Within the ranks of the Israel Defense Forces, a perennial feature of the 75-year-old state becomes even more evident in the current war against the terrorist group Hamas: immigration.
Jews who were born in other countries and later emigrated to the Middle Eastern nation are now soldiers who reflect in the Army the not uncommon profile of dual nationality of local citizens.
Among them, Brazilians. Moti, 32, from São Paulo, made aliyah in 2010 — a term that refers to the migration of Jews to Israel, in a process that the Jewish community calls a return to their homeland. In the country, he performed mandatory military service and joined the reservists. Until he was called up, like 300,000 others, on October 7th.
“Nobody thought about returning to Brazil to hide or to escape such a difficult situation,” says the São Paulo native, whose surname was not shared at the Army’s request for safety reasons. “Everyone is completely convinced that we are fighting for our home.”
The Brazilian-Israeli who lives in the country with his wife and children works in the Defense unit that, according to his own description, worked to expel members of Hamas from Israeli territory and collected bodies of terrorist victims in kibbutzim, communities in the south.
“Even though we trained for so many years, nothing prepared us for seeing such an atrocity,” he says. “We remember the death tolls of 1948 [1ª guerra árabe-israelense]1967 [Guerra dos Seis Dias] and 1973 [Guerra do Yom Kippur], but they were mainly soldiers. Now, they were innocent civilians in their homes.”
“Every day in the Jewish faith we remember the land of Israel”, says Moti when remembering his ancestry. “My family was expelled from Judea [forma como Israel se refere à atual Cisjordânia] and then went to the Iberian Peninsula, from where she was also expelled by the inquisition. From there, they went to the former Yugoslavia, where my great-grandparents were murdered in the Second World War.”
Like Moti, Brazilian-Israeli Ruth, 42, also makes up the dual nationality profile that forms the ranks of the local Army, but for much longer: the Minas Gerais native has been in the Defense Forces for more than two decades, since joining the service. mandatory military.
Ruth emigrated to Israel at the age of 13 with her mother. The sergeant now runs a quality control laboratory for products used, for example, in Army planes and in particular in the Iron Dome, Israel’s main anti-missile system.
“I’m not a combat soldier, but what my soldiers do makes sure the planes work,” she says. “Every time I sign off on a product release, I feel the weight of that responsibility.”
“The Iron Dome, after all, also protects my home. If I do something wrong and it doesn’t work, it means that my mother, like other civilians, won’t be protected.”
For Ruth, the second war between Israel and Lebanon, in 2006, was also extremely impactful on her daily life. But nothing compared to the current conflict. “I have about 15 soldiers below me, and I also have to be strong and give them a place to open up. Many are new immigrants, they have been here for two years”, says the sergeant, who is developing a project to help immigrants to learn Hebrew.
“The images I have of Poland, when I visited the Auschwitz concentration camp with the Army, and the images I have of Black Saturday [maneira como se refere aos ataques do Hamas em 7 de outubro] they are very similar”, she says, when she was in the most famous concentration camp in history she found the names of several of her ancestors on a list of Jews killed there by Nazis.
“The objective is the same: to dismantle Israel. If there is one thing that the Holocaust taught us, it is that the people need Israel. The fight is for the house, it is no longer a political discussion about a piece of land for them, another for us “, he tells the report.
For reasons also linked to security, the Israel Defense Forces refuse to provide data on soldiers with dual citizenship. But observing the country’s general demographic profile helps illustrate the weight of migration: it is estimated that, in 2020, almost 21% of the local population (1.8 million at the time) had come from abroad, with the majority (more than 40 %) from former Soviet republics.
More up-to-date data is difficult to obtain. Israel’s official statistics center is inaccessible. On its official page, the warning: due to the current security situation (the Hamas-Israel war), the site will be temporarily blocked for users from abroad.
With support from the Jewish Agency, a government-sponsored body in Tel Aviv, more than 76,000 Jews from around the world made aliyah in 2022 alone — including Jews or children and grandchildren of Jews who have migration facilitated by the so-called Law of Return . Brazil was the second main origin in Latin America, with 405 Jews who migrated, behind Argentina (1,059).
They are mostly people in their 20s who, like Moti, emigrate while they are still at the age of entering compulsory military service. “This war, this fight, is to destroy Hamas and the terrorists so that they can never again harm or frighten, cause any harm against the Israeli population — the Jews and the Arabs,” he says. “It is not a fight against the Palestinian people.”
The report asked the soldier if there is a moral dilemma related to the civilian deaths documented in Gaza. At the Army’s request for communication, he did not respond, arguing that the soldier represents the corporation, not just himself.
“We would like to live in peace and harmony with anyone who wants to live here,” says Moti.