When Israel's worst environmental disaster in recent years threatened the lives of thousands of sea creatures along the shoreline, thousands of IDF soldiers mobilized to aid in the cleanup, joining the effort to repair the damage including a group of Special in Uniform volunteers, in a special initiative by the IDF’s Nature Defense Forces and the Israel Nature and Parks Authority.
In February a large oil tanker ejected oil along Israel's shores, tossing tar along the beaches and causing Israeli environmentalists to immediately sound the red alarm. The oil spill, which has been called Israeli's worst environmental disaster in recent years polluted Israel's shoreline and posed an immediate danger to all wildlife in the area. Among the animals effected was a 17-meter long fin whale which washed up onto the sea shore of Nitzanim.
Enter Special in Uniform, JNF's special IDF integration program for young adults. Under the direction of Tiran Attia, project manager of Special in Uniform, dozens of young volunteer soldiers from the Palmachim Air force base scattered about the polluted beaches with garbage bags in hand, searching for and discarding dangerous oil deposits and tar.
"I came to help the sea creatures survive," Special in Uniform volunteer Ariel Shachor said, when asked about the special environmental cleanup. "We looked for oil and tar and came to save lives."
Volunteer Meohr Chaike reported on his sentiments as well in an interview: "We collected tar because of the oil spill from the ship…It was an experience and nice to do something beyond the regular routine."
Major (res) Tiran Attia, project director, was bowled over by the young soldiers' enthusiastic responses. "I offered the soldiers a lunch break," he said, by way of illustrating the men's passionate spirit. "But they didn't take me up on the offer."
For hours, the young men scattered about the shoreline, enthusiastically filling their bags with the polluted oil deposits. The day ended on a high note, with the soldiers pleased to have had the opportunity to contribute toward Israel's environment and wildlife. As volunteer Shalev Uziel said: "It's a very good feeling knowing that the sea creatures can live here. It's good for them. Thank you, Special in Uniform and JNF."
The chairman of the association, Major General Gabi Ofir called the initiative a double volunteering opportunity. "Their service in the IDF is voluntary and now so is their shoreline cleaning. They have the most beautiful faces in the State of Israel. We are very proud of them, their parents are very proud of them, and I am certain that everyone in Israel is saluting them today. "