Mother Lode man killed in Syria

Michael Israel died while volunteering with the People’s Defense Units

By Jason Cowan, The Union Democrat, @jcowan1031

An Amador man with ties to Calaveras and Tuolumne counties was killed this week in Rojava, a region of northern Syria, where he served as a volunteer with Kurdish forces in the fight against ISIS and its allies.

Anne Colman, an administrator for Mountain Oaks School in San Andreas, confirmed the death of Michael Israel, 27, Wednesday afternoon. Israel was a student at Mountain Oaks for five years when Colman was a teacher. He graduated in 2007.

Heather Nordstrom, a local activist who met Israel around 2011 during the “Occupy Sonora” movement, said she heard Israel died in a Turkish airstrike.

Officials that represent the Kurdish group known officially as the People’s Defense Units, the primary armed division for the Federation of Northern Syria - Rojava, said on social media they were waiting on a report and could not comment.

Israel’s family in Jackson could not be reached Wednesday.

Israel joined the People’s Defense Units, acronymically translated in Kurdish as YPG, in August of 2015. He was assisting with the Rojava revolution, a political and social movement that has been striving for the implementation of democratic methods and gender equality since July 2012.

“This is not only a war against the spread of fascism by ISIS and their supporters in the Turkish government though. The YPG is creating a revolutionary environment in Rojava,” he wrote in a social media post in August 2015. “Where liberated communities are not treated as conquered peoples, but are instead empowered, allowed to self govern and be the masters of their own destinies.”

Nordstrom thought Israel grew impatient in the years leading up to his decision to join Kurdish forces. She said he was active in protests locally and in Sacramento but possibly became frustrated with the lack of action throughout the state.

“I know he got kind of impatient. He was frustrated with the lack of movement in this part of California,” Nordstrom said. “When the opportunity (to join the fight in Syria) came up, I think he found it was his calling.”

“(He might have) felt like the “Occupy” movement didn’t accomplish anything. It did on a certain level. Not politically. But socially. It got people educated. I thought he wanted to see more movement quicker.”

Colman said Israel was an “amazing kid.” He was the type of morally upright, globally conscious citizen a teacher always wanted to work with. His interests were affirmed on graduation day in 2007 when he was absent while he participated in a peace walk across the country.

“He was somewhere in Oklahoma (on the day),” Colman said.

Nordstrom said her fellow activist was someone she thought very highly of. He was humble and kind. He was passionate but “walked his talk.”

“He could relate to everyone on a human level. He was really smart. He wrote really well. He knew his politics. He saw complex issues and could explain what happened with ease.”

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The Union Democrat
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