Druze in the village of Majdal Shams
Druze in the village of Majdal Shams Photo by Archive
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Is it the duty of the Israel Defense Forces to protect all citizens without considering their origin or ethnic background, or is the people's army supposed to defend the Jewish people only? This question was raised by the parents of young Druze citizens who recently received a booklet, "A guide to those being recruited to the security forces."

The booklet, signed by Col. Gadi Agmon, the commander of Meitav, the military induction base, includes details about the processes that every new recruit is expected to go through, including registration, checking personal details, and establishing medical and qualitative data. The booklet also provides details about the actual induction. What annoyed those parents, however, was its opening paragraph, signed by Agmon, that read: "In view of the future challenges expected to be faced by the IDF as the army of the state of Israel, you are called on today to appear for service. The IDF sees you as the next generation...that is committed to the security of the Jewish people in their land in peace and in security."

On Tuesday, the IDF said, in response to a question from Haaretz, that it planned to correct the wording and apologized for the distress caused to non-Jewish candidates for recruitment.

Salim Abu Zayid, originally from Ramah village but now living in Karmiel, was one of the many parents who received the booklet. His son, who is presently in eleventh grade, is due to be recruited after high-school. In reference to the controversial paragraph, Abu Zayid says, "We, the members of the Druze community, are obliged by law to serve in the army even though the issue is a subject for discussion among the members of the community. In principle, I don't have a problem with my son serving, but that sentence implies that my son - and many other good young men who aren't Jewish - will be enlisted in order to protect only the Jews. I think the duty of every army in the world is to defend citizens, whoever they may be, despite differences in nationality, race and ethnic background."

Abu Zayid says that when his son saw the booklet, it caused him to question his upcoming service in the army if the controversial line were not amended: "He said to me he would think twice whether or not to serve unless they change the text."

Another parent, a former IDF officer, said the wording was strange. "It's as if the IDF doesn't know that there are soldiers who aren't Jewish, and that more than one and a half million people live in this country who aren't Jewish. If this is merely a technical matter and a mistake on the part of someone or other in the IDF, it must be corrected immediately. But if it is a sentence that reflects policy, this is a very serious matter. Therefore, steps must be taken immediately to change the wording and to clarify that the task of the IDF is to defend the state of Israel and all those citizens living in it."

Druze still join the IDF in relatively high numbers. Their percentage of enlistment is among the highest in comparison to other minorities. The IDF does not usually report exact data on the number of minority recruits, but according to figures from reserve officers, the number of inductees among Druze in the past decade was above 80 percent. In 2010, for example, 82 percent of young Druze enlisted in the army.

On the other hand, sources in the Druze community who oppose the enlistment of their youth, point to a drastic reduction in the percentage of those who enlist.

Without weighing in on the percentage of recruits, IDF sources admit that the wording of the booklet has caused dissatisfaction and promise to correct it in the wake of questions from Haaretz. The corrected wording will refer to defending all citizens of the state of Israel, they said.