As Palestinian terror attacks wash through the country, and Israeli-Palestinian clashes intensify in the West Bank and at the Gaza border, they also bring to the forefront the complexities of the conflict, where it is not always a case of Muslims against Jews.
Case in point: On Friday morning, a Palestinian Muslim stabbed and wounded an Israeli soldier. The soldier, however, was also a Muslim — a Bedouin soldier and a member of the army’s tracker unit.
Speaking to The Times of Israel later in the day, the soldier’s commander called the 26-year-old, who was lightly-to-moderately injured, “a real professional.”
The commander, a captain, has served as a senior tracker in the Etzion and Binyamin Brigades in the West Bank for three years and asked not to be named in this article. Neither has the injured Bedouin soldier been named.
He said his subordinate lives in the small Bedouin town of Lakiya in southern Israel. He is “married and father to a little girl.”
In the summer of 2014 the wounded soldier took part in search efforts for three missing Israeli boys — Gil-ad Shaar, Naftali Fraenkel and Eyal Yifrach — who were kidnapped and later found murdered by Palestinian terrorists.
“During last summer’s Operation Brother’s Keeper, he was part of the team that located the three boys who were killed,” his commander said.
On Friday, the soldier was part of a team charged with helping Palestinians enter Israel to take part in the ongoing olive harvest.
“They were checking the Palestinians before letting them into Israel. At some point, one of the Palestinians took out a knife and attempted to stab one of the IDF trackers in the neck. The tracker defended himself, shooting his assailant two times in the shoulder. Other forces in the area shot the attacker as he turned to escape — two bullets in his leg,” the commander said.
The military’s tracker unit is made up almost entirely of Bedouins, who are specially trained to locate footprints and to “read” the landscape in order to determine if any individuals — possibly enemies — have passed through.
IDF trackers work primarily on Israel’s borders, monitoring the land next to fences for evidence of infiltration.
“There are trackers in all of the regional commands — in Northern, Southern and Central Command — along all of Israel’s borders,” the commander said.
In the West Bank, however, they work more to locate the perpetrators of an attack after they have already run off.
“Our mission is to arrive at the scene of the incident, locating the tracks of the terrorist, and run after them in pursuit until we are able to lead additional forces straight to the terrorist’s home,” he said.
Muslim and Christian Arab citizens of Israel, including Bedouins, are permitted to serve in the IDF, but are not required to do so in the way that Jewish Israelis are. (Some 22% of Israeli citizens are not Jewish.)
“We will continue to carry out the mission. We started enlisting in the IDF in 1948 with the creation of the country. My father was in the military, my uncle — Amos Yarkoni — like me also ‘grew up’ in the IDF, serving as head of Shaked Reconnaissance Battalion,” the commander added.
Amos Yarkoni, born Abd el-Majid Hidr, was a Muslim Bedouin from northern Israel who befriended iconic Israeli military leader Moshe Dayan and joined the IDF in 1948. When he joined the IDF, Yarkoni Hebraicized his name to make his devotion to Israel even clearer.
But Bedouin attitudes towards the state are not homogeneous. Many feel they are discriminated against by the state, and those who serve often refrain from speaking openly about their military service.
The perpetrator of a deadly terrorist attack at Beersheba’s Central Bus Station on Sunday was an Israeli Bedouin, Muhanad Alukabi, from near the town of Hura. Alukabi killed an Israeli soldier and wounded several other Israelis in the attack.
But the commander was quick to point out that parts of the terrorist’s family, including Alukabi’s mother, were originally from the Gaza Strip. “They’re not full Bedouins,” he said.
“The person who carried out the attack in Beersheba brought shame to the Bedouin population,” the captain said, “but that will not impact the community. We are a part of the society. And we will continue to defend the State of Israel.”