The abbreviation IDF (Israel Defense Forces) usually conjures images of Israeli commandos or special forces. What a lot of people don’t know about the IDF is that in addition to Jews, many other minorities also serve in the IDF. While some participate in National Service, many also serve in combat units. For example, the Prime Minister’s office reported that Christian enlistment in the IDF has tripled this year from about 35 to 100, in addition to about 500 who participate in National Service, according to the Jewish Advocate.
The Herev Battalion of the IDF consists exclusively of Druze soldiers. The IDF Blog reported that 83% of Druze decide to enlist in the IDF and 87% serve in the Herev Battalion. In March of 2013, the Herev Battalion was actively guarding the Northern region of Israel. The Druze battalion was originally part of the minorities battalion, but in 1974 became its own battalion. Alaa Abu Hamid, a staff sergeant in the Herev battalion, said that “everyone” in his battalion “are members of his community,” and that many “are family and friends.”
While most soldiers in the IDF grew up in Israel for a large portion of their lives, some soldiers come to Israel to volunteer in the army as lone soldiers. They come without any immediate family. Some lone soldiers come to make Aliyah while others come simply to volunteer. In February 2012, the IDF blog reported that there are over 5,000 lone soldiers serving in the IDF, and, at the time, had the first Druze lone soldier enlist. Fadi Abd Elhak grew up in Brazil and went to serve in the IDF like his father and grandfather. Elhak’s grandfather, a colonel in the reserves, was the first ever commander of the Herev battalion.
In addition to Druze who serve in the IDF, Muslims also serve. Staff sergeant Ahmed Inaim, a Bedouin, is part of a unit that guards the Israel-Gaza border. He explained how during Ramadan the Israelis and army “respect” his religion. He added that to him, the most important value of the IDF is “respect for human beings.”
While Israel is a Jewish state, it embraces all those willing to help it. This tiny country respects all religions and backgrounds, whether they be Muslim, Christian, or Jewish. In the Middle East, Israel is an island of tolerance in the midst of an ocean of intolerance.
Contributed by CAMERA Intern Eli Cohn