The Israeli army has decided to promote its first colonel from within the ranks of the Bedouin community, pending approval from the defense minister, the army said Monday.
Currently a lieutenant colonel, Hassan Abu Salb is slated to take responsibility for a Manpower Directorate program that aims to increase recruitment into the army from the Bedouin community.
This position will be in addition to his current role as head of the West Bank Division’s tracker unit.
His new colonel’s rank will technically be ceremonial and temporary, the army said. The military sometimes grants a higher rank to officers temporarily in order to allow them to take on a specific role they otherwise would be unable to do.
There are about 250,000 Bedouins in the country, according to Israeli government figures. The IDF could not provide an estimate of the army’s current Bedouin population, but unofficial estimates count about 1,500 members of the community currently serving in the military.
The army is hoping to triple recruitment numbers from within the community, as well as better integrate Bedouin soldiers into the military, a mission Abu Salb will take charge of.
Bedouins, like all Arab citizens of Israel, are exempt from compulsory military service.
Over the past few months, the army has been sending letters to Bedouin youth approaching enlistment age inviting them to volunteer and laying out their options, the Haaretz newspaper reported in December.
“Today, more than ever, the IDF allows you to serve meaningfully in a variety of roles and positions that contribute to the IDF and to you personally,” the letter read.
Traditionally, many Bedouin serve in the IDF elite tracking units. But the army now wants to broaden the range of options available to them.
Some 80 Bedouin signed up last year for a special two-year army program, which is shorter than the 32 months that Jewish men usually serve. In addition to their army training, the course gives recruits the opportunity to earn a truck-driving license in an attempt to make volunteering more attractive.
Relations with the Bedouin community took a downturn last month when large numbers of Israeli police turned up at the Bedouin town of Umm al-Hiran in the Negev to implement court-ordered house demolitions. In the darkness of the early morning, police shot and killed village resident Yaqoub Mousa Abu Al-Qia’an, after the car he was driving rammed into and killed 1st Sgt. Erez Levi.
Relatives of Abu al-Qia’an insisted he was not an assailant, and was not in control of the vehicle when it smashed into police lines as he had already been shot. A police video appeared to show officers firing on him before the vehicle accelerated into a group of police officers.