The IDF is increasing the amount of high-school students set to undergo week-long courses on military combat bases, and also establishing a new program for Arab teens, among them both Muslims and Christians.
Gadna, an acronym for Gdudei No'ar ("youth battalions"), is an Israeli military program that prepares young people for military service in the Israel Defense Forces.
At least 1,200 students from across the country are expected to experience the unique Gadna course inside an IDF combat training base by the end of the current school year.
Last year, 800 students underwent the special Gadna in combat training bases, mostly between the ages of 16-17.
The increase in the amount of students who can undergo this course came following a high demand by educational institutions asking to give their students a course which will better prepare them for military service.
The initiative has so far been even more successful than anticipated, with an additional increase planned for the next school year.
The student will undergo Gadna training in combat training bases serving the Artillery Corps, Engineering Corps and Nahal Brigade, and even in Bahad 1, the IDF school for military officers, and in a restricted military area near the border with Lebanon, alongside Golani Brigade's Reconnaissance Battalion.
This is a significant step up in the students' exposure to actual military experience.
As part of the Gadna, students watched military and artillery exercises, took part in field training, listened to combat stories by senior soldiers, shot firearms and participated in combat simulations, while being instructed by infantry commanders and Education and Youth Corps soldiers. They were accompanied throughout all this by their school teachers.
The IDF made sure to focus acceptance to this special Gadna from schools in which students preferred being drafted to non-combat-oriented military service.
"We're aiming to normalize this Gadna so that every military training base, like the ones used by Givati and the Paratroopers' Brigades, could host the course on a regular basis," a senior Education and Youth Corps officer told Ynet.
At the same time, the Education and Youth Corps is preparing to hold the first Gadna for Arab teens who are interested in military service in May.
This came following a slow but steady increase in the amount of Arab teens, both Muslim and Christian, who expressed their intent to volunteer and serve in the IDF.
As of today, about 350 Muslim and Christian Arabs are serving in the IDF. The first Gadna for Arab youths will be held in Education and Youth Corps's Tzalmon base in the Galilee, and will have Arab soldiers who will guide the teens through the new course.
It is set to be a normal Gadna, like the usual one held for Jewish students. "I don't intend for an Arab soldier to change his name to a Jewish name or anything, I just aim to preserve the multi-cultural outlook," said the officer.
(Translated & edited by Lior Mor)