Former IDF soldiers file petition to stop breakup of Druze army unit

Discharged Druze Officers of Israel say dismantling Herev battalion will cause a drop in recruits from their community

Stuart Winer is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Battalion 299 soldiers in the field, February 10, 2012 (Courtesy IDF/Flickr)
Battalion 299 soldiers in the field, February 10, 2012 (Courtesy IDF/Flickr)

A group of Druze former IDF soldiers petitioned the High Court of Justice Monday to put on hold a decision to break up the Herev Battalion, an all-Druze unit that has been part of the army for over four decades.

The Discharged Druze Officers of Israel, a non-profit organization, filed the petition against Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon and IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot.

Some of those who signed the petition were also former officers and soldiers in the Herev Battalion, or Sword Battalion, that was formed in 1974 and is mostly engaged in patrol duties on the border with Lebanon.

The petitioners claimed that beyond its military purpose, the unit — Battalion 299 — serves as a vehicle to integrate Druze men into the army and then Israel society. They said dismantling the unit would result in a drop in the number of Druze who serve in the IDF.

Eisenkot ordered the reorganization in light of the Druze community’s successful service in the army and its “desire to continue to develop and integrate into the army,” the Israel Defense Forces’ spokesperson wrote in a statement.

According to a report from the Hebrew-language Walla news site, the petition also cited that although Eisenkot had held meetings with Druze officials concerning the fate of the battalion, the consultations were “just for show,” and the decision to break it up and distribute its soldiers among other units had already been reached.

Israel’s Druze community signed a pact with the nascent state in October 1948 and began serving in the IDF shortly thereafter.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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