New figures made available by the Israel Defense Forces show the number of Muslim and Christian Arab Israeli volunteers in the army is growing.
The deaths of five soldiers from the IDF’s Desert Reconnaissance Unit (the so-called Bedouin unit) in an attack on an army outpost near Rafah earlier this month drew public attention to the service of Bedouin in the IDF.However, the reports on the incident paid little attention to the fact that most of the dead were not Bedouin: Three of the five soldiers killed were Muslim Arabs from villages in the Galilee and Triangle, who had volunteered for military service.Chief of Staff Moshe Ya’alon paid condolence visits to the three families – the first such visits by a chief of staff.During one of the visits, Ya’alon shook the hand of a relative of one of the soldiers, a Palestinian woman from Jenin, who had married into the family of the deceased soldier, and had taken up residence in Israel.If among the Bedouin community its soldiers encounter hostile reactions and charges of aiding Israel’s war against their Palestinian brothers, the situation is far worse for Muslim and Christian Arabs.While Bedouin have been volunteering for the IDF, primarily as trackers, for dozens of years, Muslim and Christian Arabs have been doing so, on a very small scale, only since the 1990s.The numbers increased slightly prior to 2000, but then fell significantly with the outbreak of the intifada in September of that year and Israel Police’s killing of 13 Arab citizens in the October riots.Nevertheless, partial figures given to Haaretz by the IDF indicate a renewed increase in the enlistment of Muslim and Christian youth over the past two years.The number of Muslim volunteers in 2003 was 64.5 percent higher than in 2000, while the enlistment of Christians increased by 16 percent over the same period.A senior source at the IDF’s Personnel Directorate notes that incomplete figures for 2004 show a further increase, at a rate of some 20 percent, in the enlistment of youth from both sectors.The IDF does not furnish exact numbers, but it appears that the annual number of volunteers from both sectors together does not exceed 150. About half this number serves in infantry units, primarily the Desert Reconnaissance Unit.Soldiers not medically fit for combat serve in combat-support positions such as drivers.A source at the Personnel Directorate attributes some of this increase to the intensive work carried out by IDF representatives in Arab villages, particularly those with mixed populations.The IDF officials inform high school students and youth movement members of career opportunities in the army; but, the Personnel Directorate source notes, the IDF tries not to “push its way into” these communities, and focuses only on those to which it is invited.Communities that are also home to Druze residents, who are required to enlist, and Bedouin are considered more likely targets, because they are more open to inviting the IDF representatives.“From our point of view, we have an interest in incorporating these populations,” says the Personnel Directorate source. “From the point of view of those who enlist, it is a step toward becoming more a part of Israeli society.”The source adds that the IDF has boosted its Hebrew-language teaching activities among members of the Desert Reconnaissance Unit, and also has diversified its professional training program for these soldiers so they can find work after they are discharged.
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