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‘I’m an IT worker from Radlett drafted to fight for Israel

A British 24-year-old drafted by Israel to fight against Hamas says he is “petrified” of what might happen in battle, but he is a “firm believer” in conscription as Israelis “rely on the soldiers” to protect their homeland.

Josh Banks, an IT worker who moved from his hometown of Radlett, Hertfordshire, to Israel when he was 18, was called up to join the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) on Saturday after Hamas opened fire against civilians over the border with Gaza.

Mr Banks, who has Israeli citizenship through his parents, became a reserve for the IDF after serving with the army for two years and eight months at the age of 19, he told i.

In Israel, at least two years’ military service is compulsory for most Israeli citizens over the age of 18.

The Israeli military has called up about 360,000 reservists from across the world to join the fight against Hamas in one of its largest mobilisations in history.

On Saturday morning, when the Middle East’s most powerful army was caught off guard by Hamas militants paragliding into its territory, Mr Banks said his commander called and told him to pack and leave for the military base right away.

Mr Banks, who usually lives in the central city of Herzliya, said his roommate suggested recording a video for his family “in case anything happens to you”, an idea the server technician initially “laughed off”.

Josh Banks on a moped, provided to Claire Gilbody Dickerson
Mr Banks said he is ‘petrified’ at what might happen (Photo: Josh Banks)

“In my head, you are a soldier, you need to be strong, brave and show the other side that they don’t scare you,” he said.

Mr Banks decided to film himself nonetheless, and when he started recording, the 24-year-old burst out crying. “I truly couldn’t control myself, it took me four attempts of recording a video to tell my family how much I loved them.”

His family, who are all still in Hertfordshire, have been calling him “round the clock” since he was deployed to the northern front as part of Israel’s efforts to strike back against Hamas, a militant group that dozens of countries including the US, UK, Canada, the EU and Egypt, have proscribed as a terrorist organisation.

When his family calls, it’s “very hard to hold back the tears”, Mr Banks said as the death toll on both sides has risen to a total of more than 2,150 in just a few days.

“In my head, nothing can happen to myself until I am speaking to people who love and care about me, and when I am speaking to those people, every reality goes through my brain and it’s petrifying,” Mr Banks said.

“But at the same time I’ve seen what these monsters, these animals, have done to my people from the Gaza strip, I’ve seen the atrocities they have caused.

“Littered bodies of children, of women, of the elderly and men of course… like it’s trash. Dead bodies without limbs, without heads […] they have to be stopped and if we are not there to protect our people then no one will be there to protect our people.”

Josh Banks with girlfriend, provided to Claire Gilbody Dickerson
Mr Banks said he struggles to hold back the tears when his loved ones call to check on him (Photo: Josh Banks)

Israel’s retaliation has been fierce, with airstrikes on roads, buildings and other sites in Gaza. It has also sent huge reinforcements towards the exclave.

To the 2.3 million residents of Gaza, the mobilisation and intense bombardment look ominously familiar: the prelude to a ground invasion that may match, or even eclipse, Israel’s incursions in 2008 and 2014.

Speaking of what spurred him to move to Israel, Mr Banks said “fell in love with the country immediately” when he arrived in 2018.

Mr Banks, who was brought up in a Jewish environment in Hertfordshire and “celebrated the independence of Israel my whole life”, added: “The people of Israel are truly a family and from the first moment I was here, I felt like I belonged. It’s a feeling I’ve not had anywhere else.

“For me, if you find a place that you’re happy in, you should do everything you can to stay there and look after it.”

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