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Nira Lee, an Arizona native and graduate of the international relation’s program at American University, made Aliyah in 2010 and has been serving in the IDF for the past two years. When she first came to Israel, she had no Israeli friends and didn’t speak Hebrew. Yet today, she is the assistant foreign liaison officer to international organizations in Gaza, with the rank of second lieutenant. It is her job to ensure that international humanitarian aid makes it to the Palestinian civilians in Gaza; to coordinate diplomatic delegations; to oversee the movement of international organizations inside the buffer zone; as well as commercial visits to the Israel-Gaza border.

According to Nira, “Gaza is ruled by Hamas, a terrorist group that wants to destroy Israel and has fired thousands of rockets at Israeli civilians in recent years. The IDF, therefore, does not coordinate with Hamas, which is why it’s important that we maintain strong relationships with the international organizations that work with uninvolved civilians in Gaza.” Indeed, between 250 and 350 trucks go through the Keren Shalom crossing daily carrying commercial goods. While other crossings were closed down due to missile and rocket attacks, the IDF kept the Keren Shalom Crossing up throughout most of Operation Pillar of Defense.

The work that Nira does in assisting the delivery of humanitarian supplies into Gaza is making a difference in how some Gazans view Israelis. Evidently, Nira once met with a Gazan woman representing a major non-governmental organization. Nira reported, “We were together for a meeting in Israel when a rocket siren went off. Not knowing quite what to do, she froze and just looked at me as everyone around us began to run. There was no time to explain, so I just grabbed her hand and we ran — a woman from Gaza and IDF officer — to a shelter together. When we spoke that evening, her voice shook as she told me that the bond she felt with me that day challenged all she had been taught about IDF soldiers.”

Despite mainstream media reports of a siege on Gaza during Operation Pillar of Defense, Nira reported that she called all of the major organizations in Gaza that import medical supplies and had asked them what they needed urgently. Furthermore, when the Keren Shalom Crossing needed to be closed for one night because of a rocket attack, Nira claimed that she and her team worked overtime to figure out how to get medical supplies into Gaza regardless. Her team “eventually […] settled on a plan to use forklifts at” the Erez Crossing.

Given that the IDF has taken these gestures, Nira is quite frustrated by how the mainstream media has portrayed Israel as not providing humanitarian relief for the civilian population in Gaza. She wrote in the American Thinker, “Every day, I coordinate goods with a young Gazan woman who works for an international aid organization. […] During the eight days of Operation “Pillar of Defense”, not one day passed without a phone call, just to check in. “Are you ok?” I would ask. “I heard they fired at your base. Please stay safe”, she would reply. And every night I made her promise to call me if she needed anything. These are the things that the media fails to show the world, just as they underplay how Hamas deliberately endangers civilians on both sides of the border — by firing indiscriminately at Israel from Gaza neighborhoods.”

Evidently, during Operation Pillar of Defense, Nira worked about 20-hours per day just to ensure that Gazan civilians were provided for. She didn’t have time to sleep, or even to shower and change uniforms, because the constant barrage of rockets prevented her from being able to do so.

Nira reported, “What amazed me the most was the singular sense of purpose that drove everyone, from the base commander to the lowest ranking soldier. We were all completely focused on our mission: to help our forces accomplish their goals without causing unnecessary harm to civilian lives or infrastructure. It is harder to explain the emotional roller-coaster – how proud and relieved I felt every time a truck I coordinated entered Gaza, and how enraged I was when we had to shut down the crossing into Gaza after Hamas repeatedly targeted it. Or how invigorating it was help evacuate two injured Palestinians from the border area, only to be informed minutes later that a terrorist had detonated a bomb on a bus near my apartment in Tel Aviv.”

By Rachel Avraham

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