Duvdevan elite unit veterans who visited Vancouver on the weekend are, left to right, Gilad Waldman, Daniel Kolver, noted singer and actor Tzahi Halevi, who sang at the event, Ariel Rubin and Boaz Faschler. (photo by Robert Albanese Photography)
The historical, contemporary and future impacts of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem were celebrated Sunday night at Congregation Beth Israel.
Several hundred members of the community gathered to mark the 90th anniversary of what has become one of the world’s great academic institutions.
Founded in 1925 by some of the greatest thinkers of the 20th century, including Martin Buber, Chaim Weizmann, Chaim Nahman Bialik and Albert Einstein, the university has produced seven Nobel laureates and is routinely recognized as one of the 100 best universities in the world.
The culmination of the evening focused on four young Israeli soldier-students and a scholarship project intended to both reward dedication to the state of Israel and to ensure that individuals who have demonstrated that they are among the foremost citizens of that country will continue to contribute productively throughout their lives.
The young men who addressed the audience are recent veterans of Duvdevan, an elite anti-terror undercover unit of the Israel Defence Forces.
Daniel Kolver was motivated to strive to become a member of the elite unit after being a teenage eyewitness to the Passover massacre at the Park Hotel in Netanya, in 2002, at which 30 Israelis were murdered by a terrorist at a seder.
He explained that Duvdevan members often operate as “Trojan horses,” charged with locating and arresting – or killing – the most dangerous terrorists, those “ticking bombs” who are minutes or hours away from executing attacks.
Each year, about 15,000 17-year-old Israelis apply to serve in Duvdevan and 150 are accepted. After some of the most intensive military training in the world, these soldiers are entrusted with hostage rescues, capturing terrorists in extremely dangerous urban warfare situations and delicate counter-terrorism operations.
Last year alone, the unit participated in more than 400 missions – each one of which involved at least one suspect. Kolver screened dramatic video of an operation in which his unit had two minutes to get through a labyrinthine neighborhood, detonate an explosive to blow the door off the home of a terrorist, identify the man hiding behind his wife and extricate the target and the unit from the premises within 10 seconds.
Another speaker, Ariel Rubin, admitted that he initially sought acceptance to Duvdevan to show off that he got into the elite unit. But the excruciatingly tough training eliminated all ego and superfluous motives.
“You disconnect your head from the physicality and you say, I’m doing this for my country … to protect Israel, to protect the Jewish people, because if we’re not there, nobody’s going to do it for us,” he said.
Fellow unit veterans, Boaz Faschler and Gilad Waldman, spoke of the difficult transition from being in one of the most secretive military units to assimilating into everyday life.
Among the purposes of the presentation was to raise support for the scholarship fund at Hebrew U, which awards 50 scholarships annually to soldiers from Duvdevan after their years of service.
The evening event, organized by the Vancouver chapter of Canadian Friends of the Hebrew University, featured two other presentations.
Ambassador Ido Aharoni, consul general of Israel in New York, acknowledged that Israel is not winning the global war for public opinion. Significant to the problem Israel faces is that a huge proportion – 40% of North Americans and Europeans and 30% of much of the developing world – can be defined as “infosumers,” a tech-savvy group of individualists who seek out their own information and share specific traits. Among the characteristics of this growing demographic is that they see themselves as part of an expanding global identity whose national identities are eroding. They are also significantly unfavorable toward force, whether by the military or police. Aharoni’s thesis was reinforced by the fact that riots had been taking place for days in the United States over police brutality and murders of African-American civilians.
Screening a photograph of a presumably Palestinian youth throwing a rock at a tank, Aharoni noted that this is the global image most associated with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But he also noted that polls indicate that in both Europe and North America, small numbers of people identify with either side in that conflict, most falling in the middle. Israel’s contradictory message of being both victim and victor, he said, is difficult to comprehend. And images of tanks versus stone-throwers, however unrepresentative this might be of the genuine power dynamic or context in the Israeli-Arab conflict, is not being successfully countered.
A more successful approach, he said, would be to appeal not to those who identify as opposed to the Israeli narrative, but to the large majority who subscribe to neither narrative. He called for greater emphasis on Israel’s contributions in fields of medicine, science, culture and other areas that benefit humankind.
Following the ambassador’s presentation, Prof. Noam Shoval of Hebrew U’s department of geography, spoke about the geographic realities of the city of Jerusalem.
Using a range of GPS and technological tools, researchers have studied the movement of Jerusalem’s residents and visitors, day and night, over time, to discover that the perception of Jerusalem as a culturally divided city is not accurate. There is an enormous amount of interaction by Jewish, Muslim and other residents of Jerusalem throughout and across areas of the city that are otherwise generally acknowledged as Jewish or Arab.
Shoval acknowledged that he would like to see Jerusalem remain united under Israeli jurisdiction, but he acknowledged that others might see a unified Jerusalem jointly administered by Israel and a future Palestinian state, or unified under some sort of international governance as was proposed in 1947. He concluded that dividing the city is not an ideal resolution.
“A division of the city is an outcome of war – not of peace,” he said.
Pat Johnson is a Vancouver writer and principal in PRsuasiveMedia.com.