The Israeli Defense Force is composed of different groups of soldiers, and many of them are soldiers from ethnic or religious minority groups.
The majority of the Israeli population is Jewish, but the Israeli society also includes minority groups, like the Circassians, the Druze, and the Israeli Arabs – Christians and Muslim, and a different group of the Arab minority – the Bedouins, who are Muslim wanderers.
The army encourages these soldiers to keep their religious and cultural views and traditions while serving in the military, and helps them to be able to follow their religious customs.
Two of the minority groups serve in the Israeli military as compulsory enlistment soldiers, these groups are the Druze and the Circassians. The Circassians are a tolerant Muslim minority in Israel, an ethnic minority group with Caucasian heritage. The Circassians call themselves Adiga, and the Circassian nation is made up of twelve tribes, and each tribe speaks in a different dialect of the Circassian language. The Circassians were originally brave fighters, and they arrived to Israel in the 19th century, after they had been exiled from their homeland, the Caucasian Mountains, after the war with the Russians, and were brought to the land of Israel by the Ottoman Empire. Since then, they’ve lived in Israel in two villages in the Galilee – Kfar Kama and Rihaniya. The Circassians are involved in the Israeli social life, they speak both Hebrew and Circassian and at the same time keep their Circassian traditions
The Druze is also a very interesting ethnic and religious minority group in Israel. The Druze minority is an Arabic speaking minority living in Israel in 18 villages in the Galilee and the Carmel area, and there are also 4 Druze villages in the Golan Heights. The Druze is not only a nation; it is also a faith, which all the people consider themselves Druze follow. This faith is a monotheistic and a secret religion, which is known only to the Druze religious people called Ouqal. The rest of the Druze population is called Juhal and they are not allowed to be involved in the religious life of the community. This faith believes in universal values of tolerance, justice and loyalty to the community, the state and the leaders, and also giving equal status to both men and women and allows women to be used as religious leaders.
Both Druze and Circassians had good relations with the Jewish populations of the Land of Israel before the establishment the State of Israel. At the time of the British Mandate on Palestine (the land of Israel), the Aliya (Jewish immigration to Israel) was forbidden by the British and the Jews, many of them Holocaust survivors, who first had to go to one of the neighboring countries, mostly Lebanon and Syria, and to illegally cross the border to Israel. The Druze and the Circassians knew the area very well and used to help the Jewish immigrants to cross the borders and get to Israel. They also helped the Jewish liberation militant groups and kept weapons for the Jewish military at their villages. Some of them joined these military groups and fought with the Jewish forces during the War of Independence in 1948.
The fighting of the Druze and the Circassians warriors during the War of Independence was the beginning of very loyal relations between these minority groups and the State of Israel. After the State of Israel was established, the Druze and the Circassian leaderships asked to be included in the compulsory enlistment, which is anchored by the law. And since the 1980′s these minority groups serve in the IDF just like any other citizen in Israel. Initially they established a minorities unit, but now these soldiers serve as warriors, pilots, sailors, etc. The Druze citizens of Israel are leading the enlistment to the Israeli military, and almost 90% of the Druze young men are joining the Israeli army, mostly to combat and special units.
Christian Arab soldiers celebrating Christmas (picture courtesy of IDF Spokesperson Unit).
Not only the Druze and the Circassian minorities are serving in the Israeli military. There are also Arab soldiers in the Israeli army, both Christians and Muslims, who serve in the army as volunteers. There are some Muslim Arabs, most of them from the Muslim villages of northern Israel, serving in the military, especially in the Israeli Border Guard. The Christian population of Israel is also able to volunteer to serve in the Israeli defense force, and many of them do. Such population is the Arab Christian minority group, which serves in the Israeli military in many units. Other Christian minorities from Israel are the Armenians, who are known for their volunteering to serve in the Israeli military, especially the Armenians living in the city of Haifa, and the Lebanese community of the South Lebanon Army soldiers who fled to Israel after the Israeli withdrawal from southern Lebanon in 2000.
A special group of the Arabic minority is the Bedouins. The Bedouins are Muslim Arabs, originally wanderers from the Arabian Peninsula, who settled in Israel in two different areas: the Galilee in the north and the Negev desert in the south. The Bedouins are the people of the desert and those who live in the south of Israel still keep the old Bedouin traditions of the wanderers, yet the Bedouins of the north are more liberal and live modern village lives. Most of the Bedouins serve in the Israeli military as trackers thanks to their broad geographical knowledge. They have a special tracking unit, which is also known as the Bedouin unit.
A known Middle Eastern idiom says: “The one, who wants to eat from the Sultan’s table, has to be ready to hold the Sultan’s sword.” A large group of the Israeli minorities accepted the mission of holding the sword of the sultan, and many of them serve in the Israeli military fighting to protect their families, friends and homeland. We all fight as one nation: Israeli – Jews, Druze, Christians and Muslims for one Israel of many people.