my beret [as a paratrooper], we walked more than 300 kilometres in 13 days with 100-pound packs on our backs,” he said.
Goldstein believes his decision to enlist “will help me in my career path. I know there’s nothing I can do now that was as hard as what i did in Israel,” he said.