More Arab Recruits in IDF

Rise reported despite objections by Islamic Movement and other Arab activists and political leaders.

Ernie Singer,

Israel News Photo: (IDF)

Arab recruitment to the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) is up 20-40% in 2008 with another significant increase expected next month. According to figures obtained by the Hebrew-language Haaretz daily, the army refused to provide accurate figures, but the number of recruits is estimated to have increased by 50 to 100 from the beginning of the year, bringing the total number of recruits in 2008 to some 300. An officer in the IDF's Personnel branch said he hoped that by next year their recruitment figure will reach 350, equaling the 2003 rate.

The rise in the Bedouin recruitment rate is attributed to their difficulty in finding well-paid jobs and problems with the local authorities in civilian life. In the past year the IDF has prepared a plan that includes lectures in schools and help in directing discharged soldiers to studies and employment. The government recently decided to reduce the development costs of plots in Druze and Arab villages by 25 percent.

Many Bedouins see military service as a way of improving their social and economic situation. For example, they believe that military service will also provide them with a better standing vis-à-vis the authorities in the ongoing struggle with the state over unauthorized construction.

The rate of non-Bedouin Arabs' recruitment has also increased in recent years.

Colonel Ramiz Ahmed, head of the population directorate of the Human Resources branch, said, "The intention is to improve the initial impression they get. They must leave the army with a direction in life." Most of the Arab recruits are placed with the desert reconnaissance brigade posted near Gaza. For many Bedouins, that means the traditional role of tracker. The IDF has decided to open additional units to Bedouin soldiers, however; currently a Bedouin major is serving in the Air Force.

One 27-year-old Bedouin commander comes from a family of IDF veterans. He joined as a combatant, trained as an officer and now commands a military team. Asked about how he feels fighting against other Arabs, he said: "a terrorist is a terrorist. Islam doesn't say you have to kill. He comes to kill here and can kill a Jew or an Arab. It's my duty to prevent that. I feel like an Israeli citizen and it's my duty to serve and contribute to the state. This is also the Bedouin's state."

Colonel Ahmed says trends in recruitment cannot be tied to events in the Arab war against the Jewish state. He notes that recruitment rates rose after a brief drop, following Arab rioting in October 2000 in northern Israel during which 12 Israeli Arabs and a Gaza resident were killed. From the end of the Al-Aqsa intifada in 2004 until last year, the rate dropped.