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Q&A

Why would an American join Israel's military? Answers to that and more

Sure, Americans can be citizens of two countries at once

The deaths in Gaza last weekend of two Israeli soldiers who grew up in the United States have caused many people to wonder about dual citizenship and about Americans serving in other countries’ militaries. Here are some questions and answers on the topic.

Can an American become a citizen of a different country without giving up U.S. citizenship?

Yes. “In order to lose U.S. nationality, the law requires that the person must apply for the foreign nationality voluntarily, by free choice and with the intention to give up U.S. nationality,” the State Department says.

Does the U.S. let its people join the Israel Defense Forces?

Yes. “Service with the IDF is something that many Americans do proudly, and we have no issues,” U.S. State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said Monday in a briefing.

What about other countries’ militaries?

Most of the time, it’s all right for a U.S. citizen to join a different country’s military. “Military service in foreign countries usually does not cause loss of nationality,” Harf said. “Many times dual citizens … just have a desire to serve.” Joining Iran’s or North Korea’s military, however, “would be quite different,” she said.

A State Department spokesman declined Monday to give the Los Angeles Times a list of countries where military service would pose a problem.

Do foreign nationals serve in the U.S. military?

Yes. The U.S. military accepts noncitizens as long as they are legal U.S. residents, have green cards, are fluent in English and otherwise meet enlistment requirements. Last year, 3,161 noncitizens joined the U.S. Army — nearly 5% of the year’s Army enlistees.

Why would an American join the Israeli military rather than the U.S. military?

The answer varies from person to person, but Edward “Ori” Getz of Houston, who joined the IDF in 2011 when he was 26 years old, talked to The Times this week about his own reasoning.

Getz said he had planned to join the U.S. military and was in the ROTC for five years but then changed his mind. “I did not want to go to Iraq and Afghanistan. I did not feel that was a reason to get killed,” he said. Israel, on the other hand, “actually needs protection from the countries around it,” he said. “It’s actually fighting for its existence. America is going to be fine without my help.”

Getz, who grew up attending Jewish day school in Texas, said Israel has always been important to him. “It’s the one place in the world that the Jews can always defend and protect themselves and not always have to run away,” he said.

He said he’d never felt any conflict between his allegiances to the United States and to Israel: “America pretty much has Israel’s back.” Getz moved back to Houston after his time in the IDF.

Does the Israeli military treat its U.S.-born soldiers differently?

Sometimes, but not because of their U.S. citizenship. The Israeli military has special consideration for “lone soldiers” — those whose parents live outside Israel or cannot support them financially.

According to Orit Mizner, director of the Southwest region for Friends of Israel Scouts, lone soldiers’ benefits include double salary, one free round-trip flight to visit family, permission to leave the country once a year to visit family, time off when their relatives visit Israel, food coupons and international calling cards.

That double salary isn’t huge, cautioned Maya Kadosh, deputy consul general at the Israeli consulate in Houston: She said a typical Israeli soldier makes about $200 to $300 a month.

How many people from the Los Angeles area are in the Israeli military?

Certainly more than 100. Mizner said about 150 Angelenos are currently serving through Garin Tzabar, a program that provides a support system to lone soldiers and their parents. That’s not the whole picture, however. Americans also can enlist in the Israeli military through other programs or directly.

Are there Palestinian Americans in Gaza?

It's unclear. Many Palestinians with dual citizenship have fled Gaza, the Jerusalem Post reported last week. The State Department doesn't know whether any Americans are in Gaza now because Americans are not required to tell the U.S. government where they are, a spokesman told The Times on Monday night. Harf said in Monday's briefing that, to her knowledge, no Palestinian Americans have been killed there in the current conflict. 

For more news about the U.S., Middle East and beyond, follow @raablauren on Twitter.

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