Army drive aims to boost number of Bedouin soldiers

Defense Ministry said to offer pre-military courses, vocational and academic tracks to community as incentive to serve in IDF

Illustrative: Bedouin IDF soldiers in a tent they set up in a field near the Gaza border in southern Israel, on July 6, 2014. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
Illustrative: Bedouin IDF soldiers in a tent they set up in a field near the Gaza border in southern Israel, on July 6, 2014. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

A joint Defense Ministry and army campaign is aiming to increase the number of Bedouin soldiers in the Israel Defense Forces by offering pre-military vocational and academic studies.

The new drive is being presented to the Bedouin community as a way to integrate into Israeli society or launch a military career, the Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper reported Tuesday.

Members of the Bedouin community have been serving in IDF for decades, but IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi is interested in significantly increasing enlistment, explained Pini Ganon, head of the Bedouin division within the Defense Ministry’s social branch.

“Every year we have 450-500 Bedouin joining the army,” Ganon said. “The chief of staff intends to multiply their numbers.”

“Military service opens doors both in the service and in civilian life,” added Ganon.

Since the campaign began, some 500 Bedouins have expressed an interest in joining the army, according to the report, which did not specify when the recent drive was launched.

Traditionally, many Bedouins serve in the IDF elite tracking units. But the army now wants to broaden the range of options available to them.

There are four new tracks offered to members of the Bedouin community. They can join the army and serve in infantry units, or gain vocational training to be qualified as drivers, technicians, medics and other such positions.

Another track offers the chance to attend academic studies for professions in medicine, engineering, law and other subjects, while a technology track offers electronics and electricity studies.

After completing the courses, the participants join the army, where they are assigned based on the skills they acquired during the preparatory studies.

As part of the efforts to assist members of the community in their army service, a pre-military dormitory academy was opened in the Galilee region in the north of the country. There are currently 25 students who were found to meet the criteria and entry requirements for the program, the report said.

Over 10 months, the academy provides Hebrew lessons, physical education, leadership training, and studies on Israel and its heritage sites. At its conclusion, the students begin their army service.

Another 10-month program, currently being run for the second time, prepares participants for advanced studies with courses in language, mathematics and critical reading skills. Thirty students finished the first program, which prepared them to take psychometric exams which can qualify them for post-high school studies.

The army is also working to expand an existing program that enables soldiers to combine their military service with community work in Bedouin towns.

“We recently extended the program to the Misgav Regional Council area,” Ganon said, adding that the arrangement has proven effective. “There is communication between the soldiers and the population, which helps with Hebrew studies, something that is very lacking in general in the Arab sector.”

There are about 250,000 Bedouins in the country, according to Israeli government figures. Bedouins, like all Arab citizens of Israel, are exempt from compulsory military service.

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