Israel's Druze community surpasses Jews in their percentage of IDF enlistment and the minority group will soon mark a milestone when Colonel Ghassan Alian will take command of the Golani Brigade – yet conscripted Druze still suffer discrimination within the army.
A Yedioth Ahronoth report based on undercover recordings revealed that there are those that are still skeptical of the Druze soldier's loyalties and barred IAF Druze soldiers from joining their Jewish comrades in a military exercise in the sensitive Dimona nuclear center.
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A number of weeks ago a bus full of air force soldiers arrived at the Dimona reactor, formally known as the Negev Nuclear Research Center, for a special training exercise. After passing their IDs to the center's security officer, the group was stunned when they were informed that the three Druze members of the group – two soldiers and one officer – would not be allowed to enter.
The Nuclear Research Center in Dimona (Archives: AFP)
The three took the issue up with the officer and were told that the instruction not to let them in had come from the research center's management.
According to an audio recording of the incident, one of the three asked "Why aren't we permitted to enter, because we are Druze?"
"The man from Negev Nuclear Research Center said you need authorization to enter, and at the moment you cannot enter or anything," the officer said.
When pushed further for an answer, the guard said "I don't know, I'm not familiar with the details, the guy (from Negev Nuclear Research Center) he makes the rules. He is a civilian, from the center's security, they have their own directives. He said to ask you to wait outside, I don't know why."
Druze battalion (Archive photo: Hanan Greenberg)
Afterwards, the three recalled how their fellow soldiers couldn't believe what they were hearing, and some even volunteered to wait with them outside in the bus.
"We are like anybody else here," one of the told the security officer, "we are soldiers giving to the State." The commander had no answer: "You're right. You have no argument with me, I don't agree and am not in charge. I told the guy."
After roughly half an hour, instruction finally came to allow the three to enter the center and participate in the exercise. However, at this point the soldier's decided to remain outside in protest. Their request to speak with the security commander who had barred their entrance was refused.
"It is a horrible feeling of humiliation," one of the soldiers said. "We felt as if we aren’t worth anything. I want to take off my uniform, throw it away and run home. I don't understand why we deserve this. We are good enough to serve in the army, but not for their trust? In my village everyone enlisted into combat units, half stayed on for regular service, are they also not trusted?"
'We're blood of your blood'
The report about the incident was passed on to senior IDF officials, and as a result an investigation that confirmed the soldiers claims was conducted.
On Friday, Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon addressed the discriminatory acts against Druze soldiers in the Dimona reactor, saying "This incident is outrageous and completely incongruent with IDF policies.
"It's hard to face such discrimination and obtuseness… but such an incident will not harm the ally between the State of Israel and the Druze community. We will work to ensure that such incidents do not recur," Ya'alon added.
Kuftan Halabi, the chairman of the association for promoting the status of the Druze soldier, turned to Defense Minister Ya'alon following the incident and called on him to "put an end to the disgraceful treatment of the Druze community. Druze soldiers are integrated into every branch of the IDF, including elite units. There is no village that doesn't have fallen soldiers. We are blood of your blood. It's time to end the humiliation which my community must suffer," said Halabi.
MK Hamad Amar (Yisrael Beiteinu) commented on the indecent, saying: "Preventing the entrance of an officer and two soldiers, who serve in the air force and are members of the Druze ethnicity, shocked the entire sector.
"Members of the group and I are fed up with conduct which ends with a feeble and unclear apology until next time. Such conduct is humiliating, discriminates for the worse, and casts doubt on the loyalty of Israeli citizens of the first degree," added Amar, noting that he intends to convene in an emergency session of the Knesset's Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee on the matter.
"The security in the facility is run by a civilian company. The soldiers were delayed for examination in accordance with its security directives," the IDF Spokesperson Unit said in a statement. "The event was investigated by the IDF and lessons have been learnt so that such events do not reoccur in the future."
The Negev Nuclear Research Center said: "The center is a secure facility, entrance is conditioned on proper coordination and authorization in advance. Every person who enters the Negev Nuclear Research Center passes security check, as was the case in this incident. After the check was conducted and everything was found to be in order they were allowed to enter."
The full story was published Friday morning in Yedioth Ahronoth's weekend edition.
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