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Joining Israel's Army of International Volunteers
by Mark Werner
Why do thousands of people from around the world volunteer to work on Israeli military bases? Why would they give up their vacation time and pay their way to and from Israel in order to work very hard there? Mark Werner, an American lawyer and son of a Holocaust survivor, grew up with a strong feeling of connection with Israel. With the breakdown of the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks and the outbreak of the second Intifada in 2000 - suicide bomber attacks on Israeli civilians - he wanted to support Israel in a more personal way than simply "writing a check." He chose a program called Sar-el, "Volunteers for Israel," which places volunteers from all over the world on Israeli military bases. The workforce provided by the Sar-el volunteers frees up Israeli soldiers and makes an important contribution to the Israeli army. Using his vacation time, Werner worked on an Israeli military base side by side with Israeli soldiers and other volunteers. He found the experience so rewarding that he returned for three more stints in the following years. Army Fatigues chronicles his experience as a volunteer in Israel during some of the most stressed (Intifada) years in its recent history. It focuses on the everyday lives of Israeli soldiers and civilians, offering an insider's view of Israel's armed forces, as well as a portrait of a democratic society structured on self-defense. The author also explores the motivations of his fellow volunteers, for whom volunteering is often part of a personal journey. Above all, this is the ongoing story of a middle-aged American white collar professional stepping out of his comfort zone to make a meaningful contribution to Israel and forge his own connections to it.