Former British Columbian Gill Rosenberg spent nine months fighting the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. (photo from Gill Rosenberg)
Gill Rosenberg returned to Israel a month ago, after spending nine months fighting the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
Born in Surrey, Rosenberg, 31, grew up in White Rock and graduated from King David High School before continuing her studies at B.C. Institute of Technology, finishing a program in airport operations management. She moved to Israel in 2006 to serve in the Israel Defence Forces, volunteering through a program called Mahal (the overseas volunteer IDF program). During the course of her service, she made aliya. She now lives in Jerusalem.
“I served as a search and rescue NCO (non-commissioned officer) and as an instructor at the Search, Rescue and Civil Defence School,” Rosenberg told the Independent. “It was a great experience.”
She also spent time training the Kenyan Armed Forces and helped them establish a disaster response unit in their country.
Growing up in British Columbia taught Rosenberg “to respect the diversity of culture, beliefs and religion,” she said. “As well, being raised Jewish, I had a strong education on the Shoah and participated in the March of the Living, visiting the concentration camps in Poland.”
After that experience, Rosenberg was invited to speak at the B.C. Legislature on behalf of Jewish youth when the government voted to enact Holocaust Memorial Day legislation, when Ujjal Dosanjh was premier.
Intolerance and totalitarianism are two things that she has vowed to never tolerate. “I fully believe that when we say ‘Never again,’ we don’t mean just for us Jews,” she said. “We can’t stand by and stay silent to any genocide taking place – and that’s what I saw happening to the Yazidi population on Sinjar Mountain. The Christians and Yazidis in Iraq have lost the most in this war.”
Rosenberg fought in Syria with the YPG/YPJ (Kurdish militia groups) for three months and then headed to Iraq for six months, fighting with the Assyrian Christian militia, Dwekh Nawsha.
“In Syria, I was in Serekaniye and it was a pretty static front over the winter months,” she said. “It was bitterly cold, always raining, muddy, and darkness like I’ve never experienced anywhere else.
“There’d be a firefight at least once a day, but it was mostly from a distance of over one kilometre. My first day on the frontline, a suicide bomber blew himself up about 50 feet from our checkpoint. He intended to get closer, but because of the deep mud, his vehicle got stuck and, thank God, he was the only casualty that day.
“In Iraq,” she continued, “I was at a frontline 25 kilometres from the city centre of Mosul. They were in Baqofa and Telskuf, and the next town over, called Batnay, was already Daesh-occupied.
“The Daesh [ISIS] are hitting that position with mortars, Katyusha rockets and heavy machine gun fire daily and especially at night. They attempt to ambush, but both Dwekh Nawsha and the Peshmerga at that frontline have prevented any advancement of ISIS forces.”
Rosenberg said she was treated with the utmost respect and not any differently than other fighters. “They feel like the world has forgotten them, so for an Israeli Jewish woman to pick up a weapon and stand with them on the frontlines meant a lot to them,” she said. “I still keep in touch with the leader there and he tells me I’ll be a part of them forever, that we’re family.”
As she was fighting, Rosenberg wore the Canadian flag on her uniform proudly. “I feel that Canada is one of few countries that still stands tall and supports democracy and freedom, and it isn’t afraid to condemn those committing evil in this world. And that’s something to be very proud of.”
Earlier in the interview, she noted, “Stephen Harper is the only world leader condemning the nuclear deal with Iran and speaking out against the evils of this world and standing with our best allies.”
Since returning to Israel, Rosenberg has met with several members of the Knesset and shared with them some of her experiences. She also has been approached by several nongovernmental organizations working in Syria and Iraq for her help with their efforts.
“I want to continue helping women and children in Syria and Iraq,” she said, “so I have to determine where my experience and abilities can be best put to use. As far as returning to the frontline, I have no plans to return at this stage.”
Rosenberg was very clear that she does not see herself as a recruiter. “I very adamantly would advise against anyone traveling to the region to fight,” she said. “There are many ways to help, including a Montreal Jewish foundation called CYCI (the Liberation of Christian and Yazidi Children of Iraq), which are buying and liberating the children that are sold like sheep in the market in ISIS-controlled areas.
“Pikuach nefesh [to save a life] is an obligation we have as Jews, and the Talmud even requires us to spend money to save a life if we have that ability,” she said. “This organization [CYCI] gives us that ability.”
Another Canadian organization, also coming from the Jewish community, is Rape Is No Joke (RINJ). This group provides medical care to women and children who have been victims of rape and other brutality in Syria and Iraq.
From what Rosenberg has been hearing, the dynamics on the battlefield have changed in recent weeks, with the Iranians making gains in Iraq against ISIS. However, she was quick to add, “They might be fighting ISIS just as I was, but, ultimately, they’re not a friend and I believe they’re a much greater threat than is ISIS.”
Reiterating her discouragement of anyone traveling to the region to fight, Rosenberg said, “I believe that if we don’t stop ISIS now, they’ll be at our doorstep before we know it. ISIS are geniuses at social media and media and know how to look strong and strike fear in the hearts of the West.
“I can tell you, from my personal experience on the ground, that they fight in a very cowardly manner and often run away when challenged. This is especially true when it’s the women of the YPJ. Their beliefs are such that they think if they’re killed by a woman, they will go to hell. So, my only question is this, What happens to them when that woman is also Jewish and Israeli?”
Rebeca Kuropatwa is a Winnipeg freelance writer.