Fighting jihad for Israel

Foreign fighters drawn from Europe and the US contribute to Israel’s military occupation of the Palestinian territories.

Around 5,000 Jews carry the title "Lone Soldier" given to volunteers from abroad, writes Hanine Hassan [EPA]

Her name is Katie. She is from the Netherlands, and chose to serve in the Israeli navy instead of remaining in her country.

Will her government label her and the rest of the hundreds of Dutch youth serving in the Israeli military as jihadstrijders (jihad fighters), the name given to the hundred or so that went to Syria? Katie, a Dutch-
Israeli dual citizen, is after all a jihadist in occupied Palestinian lands.

Israel’s genocidal campaign in the Gaza Strip is entering its second week. The death toll has risen to more than 600, with thousands more injured and displaced – alongside arbitrary arrests, the demolition of family homes and a policy of apartheid towards Palestinians both in the West Bank and within the state of Israel. What’s more, these war crimes are directly supported by the recruits from Europe and the United States that land at Ben Gurion airport throughout the year.

The notion of Europeans and Americans serving in the Israeli army isn’t new.

Before the creation of the state of Israel, thousands of western volunteers were recruited by the Zionist movement – in a process named Mahal or volunteers from abroad to take part in Zionist military operations in Palestine during the British Mandate.

In the 1948 war, as many as 4,000 World War II veterans from the US, Canada and Europe carried out military operations against Palestinians, serving the Zionist project with their expertise in warfare, artillery, naval and aerial combat.

A bigger role than fighting

Within the historical context of western support for the Zionist project, it wasn’t the number of Mahal combatants that was significant. The role of foreign recruits was to be found in the political and demographic transformation of Palestine.

The late Israeli prime minister, Yitzhak Rabin, later attributed the successful outcome of the war to the support of foreign fighters: “They came to us when we most needed them, during those hard and uncertain days of our 1948 war of independence.”

In supporting and developing Israel’s military power, these western recruits deliberately contributed to the ethnic cleansing of Palestinian towns, the dispossession and depopulation of Palestinian communities, and the massacres inflicted on them.

But Mahal recruitment did not end with the creation of the Israeli state. It continues to this day.

Thousands of volunteers, from more than 40 countries, stream to Israel  to serve in all branches of the Israeli military – many in combat units. The online Mahal recruitment programme ostensibly aims to “defend” Israel and strengthen the connection of these volunteers to the Israeli military. Non-Israeli nationals of Jewish descent can join the ranks of the armed forces for an 18-month tour and be in the same front-line combat units as Israeli conscripts, including those operating in the occupied Palestinian territories.

Support groups

Around 100 British nationals are currently serving in the Israeli army. It’s a significant number. British mothers even have support groups to exchange experiences of having a child serving in the Israeli military.
In 2009, Baron Ahmed of Rotherham asked Britain’s House of Lords, the UK parliament’s upper chamber, whether any British citizens were serving in the Israeli military or its reserves.

Lord Malloch-Brown, minister of state at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, responded, “Other than press reports, the UK government does not possess information about whom the Israeli government have called up to serve in the Israel Defense Forces or the Israeli Defense Reserves, including any dual nationals. Only the Israeli government would have this information… Anybody who has broken the fourth protocol of the Geneva Convention deserves to meet justice in some court or another.” So much for the oversight of the British intelligence and security services.

In April 2014, a British parliamentary report outlined – in 246 pages – counterterrorism approaches towards British Muslims fighting in Syria, Somalia and Afghanistan. Nowhere did it mention the threat of indoctrinated British citizens returning home from serving in the Israeli military. Nor did it mention that serving in an occupying army remains a crime in violation of the Foreign Enlistment Act 1870, which criminalises British citizens who serve in the armed forces of another country.


The Mahal network spans the globe. Max Steinberg and Sean Carmeli were two US citizens enlisted in the Israeli military. They were taking part in the Israeli ground offensive in the Gaza Strip which resulted in the deaths of at least 70 Palestinian civilians in Shujayea when they came under fire. The US State Department announced their deaths on July 20. And yet recruitment continues.

In May 2014, the Israeli embassy in Paris informed the local Jewish community of the arrival of a representative of the military who would give a lecture on their recruitment policies, “followed by a question and answer session”.

In November 2013, a Ukrainian citizen that had served for six years in the Israeli army stated nonchalantly on a Ukrainian television show that she had killed Palestinian children with full immunity from European and Ukrainian law – since Israeli law does not apply when Palestinian children are killed.

Approximately 5,000 Jews carry the title “Lone Soldier” – given in Israel to volunteers from abroad, new immigrants or orphans who have served in the Israeli army. Lone soldiers receive special rights and benefits, such as financial assistance, help with housing and time to visit family abroad.

In May 2014, the Tel Aviv Lone Soldier Center, where lone soldiers can relax and unwind together, was opened thanks to funding from a Dutch NGO named Israel Actie, which is affiliated to the Amsterdam Sar-El branch. Sar-El are civilian volunteer groups who undertake non-combat work for the Israeli military. Jews, non-Jews, and non-Israelis – eligible from the age of 16 – can volunteer their time, money and efforts, wearing army uniforms, to reinforce the Israeli military.

It is represented in more than 30 countries and hundreds of volunteers join each year.

Israel is applying outright treachery in its recruitment of young Jews worldwide, through tens of programmes. Israel Experience is a Zionist project that aims to create new allies for Israel. It targets western youngsters from the age of 13, recruiting them for what appears at first to be a programme of fun and amusement. But these children end up in a simulation, spending between one and six weeks exposed to guns, reproducing military manoeuvres and receiving “educational” classes on Zionism and the Israeli military.

Entertainment also features on the side. These indoctrinated children are then sent back to their parents and countries as advocates to justify occupation, apartheid and the defence of Israel at all costs. Israeli recruitment programmes have different dimensions but one and the same goal: the strengthening of the Israeli army and the networks of the state’s mindless supporters. 

Complicit in war crimes

The power dynamics of European countries is a game of constant duplicity. Western intelligence services turn a blind eye to citizens that decide to wear the Israeli military’s uniforms and occupy Palestinian lands and resources, and commit war crimes in violation of international law.

Apparently, in the eyes of Israel and its western allies, having Jewish roots is adequate justification to defend an illegal occupation of territories – while it is unacceptable for Palestinians to resist the illegal expansion of Israeli settlements and theft of land and water resources. In its recent offensive on Gaza, Israeli troops have shown no respect for human lives and have breached the laws of armed conflict, indiscriminately attacking civilians and targeting civilian homes and institutions.

There are many faces to the Israeli occupation, some of which are well-known, and some of which are hidden. The indirect reinforcement of the Israeli army with European and American soldiers is one such opaque form of complicity.

If European leaders are serious about preventing international fighters crossing their borders, or returning home with weapons training and a grudge to bear, they should pay equal attention to all European fighters taking part in conflicts across the Middle East. European governments have a moral duty towards Palestinians. They have to stop the flow of European killers deliberately involved in crimes against humanity.

Israel has turned the Gaza Strip into an experimental laboratory for its high-tech weapon industry and chemicals. It is the obligation of the international community to sanction Israel, and enforce a military embargo in light of the Israeli violations of human rights.

Hanine Hassan is a PhD candidate at Columbia University. Her research focuses on the long-term effects of humiliation as a tool of oppression by Israel in the occupied Palestinian Territories.

Follow her on Twitter: @Hanine09