Yoel Levi (IDF Spokesperson's Unit) (IDF Spokesperson's Unit)
Yoel Levi

None of Yoel Levi’s Muslim classmates in the North African enclave knew he was Jewish.

By Pesach Benson, United With Israel

The IDF’s Givati Brigade can thank Islamic State for one of its newest members. Yoel Levi was born in Melilla, a Spanish enclave on the North African coast where the majority of people are Muslim.

“Everyone thought my mother was a Muslim and my father a Christian. Had they known I was Jewish, it would not have been good for me,” Levi told Ynet.

Melilla’s Jewish population dates back 500 years to Jews escaping the Spanish Inquisition; somehow, the inquisitors overlooked the Spanish fortress city of Melilla across the Straits of Gibraltar. Many of today’s Jews are originally Moroccan, having fled anti-Semitic riots that broke out in 1967 during the Arab-Israeli Six-Day War.

With few economic opportunities, however, many of Melilla’s Jews have left for better education and work opportunities in Spain. In 2002, the Jewish community had dwindled down to 800.

The increasing influence of radical Islam accelerated the Jewish exodus from the city.

“If you ask children what they want to do when they grow up, the answer for many would be to wage a ‘holy war,’ which means terrorist attacks,” Levi said.

Thoughts of moving to Israel quietly crystallized in Levi’s mind before he graduated from high school, when he found out three of his classmates had dropped out to join Islamic State terror organizaion.

“Every time they talked about Israel, which of course they would call Palestine, I would see the hatred in their eyes,” he told Ynet.

“One day, a boy from my class did not show up to school, and I saw the other classmates were really sad. I asked what happened, and they said the police arrested him after they found out he had joined ISIS. It was not an unusual thing, but it made me think about what I wanted to do next. After seeing the hatred of the people who grew up with me, I decided to enlist in the IDF.”

Levi ade aliyah about a year ago. After six months of yeshiva study, he enlisted in the IDF. Now assigned to the prestigious Givati Brigade, he is in the advanced stages of basic training. According to Ynet, Levi is the IDF’s first soldier from Melilla.