Arabs are exempt from military service but many join as volunteers

Not only Jews: the Muslim, Christian and Druze soldiers of the Israeli Army

There is a widespread and openly erroneous idea that the soldiers of the Israeli Army are exclusively of the Jewish religion.

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The religious minorities of the State of Israel

Many people don't know it, but Israel has a multi-religious and multi-ethnic society. Although Jews are the majority of the population, according to Israel government data, 21.1% of the country's population is Arab (mostly Muslim, but there are also Christian Arabs) and there are 5% of non-Arab Christians and people with no known religion. There is also an important Druze minority in the country (Druzism is a monotheistic religion that separated from Islam at the beginning of the 11th century). In addition, there are several tens of thousands of Buddhists in the country.

Three female Israeli Army soldiers of three different religions: from left to right, one Christian, one Jewish and one Muslim. The Muslim soldier wears the identification patch with her name written in Arabic (Photo: Israel Defense Forces).

Religion in the Israel Defense Forces

Currently all chaplains in the Israel Defense Forces are Jewish rabbis, although there have already been requests to incorporate chaplains from other religions, which depends largely on the availability of ministers of each religious denomination). However, in the Israeli military ranks there is religious freedom and soldiers of different religions, as well as soldiers who do not practice any religion.

A Jewish soldier and a Muslim soldier of the Israeli Army, each praying according to the rites of their religion (Photo: Israel Defense Forces).

When taking their Flag oath, Israeli soldiers seal their commitment with their sacred books: the Tanakh (Hebrew Bible) in the case of Jews, the Bible with the New Testament for Christians , the Koran for Muslims. In the case of the Druze, their sacred book, the Book of Hikma, can only be used in their religious ceremonies.

Israeli Army soldiers swearing on their respective holy books: a Christian soldier, a Muslim soldier and a Jewish soldier (Photo: Israel Defense Forces).

Compulsory military service in Israel and its peculiarities

Although some people in other countries accuse Israel of discriminating against non-Jews, the reality is that Israeli Arabs have certain privileges in relation to military life. Firstly, in Israel there is compulsory military service for young people over 18 years of age, both men and women, although men have to serve 32 months and women 24 months. Military service is mandatory for Jews of both sexes. It is also mandatory for Druze and Circassian men (women from these communities are exempt). Christian Arabs and Muslim Arabs and Bedouins are exempt from military service, although they may serve as volunteers.

Major Ella Waweya is the highest-ranking Muslim Arab woman in the Israel Defense Forces. She is the IDF's deputy spokesperson for Arabic-language media (Photo: Israel Defense Forces).

The Bedouin units of the Israeli Army

Despite being exempt, many Christians and Muslims have enlisted in the Israel Defense Forces and have played a very important role in defending the country. In fact, in the Israeli Army there are important units made up of Bedouin Muslims, such as the Northern Tracking Unit, also known as "Bedouin Trackers", which operates mainly in the vicinity of the border with Lebanon and are specialists in patrolling desert areas, an environment to which the Bedouin communities.

Muslim Bedouin soldiers of the Northern Tracking Unit of the Israeli Army (Photo: Israel Defense Forces).

Another notable unit of Bedouin soldiers is the Desert Reconnaissance Battalion, founded in the late 1980s and also known as Unit 585 or the Bedouin Battalion. It usually operates near the border with the Gaza Strip and in its ranks also serve Arab Christians.

Muslim Bedouin soldiers of the Desert Reconnoissance Battalion of the Israeli Army (Photo: Israel Defense Forces).

Bedouin soldiers are highly valued in the Israeli Army. Currently, some 1,500 Bedouins serve in its ranks, and historically they have shown great identification with the State of Israel: 110 of them They died to defend itin the successive wars that the country has suffered since its independence in 1948.

Druze soldiers of the Sword Battalion of the Israeli Army. The soldier on the left carries the Druze flag and the one on the right carries the battalion flag (Photo: Israel Defense Forces).

Druze soldiers of the Israeli Army

Something similar happens with the practitioners of Druzism. Druze soldiers have also shown great involvement in the defense of Israel. Soldiers of that religion were the majority of the members of the Sword Battalion, also known as Unit 300, founded in 1948, the same year of Israel's independence, and also made up of Circassians (an ethnic group from Circassia, currently under Russian rule, and mostly Muslims), Bedouins, Muslim Arabs and Christians.

Lieutenant G (his name is withheld for security reasons) became the first Druze pilot in the Israeli Air Force on June 27, 2019 (Photo: Israel Defense Forces).

The Sword Battalion was dissolved in 2015 because its soldiers preferred to be part of other units of the Israeli Army. Today Russian soldiers are highly valued and some are part of the Sayeret Matkal, the special operations unit of the Israeli Army. It must be said that there is an important Zionist current in the Israeli Druze community, and the strong commitment of the Druze to Israel is confirmed with the so-called "Covenant of blood" signed by that community in 1956.


Main photo: Israel Defense Forces. Muslim Bedouin soldiers of the Desert Reconnoissance Battalion of the Israeli Army.

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