London, (Palestine Telegraph) – Eytan Halon is a 23-year-old who has just graduated, but, unlike his peers, who are taking gap years in Thailand or embarking on the long road to employment, he has just bought a one-way ticket to Israel. To join the Israel Defence Force.
And he’s not the only one either. Eytan is one of numerous British-Israeli graduates who are travelling to serve in the IDF. A group called Mahal Mums has even been set up to support parents of children who have enlisted.
Darren Cohen, another 23-year-old British graduate, is also making aliyah (emigrating to Israel), after actively seeking out to join the IDF.
“I would describe myself as a left-wing Zionist,” the former King’s College London student tells HuffPost UK. “My sister and uncle and cousins live in Israel and my dad made aliyah and returned. I lived in Israel for a year on a programme with my youth movement Habonim Dror.
“I believe that it is important to take responsibility and defend my country like the majority of the rest of the society has done there.”
Like Darren, Eytan has strong familial connections to Israel, and is intent on defending his parents’ homeland.
Born in Manchester to British parents, Eytan studied law with French at Birmingham University, but will shortly become an Israeli citizen when he leaves the UK to fly to the Middle East on Sunday.
“I’ve spent a lot of time in Israel,” Eytan tells HuffPost UK.. “I grew up in a traditional, Jewish family that has always maintained strong connections with the country.
“I spent a gap year there and it was then I decided I wanted to move to Israel permanently.”
There is no active recruitment process for the IDF outside of Israel so Eytan joined Garin Tzabar, a programme for young Jews and Israelis living abroad who wish to return to serve in the IDF.
Although Israeli citizens over the age of 18 are only required to serve for a minimum of six months in the nation’s army, Eytan signed up for the maximum period of time.
“I have decided to sign up for a full three-year service.” Eytan explains. “A full service will enable me to receive comprehensive training and contribute more to the defence of the country.”
Last week reports emerged Israeli soldier Hadar Goldin, who is now allegedly dead, had been kidnapped by Hamas fighters.
Eytan admits the worry of being kidnapped is “one of the greatest fears that exist in Israel”, but adds: “Such events unite the country in an incredible manner. It’s a rare event that you’re trained to avoid, and you can only pray that it won’t happen.”
The graduate’s friends and family have voiced their concerns for his safety, but have been “overwhelmingly supportive” of his decision to join the army.
“They recognise the unfortunate need for young men and women to defend the state and that coming from abroad should not provide any sort of exemption from that requirement,” he says. “I have a number of friends that have already moved to Israel and have either completed their army services or are currently serving. Within the UK Jewish community, the decision to move to Israel and/or join the IDF is fully understood and praised.”
However despite his apparent adamance to join the army, Eytan adds: “I don’t know anyone who truly wants or desires to join the IDF.
“There are many who see a better life for themselves in Israel and the army is a necessary step on the path to living there. We would all be far happier if the conflict ended tomorrow and none of us had to join the army.
“Unfortunately, the army is a fact of life and some do feel obligated to contribute to the defence of the only Jewish state in the world.
“Over the past few weeks, my mind has constantly been thinking about my friends who are currently fighting and my family running to their bomb shelters.
“I deeply sympathise with innocent civilians in Gaza who are caught up in these sad events. I’m hoping quiet will return as soon as possible.
“I’m an optimist when it comes to peace in the Middle East, but there’s also the realistic knowledge that this won’t be the last round of violence.
“Who knows where I’ll be next time?”