From the dorms to the battlefield
An Asbury College student’s experience in the Israeli Army
Ruth O’Neal looks like your average college co-ed, so most wouldn’t guess that she knows how to repair a tank.O’Neal, who spent most of her childhood in the United States, moved to Israel with her family when she was 14. She attended high school at an Israeli public arts school where she majored in photography and learned Hebrew.
After high school, all Israeli children are required to serve in the military—three years for males and two years for females. As an American, O’Neal was exempt from military service so she came back to the United States to attend Asbury College while the rest of her classmates suited up for the Army.
However, after her freshman year at the College, O’Neal went back to Israel for the summer and decided to volunteer in the Israeli Army. While she might have been able to find a different summer job, O’Neal said she had loved living and going to school in Israel and wanted to see “what is was like to be a citizen.” So she spent her summer performing minor repairs to tanks after the vehicles returned from battle.
“I wanted to do this because I saw the importance of the Army,” O’Neal said. “It brought them together—everyone having a similar experience. It was neat to see a different side of Israel through service.”
One of the more interesting parts of her experience was going to one of the settlements called Netzarim—one of the most isolated and secluded areas in Gaza. O’Neal described hearing gunfire at night, but she said by going there and witnessing how people lived, she saw God in a stronger way.
“It made me realize that even though they may have not accepted Jesus, the strong passion they had was very encouraging. It made me strengthen my own belief,” she said. “I’m a completely different person now than I was when I went there, having seen the world through a different view.”
Strengthening Christian beliefs in a place like Israel can be very difficult. O’Neal encountered a lot of discrimination as one of only a small number of Christians at her school and community. She remembers praying at school with another Christian student and being afraid that they would get in trouble with the administration if they were caught.
She says it’s been refreshing to be at Asbury College. “Freshman year was the best year of my life, it was nice to be around people who enjoy the same activities. I have friends here I hope to have the rest of my life.”