Three Israeli Air Force servicemen who arrived with their unit at the nuclear reactor in Dimona as part of a training exercise were asked to remain outside the facility — because they were Druze.
According to a report in Yedioth Ahronoth later confirmed by Israeli radio stations, a bus full of IAF personnel arrived at the Dimona site in recent weeks to take part in security training. The soldiers were asked to give their military IDs to the officer running the drill. One officer and two soldiers, all Druze, were denied entry to the facility while the remainder were let in.
Israel’s 120,000 Arabic-speaking Druze community, who belong to a religious sect founded in the 11th century when it split off from Shi’ite Islam, is one of only a few Arabic-speaking minorities whose members choose to be drafted into the IDF alongside the Jewish majority. The Druze serve in the IDF in a much higher proportion to their population than Jewish Israelis, the Yedioth article noted.
When the soldiers asked for clarification as to why they were being turned away, the officer running the drill explained that it was a decision handed down by the Negev Nuclear Research Center, the administration of the Dimona reactor.
Kuftan Halabi, chairman of an organization for the advancement of Druze soldiers, called on Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon to “stop the fiasco” in the treatment of the Druze community. Opposition leader Isaac Herzog (Labor) said that “more than any incident, it testifies to a lack of logic, to insensitivity, stupidity and institutionalized racism.”
A recording provided to the paper gave a detailed account of the incident. “The guy [from the research center] said you needed to get clearance, and at the moment you can’t enter like the rest of them,” the commanding officer can be heard saying.
When pressed further for an explanation by one of the Druze soldiers, the officer replies, “I don’t know, I’m not in the know; he’s the one giving the orders. I have no idea. He’s a civilian, the security person for the reactor, and he makes their rules. He said he’s asking you to remain outside, I don’t know why.”
The three Druze soldiers said their peers couldn’t believe what they’d just heard, and several offered to remain behind in the bus with their comrades.
“We’re like everyone else here,” they told the officer in charge. “We are soldiers who give to the state.”
“You’re right,” he said. “Your fight’s not with me, I am not related [to the decision] and I agree. I also said it to the security official [in the reactor].”
After half-an-hour waiting outside, the three were finally allowed into the facility to take part in the exercise — but at that point they opted to remain outside in protest of the discrimination against them. The security official who initially refused to let them in refused to speak with them face-to-face, the paper reported.
“It was a terrible feeling of humiliation,” one the soldiers said. “We felt like we were worth nothing. I wanted to get out of my uniform, throw it away and run home. I don’t understand why this happened to us. We are good enough to serve in the army, but they don’t trust us? In my village everyone serves in combat, and half remain as career soldiers. What, they don’t trust them either?”
A report of the incident was forwarded to senior IDF officials, and an investigation was launched into the soldiers’ claims.
“Security at the facility and inspection at its entrance is managed by a civilian company, which checked the soldiers in accordance with the regulations there,” the IDF Spokesperson’s Unit said. “The incident will be investigated by the IDF and will yield lessons for preventing the recurrence of similar incidents in the future.”
The nuclear research facility told the paper in response that entry to the site requires prior coordination and approval and that “anyone who enters the Nuclear Research Center passes a security check at the gate, as in this case. After performing the check, which found everything in order, the soldiers were permitted entry.”