Bedouin and Christian Arabs, the Israeli Army Wants You

Israeli army asks some of Israel's Arabs to sign up voluntarily in return for shortened service and a truck driver's licenses.

In this photograph made on Sunday, Dec. 22, 2013, an Israeli soldier wears crucifixes during an Israeli Christians recruitment forum in Nazareth.
Dan Balilty, AP

The Israel Defense Forces has sent letters to young Israeli Bedouin in recent months inviting them to volunteer for the army  adding on to its two-year-old efforts to get Christian Arabs to join.

“Today, more than ever, the IDF enables you to serve meaningfully in a variety of channels that will contribute to the IDF and you personally," wrote the head of the Manpower Planning and Administration Brigade, Brig. Gen Eran Shani.

"Volunteering for military service is a way you can give and contribute to both yourself and your country and even get something in return. I would be happy to see you volunteering for the IDF and contributing to the state, along with your own advancement and the development of your abilities.”

In 2014 the IDF sent its first “volunteer orders” to Christian Arabs, who, like the Bedouin, may serve in the army. Until then, Christians who wanted to volunteer had to do it by approaching the military themselves.

Some 800 invitations were sent to Christian youths that year, inviting them to attend initial selection for army service. But the initiative was halted after the military decided that the letters weren't having much of an effect. The effort was renewed this year, with the volunteer orders going to both the Christian Arabs and Bedouin.

To increase the number of Bedouin serving in the army, the IDF is offering them reduced service of only two years. They will first attend a three-month preparatory course, after which the IDF will decide who goes on to do full army service.

So far, the IDF has drafted some 80 Bedouin youth using that method. Thirty of them are from the south of the country and the rest from the north. To make joining more attractive, each participant receives a truck driver’s license from a driving school on the base.

“Volunteers ask what they're going to get out of it. Many go into transportation because it's a profession with opportunities and is well-paid,” said a manpower officer involved in the effort.

“We tell the Bedouin that we want them in all possible units. We're investing a lot of effort in it and I can feel a change in the attitude.”

According to the army, 357 Bedouin signed up in 2015, including about 100 from the south. The army is also considering raising the pay of Bedouin soldiers, a move that requires legal approval.

The number of Christian Arabs joining the army has dropped in recent years, largely because of the dispute within the Israeli Arab community over military service. “Arabic-speaking Christians live in mixed communities and we don’t have a way of getting to them,” the officer said.

To improve the trend, the IDF and Defense Ministry have developed a plan under which a pre-army program will prepare the youths for military service, and small enlistment centers will be opened in Haifa, Nazareth and Ma’alot to be in closer touch with the community.