How Does it Feel to be a Muslim Soldier in Israel’s Army?

Interview with Bedouin combat soldier in the IDF

By David Shishkoff | | Topics: IDF
Israeli soldiers attend a swearing-in ceremony as they enter the Givati Brigade unit, Photo: Zack Wajsgras/Flash90

Along with reporting the tragic aspects of the Israel-Palestinian conflict, Israel Today throughout the years has also opened a window onto hopeful signs of coexistence and Arab integration into Israeli society.

Of all the areas in Israeli society, you would not expect the IDF to facilitate Muslim integration, since the IDF is often tasked with confronting anti-Israel Muslim elements in Judea, Samaria, Gaza, abroad and even within Israel proper; and yet a small but growing minority of Arabs is choosing to volunteer and serve in the IDF.

The “flagship” of Muslim combat participation in the IDF is the “Desert Recon Battalion” of the Givati Brigade, in which many Bedouin (Muslim) young men serve. This unit has played a central role in neutralizing threats to Israel from Gaza over the years. We offer you this peek into the mindset of a young, Galilean, Arab-speaking, Bedouin Muslim Israeli who decided to serve in this unit. Here are his responses as recorded by the IDF magazine “In the camp” (Bamachaneh), translated by Israel Today to offer you insight.

The interviewee is Sergeant Yusef Abu Saluta. He grew up in the Arab-Israeli town of Kfar Manda in central Galilee 16 km (10 miles) north of Nazareth, before volunteering to serve as a combat fighter in the IDF.

Bedouin IDF soldiers in a tent they set up in a field near the border with the Gaza Strip in southern Israel


Question: Why did you want to serve in the IDF?

Sergeant Yusef: “The truth is that it was obvious to me. I knew when I reached the age of 18 I would enlist in the IDF. I grew up in a home that raised me for this. Some of my family members served in the military. It has always been my dream to enlist like everyone else and serve the country. “

What does military service look like in the Desert Recon Battalion?

“We are fighters in every sense. We enlist in the army and undergo a long training of about six months at the Givati ​​training base, including basic training and advanced training. We go through many kilometers of infantry hikes on the way to the purple beret and unique badge. We served in the Menashe area, in Judea and Samaria, and we carried out operational deployment during the height of a wave of terrorism. Among other things, we are responsible for the border in the Kissufim sector of Gaza, “on the fence” 24 hours a day, seven days a week, guarding the residents of the south and their daily routine.”

 Do the friends from the [Muslim] village know that you are a fighter in the IDF?

“They are my friends, they always knew it would happen. Of course they miss me when they hang out in the middle of the week; and occasionally a long time passes until we meet. But beyond that, there’s nothing unusual [in their attitude toward me serving]. They understand that it’s important to me, and some serve in the IDF. There are a few whom I even persuaded to serve in the IDF as well. “

Mosque in the Israeli Arab town of Kfar Manda in the Lower Galilee.

What is it like to be a Muslim soldier in an army made up mostly of Jews?

“I think there is no difference. It doesn’t matter what your background and your religion are. All that matters is that we are all here to contribute and protect the country. All my life I have lived here. I received rights from my country, and now it’s my turn to do my duty. I don’t think it’s special, I think everyone should serve. The country belongs to us all and we need to protect it. “

Have you ever experienced racism or prejudice?

“It hasn’t happen to me, but it did happen to my good friend. He went to a night club and they did not want to allow him in just because of the [Arab] name on his ID card. But that won’t stop me from serving the country; I am not afraid of it. I know what I do is important regardless of what others think of me.”

Is there a moment in the service that you will remember for a lifetime?

“I will remember my initiation oath into the IDF. We all stood there and swore allegiance. It was very exciting. I remember thinking that maybe one day we will all stand during this oath, Jews alongside Christians alongside Muslims, swearing allegiance side by side, Jewish warriors [putting their hand] on the Bible and Muslim warriors on the Koran. “

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