Sometimes I yearn for the amoral, analytical freedom I had during my bright college years. The chance to look at an issue from all sides and deconstruct it in an ethical vacuum to understand all points of view was invaluable for my personal growth and intellectual satisfaction. But that era, like so many throughout history, has ended, and I have arrived in reality.

My reality is that two and a half years after graduating from Yale College, I am a soldier in the Israel Defense Forces, and I have found myself in the middle of a conflict between my adopted country and those who would see it and its citizens wiped off the face of the earth. Extremist zealots from groups like Hamas and Islamic Jihad seek to annihilate the State of Israel and its diverse communities of Jews, Christians, Druze and (yes) Muslims.

Like most Israelis, I believe in and refuse to give up on the dream of peaceful coexistence with our Palestinian neighbors. Before being drafted into the IDF, I studied Arabic diligently at Yale and spent a year working for a network of Arab-Jewish schools in Israel. When Israel left Gaza in 2005, I, then about to begin my senior year in the Elm City, shared the global hope that Gazans of all political stripes and ethno-religious backgrounds would embrace the new beginning to bring peace and prosperity to our region.

Alas, that dream has been torn asunder. The Iranian surrogate Hamas, a longtime sponsor of terror, usurped the Palestinian people’s democratic processes and seized control of the Gaza Strip in a coup in 2007.

Gaza and its Palestinian residents are currently hostages of the Hamas regime. Their homes and street corners have been rigged with mines and bombs, their places of worship turned into weapons warehouses, and their schools jury-rigged as launchpads for their rockets. Indeed, Hamas has made Gaza, once home to ordinary life, a battlefield in their unholy war against the freedom and hope that have been embodied by the State of Israel in its short 60 years of life.

This perpetual existential adversity has not stopped the Israeli people from realizing the dream of a strong and democratic state. Whereas other countries might have used hostile populations on all sides as a pretense for dictatorship and tyranny, the State of Israel has become a model for multiethnic democracy. Judicial review is rigorous (a Christian Arab judge sits on the country’s Supreme Court), civilians exercise full control over the military, and women and gays enjoy legal equality (including compulsory service in the Israel Defense Forces for both). Within its democratic framework, Israel has followed the American model of welcoming immigrant groups from around the world: My basic training unit included soldiers from North America, both Eastern and Western Europe, Ethiopia, Ghana and India.

Israel’s only reward for a painful yet hope-filled departure from Gaza has been over 6,000 rockets directed against innocent Israeli civilians since August 2005. Today nearly 1 million people living in southern Israel must cower every second of the day for fear that one of these dread-inspiring creations will explode and shatter their lives. I often think of my octogenarian grandmother — would she be able to make it to a bomb shelter within the 15 seconds allotted by such a launch?

While the current situation, where IDF forces have reluctantly re-entered the Gaza strip, is not an easy one, I know that our cause is just and that we have no other choice. What country in the world would tolerate daily barrages of rockets and mortar bombs against its civilians for eight years?

I am proud to be wearing my uniform now because I, like the other women and men who wear it, am working to build a peaceful, stable Middle East despite extremist elements plotting to destroy this vision. Indeed, if not for those years of observation and analysis in the hallowed halls of the Ivy League, I may not have developed the discernment to understand the difference between the inherent justice of self-defense and the immorality of brutal aggression directed deliberately against innocent Israeli civilians.

This critical difference between the necessity of self-defense and the barbarity of terror, like the stark contrast between academic theory and palpable reality, empowers me and all other peace-seekers to continue to hope, pray and, if necessary, fight to create a better world in our three-dimensional real time so far from textbooks and lectures.

Lee Hiromoto is a 2006 graduate of Morse College.