Among the 120 soldiers who received a 'Medal of Excellence' at the President's Residence on Thursday, one cadet currently in training at the Bahad 1 base garnered particular attention. The cadet, a Muslim who grew up in an Arab village, told Ynet in an interview after the ceremony: "I am doing something that is really for the State of Israel."
Ever since I was little, I wanted to join the army – I would see soldiers at bus stops and say, 'wow, I really want to be a soldier'".
"I grew up all my life in a religious Muslim home," the cadet said.
"I always heard from my family that I was a Palestinian Muslim Arab, who should be concerned with her own people – the Palestinian people. At the age of 16 and a half, I received a blue ID card like every other Israeli citizen, and that is when I began to feel conflicted with my identiy.
"On the one hand, I was told I was a Palestinian from my family, but on the other hand, I hold a blue ID card. And that is when I understood that I can choose this whole subject of belonging.
"Then I was part of 'Peace Child Israel,' with Jews and Arabs together, and there I understood that Jews are not actually monsters – they are people who I live with here in Israel."
The personal transformation the soldier went through led her on a complicated journey that finally ended with her decision to join the IDF.
"I began thinking about getting drafted into the IDF but in the beginning I was very scared because I obeyed everything my family said to me and was a young girl who understood nothing about life."
At age 19, the young Muslim-Israeli girl began to understand that she wanted to be independent.
She began studies for a degree and took part in the National Service program. "During my national service I realized that it was not what I wanted to do, because it is not that true connection to Israel. There connection to Israel comes from putting on the army uniform – that is what really connects you to the country," she says.
Today, her family does not know she is serving in the IDF.
"In the beginning, during the first week of basic training, they told me that we would be going home on Saturday and I really had no idea where to go.
"The commanders said 'We'll find you a place.'"
The young soldier went to a soldier's home in Haifa, but eventually decided to go home. Eventually, her mother found out that she had joined the IDF when she left the uniform on her bed.
When she asked her mother to wash her uniform, her mom threw them away.
"In the beginning it was a very difficult period but then (my mother) calmed down and began to hide the entire matter and told me not to tell anyone.
"She also promised not to tell anyone. She knows it could endanger my life. She is embarrassed by what I'm doing."
Today, the soldier says she does not regret her decision to join the IDF, and even says she wishes she could encourage other Muslim-Israelis to join the IDF, as well as Christians and Druze.
"…At the end of the day we all live together," she says.
The soldier is know taking part in an officer's training course and says she knows she can contribute more to the country.
"During Operation Protective Edge, I saw how much criticism (the IDF) received, whether it was from country's such as Lebanon or the Hezbollah-affiliated newspaper Al-Manar.
I want to contribute more, not get wasted. I did not come to (the IDF) just to serve for two years – I want to serve more and more. When I see the motivation of other soldiers, it gives me even more motivation."
The soldier adds that she knows her role will not stay a secret for long. "I think that in a matter of time a lot of people will know about it, and I would be really happy if a lot of people follow me and join the IDF."