Yoel Levi after enlisting in the IDF

'My friends joined the Islamic State, I enlisted in the IDF'

Yoel Levi, 21, was born in Melilla, an autonomous Spanish city next to Morocco with a massive Muslim majority; he never thought he would make Aliyah alone and become a soldier in the Givati Brigade until 3 of his classmates joined ISIS

Korin Elbaz Alush |
Published: 09.24.21, 19:17
Until a few years ago, Yoel Levi, 21, never thought that one day he would live in Israel and enlist in one of Israel Defense Forces' (IDF) combat units.
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  • He was born in Melilla, an autonomous Spanish city located on the northwest coast of Africa next to Morocco where the majority of the population is Muslim.
    2 צפייה בגלריה
    יואל לוי, בן 21, התגייס במרץ 21 לחטיבת גבעתי. יואל הוא חייל בודד מהעיר מלייה, עיר בשליטה ספרדית בשטח מרוקו. הוא החייל היחיד בצבא שמשרת מהמקום הזה
    יואל לוי, בן 21, התגייס במרץ 21 לחטיבת גבעתי. יואל הוא חייל בודד מהעיר מלייה, עיר בשליטה ספרדית בשטח מרוקו. הוא החייל היחיד בצבא שמשרת מהמקום הזה
    Yoel Levi after enlisting in the IDF
    (Photo: The IDF Spokesperson's Unit)
    "Everyone thought my mother was a Muslim and my father a Christian. Had they known I was Jewish, it would not have been good for me," he says in Hebrew, a language he only learned in the past year.
    "Melilla has changed. In the past, there were many Jews there but now there are almost none."
    Levi claims that Melilla has turned into an Islamic State hub in recent years. "If you ask children what they want to do when they grow up, the answer for many would be to wage a 'holy war,' which means terrorist attacks."
    As he was about to graduate high school, something began to change inside the young man after he had learned that three of his classmates joined the jihadist group. "Every time they talked about Israel, which of course they would call Palestine, I would see the hatred in their eyes," he recalls.
    2 צפייה בגלריה
    יואל לוי, בן 21, התגייס במרץ 21 לחטיבת גבעתי. יואל הוא חייל בודד מהעיר מלייה, עיר בשליטה ספרדית בשטח מרוקו. הוא החייל היחיד בצבא שמשרת מהמקום הזה
    יואל לוי, בן 21, התגייס במרץ 21 לחטיבת גבעתי. יואל הוא חייל בודד מהעיר מלייה, עיר בשליטה ספרדית בשטח מרוקו. הוא החייל היחיד בצבא שמשרת מהמקום הזה
    Yoel Levi holding a Torah during IDF swearing-in ceremony
    (Photo: The IDF Spokesperson's Unit)
    "One day, a boy from my class did not show up to school, and I saw the other classmates were really sad. I asked what happened, and they said the police arrested him after they found out he had joined ISIS. It was not an unusual thing, but it made me think about what I wanted to do next. After seeing the hatred of the people who grew up with me, I decided to enlist in the IDF."
    Levi decided last year to make Aliyah on his own. He began studying at a yeshiva and about six months later, he enlisted in the IDF, becoming the first-ever soldier from Melilla to join the Israeli military. He was assigned to the Givati Brigade and is currently in the advanced stages of basic training.
    His parents remained in the Spanish city, still unaware of their son becoming an IDF soldier. Levi says he feels it "will be too much for them to bear."
    "After a year in Israel, I can say that there is nothing like it. People here, who do not know me, make sure I have everything. When people hear that I am a lone soldier, they offer me to stay with them, even offer me money. I'm very happy to be here."
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