JERUSALEM – A Canadian-born Israeli woman who joined a Kurdish militia to fight against the Islamic State group said that after a stint in prison, she felt compelled to do something positive with her life and battle against the "genocide" unfolding in Syria and Iraq.
Gill Rosenberg, 31, was among the first female volunteers to fight in the Syrian civil war. She claims to have spent eight months between November and June on the front lines with Kurdish guerrillas in Syria and a Christian militia in Iraq, Dwekh Nawsha, fighting against the Islamic State group. There were false reports in December that she had been captured and possibly killed.
Rosenberg, who grew up in White Rock, British Columbia, became an Israeli citizen in 2006 and served in the Israeli military in a search and rescue unit.
"I saw they had female fighters, fighting right alongside the men, treated as equals and I thought, 'Why not me, I know I can help'"
- Gill Rosenberg
She later spent four years incarcerated in a U.S prison for her part in a phone scam that bilked elderly people out of millions of dollars. Wearing a reversed baseball cap, sports shirt and large chain, she told reporters Thursday that she had been "young and stupid" and regretted her involvement in the scam.
Rosenberg said she became interested in the Syrian conflict and Kurdish cause soon after her release from jail last summer. She said she was angered by images of the Islamic State group's violence. The extremist group has released numerous videos beheading and torturing political opponents, suspected spies, women and religious minorities.
"I saw everything that was on social media," Rosenberg said. "For me that was a big difference between just a regular war and genocide, and I couldn't stand by and allow that to happen."
Rosenberg said she made contact on Facebook with a Kurdish militia group with a large online following. She then traveled to Erbil, Iraq, where the group helped her cross into Syria.
"I saw they (the Kurdish militia) had female fighters, fighting right alongside the men, treated as equals and I thought, 'Why not me, I know I can help,'" Rosenberg said.
While Israel is believed to have covert ties with Iraqi Kurds, Israeli citizens are barred from traveling to Syria or Iraq. Rosenberg traveled on her Canadian passport.
Rosenberg said she kept her Israeli citizenship discreet while fighting with the Kurdish militia, many of whose members she said were supportive of Israel.
The Shin Bet, the Israeli internal security agency, said it questioned Rosenberg upon her return to Israel. It gave no further details and would not say whether any other Israeli citizens are fighting with Kurdish or Islamic State group forces. Israel has arrested several citizens for alleged links with the Islamic State group.
Rosenberg said she left Iraq because changes in the political situation made her work more dangerous and complicated.
"I felt that I could come back and give more to the effort not by fighting on the front lines, but by either raising awareness and talking to people about it and my experiences," Rosenberg said.
Representatives of the YPG, the main Syrian Kurdish militia, and Dwekh Nawsha confirmed that Rosenberg had served with them. A YPG spokesman said she had received ideological and weapons training and joined a fighters unit, though he did not know whether she saw any combat. A Dwekh Nawsha spokesman said she had served in support roles and not participated in actual fighting. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity, citing security reasons.
Kurdish groups say there are dozens of westerners fighting with them. Over 3,400 westerners are estimated to be fighting with the Islamic State group.