Last month, just hours after a 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck southern Turkey and Syria, 6,150 active duty and reservist men and women, led by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) Pikud HaOref — Home Front Command — left Israel to support the search and rescue efforts. Dubbed “Operation “Olive Branches, IDF soldiers assisted in the search and rescue of victims trapped underneath the rubble of tens of thousands of destroyed buildings.
This was just one of the 31 international emergency operations run by the Search and Rescue team of Pikud HaOref, including searching for survivors from the collapsed Champlain Towers building in Surfside, Fla., in 2021; giving medical and food relief to Chadian refugees in 2019, providing doctors and humanitarian supplies after an earthquake in Nepal in 2015; or sending medical and rescue teams to help after the 2010 earthquake in Haiti.
At an Operation Olive Branches debriefing, Col. Golan Vach, head of IDF’s Search and Rescue Unit, said that 30 hours into the rescue mission, the Israeli team spotted a nine-year-old boy, weak but alive, under the rubble. A medic, who had lost his own daughter in an accident two years earlier, inserted an IV into the boy’s little pinky, gently stroking his hair and speaking to him in a soothing voice that transcended any language or cultural barrier. Slowly and carefully, the soldiers dug the boy out. As they brought him to safety, the entire team shed tears of relief, for they had saved yet another precious life.
“Our language is understood by all,” said Col. Vach. “That’s a language of saving lives, of human love. It’s the language of the IDF. It’s the language of the State of Israel.”
In Israel, military service is compulsory. At age 18, people from all walks of life serve — three years for men, two for women — serve in the IDF, often referred to as “The Nation’s Army.”
The IDF puts everyone — officers and soldiers alike — through the same training. Everyone wears the same uniform. Once in uniform, all political, religious, socio-economic, differences melt away; all soldiers are unified and inextricably linked in fighting for Israel’s survival.
From the largest metropolises to the smallest villages, the IDF reaches every corner of Israel. Everyone in Israel has someone — a son, a daughter, a neighbor, or friend — in the IDF. Every soldier has parents, aunts, and uncles who have served.
Existential to the nation and people of Israel, the Nation’s Army is revered for its service. On Yom HaZikaron, Israeli Memorial Day, each year, a siren sounds across the country, commemorating all who have fallen while protecting and defending Israel, and the entire nation comes to a halt in a sacred moment of remembrance.
The commitment to fight for the survival of Israel is linked to the commitment to stand strong and fearless against the forces that have tried to annihilate the Jewish people. “Never again,” the Jewish people’s rallying cry, is one that IDF soldiers live and breathe every day as they fight to defend our people, our country, our future.
The IDF views every human life, regardless of nationality, religion, or belief, as precious. Care and concern for humanity is part of the Jewish people’s DNA, part of the IDF’s DNA.
The IDF’s very raison d’être is not to wage war, but to preserve and defend human life, so that the nation of Israel and its people can thrive and live in peace.
The IDF embraces a strict code of ethics: tohar haneshek, purity of arms, refers to restricting the use of arms, to ensure they be used judiciously and only in defense, while protecting civilians’ lives at all costs.
The skills the IDF has trained for — to provide safety, respite, and security for Israelis — have ultimately been put into action for the Haitians, the Nepalese, and, most recently, the Turks. Respecting the dignity of each and every human life — in Israel and abroad — is integral to the mission of the IDF.
As capable and brave as the men and women of the IDF are, they still need support in myriad ways, including for their education and their financial and emotional well-being.
That’s where Friends of the Israel Defense Forces comes in. FIDF is a nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting the well-being of the courageous soldiers and veterans of the IDF. Last year, FIDF made an impact on the lives of over 105,000 soldiers, veterans, and their loved ones.
The Search and Rescue Brigade, an FIDF-adopted unit, receives multi-faceted support from FIDF. We provide underprivileged soldiers in the unit with financial support, “Lone Soldiers” — those whose families live overseas — with housing and flights home, as well as advanced emergency equipment and supplies. When the Israeli Ministry of Defense requests additional well-being needs, especially at a time of crisis, we respond.
Though we work behind the scenes at a safe remove, we at FIDF are proud to stand with and support these brave, selfless soldiers. Wherever the men and women of IDF’s Home Front Command are needed, they will go. And wherever they go, the FIDF will be there to support them.
Steven Weil is the CEO of Friends of the Israel Defense Forces.