As Bedouin Sign-ups Drop, Israeli Army Cuts Terms to Two Years

The Israel Defense Forces seeks to reverse the decline in the number of young Bedouin men who volunteer for military service.

A Bedouin soldier examines the ground for markings at the border of Israel and the Gaza Strip May 19, 2014 in Nahal Oz.
Ilia Yefimovich, Getty Images

As a result of a drop in the military enlistment rate for Bedouin men, the army is preparing to allow members of the community to serve for only two years, instead of two years and eight months.

Bedouin are not drafted into the Israel Defense Forces, but they can volunteer to serve. In 2014 only 280 Bedouin signed up, compared to 320 in each of the two previous years and 400 a year a decade ago.

The new format is expected to go into effect starting with the November 2016 induction, Bedouin enlistees will sign up for two years instead of 32 months. They will take part in a placement program, followed by three months of preparatory training that will be considered part of their service. This includes security screening, Hebrew-language and other courses and unit assignments. The courses will take place at the Mikhveh Alon Base, in the Galilee.

At the end of the three-month training program, the enlistees can decide whether or not to continue in the army, while the army may also decide to discharge those who arent suited for service. Those who continue in the IDF will serve only two years. The army will prefer to assign these soldiers to combat units, in particular the Bedouin patrol battalion, but will also allow them to serve in other units, like technological units. After they complete their service, the soldiers can sign up for the standing army, go for vocational training, or take driving lessons.

The IDF hopes the new program will encourage more Bedouin to serve. A senior Personnel Directorate officer had said in the past that the army would focus on enlisted more Bedouin from the south, which is where most of the drop in enlistment was registered. In 2015 the army managed to stabilize the number of enlistees from the south, but the army is interested in further improving service rates.

Army sources believe that Operation Protective Edge and the demonstrations against the Prawer plan to regularize Bedouin settlement in the south have reduced the motivation of Bedouin youth to serve. At the start of the second intifada, for example, Bedouin enlistment dropped by around half.

We see what happens among young Bedouin; those who want to study go to Jordan or study in the territories, and not infrequently they return with radical ideas, the personnel officer said. In an effort to halt the drop in enlistment, the senior officer said he believed it was worth paying these young men a higher salary to encourage them to enlist, because afterward they integrate into society.

However, young Bedouin veterans have complained that after their army service they have more difficulty finding work than their friends who didnt do military service.