Log on to learn truth about the IDF

By Nathan Jeffay, February 17, 2011
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A 26-year-old ex-pat Brit, Josh Mintz, is fielding questions from all over the Arab world - about his service in the Israeli army.

Mr Mintz, originally from London, has, with two American friends, set up a new website, friendasoldier.org. Eight former conscripts, who today serve as reservists, take questions from across the world in a bid to show a human side of the Israel Defence Forces - or in the words of the site's slogan, to "humanise the dehumanised."

Mr Mintz, now a sports photographer in Tel Aviv, said: "We had the strong impression that perceptions abroad of the Israeli military are so removed from what we encountered."

The three men, who finished their national service two years ago, found that the organisations publicising the stories of former soldiers divided into two categories: Israel advocacy groups, and highly-critical groups such as Breaking the Silence, the non-governmental organisation which publicises testimonies of alleged misconduct.

"We didn't want to toe the party line of the hasbarah organisations, but organisations like Breaking the Silence don't represent what we have to say either," said Mr Mintz.

Instead, he wanted a forum where ex-soldiers can recount life in the IDF as they see it, admitting for example, that they feel discomfort at some elements of army conduct in Palestinian areas, while expressing their pride for most of the IDF's activities.

The site was launched in October 2010 for a two month test phase and brought in hits and emails from over 50 countries, including many whose populations have shown hostility to Israel including Turkey, Kuwait, and Yemen. Mr Mintz noted: "The most interesting emails have come from Arabs. Many openly ask our opinions on the peace process while some ask if we actually 'kill babies'. It seems to me that many of them are sceptical about their government's portrayal of Israel and Jews."

Currently, friendasoldier only takes questions in English or Spanish, but they hope to expand to a range of languages, including Arabic - and take out advertising in the Arabic media including Al Jazeera.

    Last updated: 1:50pm, February 17 2011