StandWithUs

Yehuda M., a 27-year-old Ethiopian-born IDF soldier, speaks to a crowd about his experience serving for Israel as a part of the pro-Israel StandWithUs speaking series at the Reitz Welcoming Center on Thursday. Students for Justice in Palestine organized a walk-out later in the speech.

Hannah Morse / Alligator Staff

The Israel-Gaza conflict is physically far away, but it’s widely acknowledged. 

Two Israel Defense Force soldiers stood in front of a crowd of about 40 at 6 p.m. Thursday in the Reitz Union Welcome Center to share their personal stories.

In the middle of their talk, however, members of Students for Justice in Palestine stood up in protest wearing shirts that read, “You’re the real terrorist.”

StandWithUs, an international nonprofit organization, is dedicated to informing the public about Israel and the Israel Defense Force. 

Laura Kaler, a 22-year-old UF sport management and business administration student, is a member of the Jewish Student Union, which hosted the soldiers. She said it cost the organization $200 to bring them.

For safety, speakers Gal B. and Yehuda M., who are in the reserves, did not reveal their last names.  Gal, 25, is a second-year law student at Bar-Ilan University. She had to join the army, where she worked as a basic training commander. 

“For me joining the army wasn’t something that I had to do, but something I wanted to do, because I felt connected to the army to protect my land and the people from Israel,” Gal said.

Gal emphasized that what is seen in the media is not always the truth. 

“The situation is complex, and there’s always two sides to every story, and the international media is only showing one side,” Gal said.

Yehuda, 27, a political science major at University College Sedaya, spoke about joining the army after moving from Ethiopia to Israel.

The protest interrupted his story. Then the SJP students walked out. 

Gal asked for them to stay. 

“You are the other side for the peace that we need,” Gal said. “Please come back and stay to talk to us.”

Tesneem Shraiteh, a 21-year-old UF linguistics junior and president of SJP, said she did not want talk to them about Israel and Palestine. 

“When you don’t recognize the humanity of others, I can’t dialogue with you,” she said.

Alligator staff writer Hanna Morse contributed to this report.

[A version of this story ran on page 11 on 2/20/2015 under the headline “Israel Defense Force soldiers share stories; SJP walks out"]