An army of volunteers help plug shortfall in protective gear for IDF fighters
Josh Kurzer fighting with his reservist unit in Gaza. Credit: Courtesy.

“The army is ensuring that all soldiers receive the required operational equipment,” Spokesperson’s Unit claims.

By Etgar Lefkovits
June 28, 2024

When Josh Kurzer’s reserve paratrooper unit rushed to the Gaza border in the wake of the Hamas terrorist attacks in southern Israel on Oct. 7, its members were issued military vests without the critical protective ceramic plates. After an emergency campaign, the girlfriends and wives of the men in his unit secured the protective gear within days.

“In the beginning of the war, no one was ready, and there were lots of things missing,” the London-born Kurzer told JNS. “Had we entered the fight straight away, we would have done so with vests without ceramic plates.”

The rush to equip the emergency call-up of 360,000 reserve soldiers with basic gear that was all too often lacking or antiquated would quickly become a national and international civilian project. It also united soldiers and officers with civilian volunteers in Israel and the Diaspora as the army initially struggled to meet the demand.

It is a campaign that has continued throughout the war, triggered by the surprise Hamas-led assault, which killed some 1,200 people and saw about 250 others abducted to Gaza, which is now in its ninth month.

“For tens of thousands of soldiers, there was an urgent life-and-death need for basic equipment that was lacking in the army,” said Daniel Mael. His American nonprofit organization, dubbed “Unit 11741” after a ZIP code in suburban Suffolk County on Long Island, N.Y., has raised more than $8 million for equipment over the last eight months. 

The 31-year-old Kurzer, who lives in Tel Aviv, was soon fighting with his unit in Gaza. When they were called up, they had been given some helmets from the last century, he said, that were both “heavy and uncomfortable.” And so, a friend from the unit who had family in Los Angeles raised funds to send them a stock of state-of-the-art helmets. As volunteer WhatsApp groups spread like wildfire, another comrade secured tactical uniforms that were more comfortable in the humid summer weather.

Help from around the globe

During a break from his reserve duty, Kurzer worked to procure protective eyewear for the unit’s next stint in northern Israel, where Hezbollah was raining down thousands of projectiles.

Josh Kurzer in the Gaza Strip. Credit: Courtesy.

Back in the United States, Mael, who has made seven trips to Israel since Oct. 7, said: “My only priority was keeping as many soldiers alive as possible.”

With the army insisting it had enough supplies, his efforts to reach out to the Israeli Ministry of Defense or lawmakers went nowhere. “I didn’t have time to sit through a bureaucratic process and wait for things to change.”

Adi Vaxman, founder of Operation Israel, said “there was no cooperation with the Israeli government.” Her NGO has raised millions of dollars for critical equipment for frontline soldiers—from body armor and other tactical gear to medical devices, including portable cardiac monitors and ultrasound machines.

Vaxman, who organized a clothing drive for Israeli soldiers in an earlier military campaign, said she had done nothing on this scale before as Israel fought back against the worst single-day attack on the Jewish people since the Holocaust.

As the war continued, the situation on the ground began to improve as the IDF strove to fill the gaps in equipment and gear from private donors began pouring in on El Al flights. (A recent decision by the national carrier, to end the 75% discount for donation baggage to Israel created such an outcry that it was subsequently rescinded.)

“Things got better, but it took a long time,” Kurzer said. “They weren’t ready in the beginning, and a lot of good equipment was missing. There were many things that could been improved with a little more money.”

Nearly nine months later, the American groups involved in donations of gear have continued their efforts.

Kurzer and his comrades in Gaza. Credit: Courtesy.

IDF denies

The IDF Spokesperson’s Unit said on Tuesday that there are no shortfalls in gear for soldiers.

“Given the extensive mobilization of reserves at the onset of an operation, the IDF has procured tens of thousands of protective items to serve the soldiers,” the unit wrote to JNS.

“There are no known logistical deficiencies or gaps across all units. Any specific cases that arise will be addressed based on the circumstances. The IDF is ensuring that all soldiers receive the required operational equipment.”

The statement added that the military conducts scheduled inspections across all divisions to assess the quality of contributions and monitor any equipment shortages for the soldiers.

“It was emphasized to the various units that the unauthorized use of non-standard equipment integrated into the units may pose significant operational defects and/or safety risks,” the Spokesman’s Unit added.

For the paratrooper, the hands-on efforts of comrades, friends and families in Israel and abroad made a clear difference on the battlefield.

“Thanks to the equipment we got from abroad, we were able to fight at the highest level possible which improved our mission,” he said.  “The thing is my story is not unique at all.”

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