For years the Bedouin population of Israel has served in the army, many of them in combat roles, and now the IDF has launched a campaign aimed at increasing the number of recruits from the community, believing it is a way to improve integration into society.
As part of the campaign, IDF officials visited various Bedouin communities around the country, arguing that military service could help their members succeed in later life or even be a viable career option. Bedouin Israelis do not have to serve in the army, but many volunteer and the army wants to increase the options open to them.
This military service, the armys says, can be achieved through various roles in infantry divisions, including drivers, technicians, medics and so on. Alternatively, soldiers can go the academic route in fields such as medicine, engineering and law, or technology-oriented path in electronics and engineering.
One of main feature of this new enlistment drive is the opening of a pre-military college widely available for Jewish and Druze recruits after high school. One such academy is already operating in the Galilee, which has as of now 25 Bedouin attendees who are earmarked for specialist and command roles in the IDF, after passing a series of criteria and exams.
A 10-month stint at the residential college allows them to improve their Hebrew and fitness, work on leadership skills and become more familiar with Israeli traditions and society. At the end of it, the initiates enlist in the IDF.
Another premilitary college offers an academic track, with courses in language, mathematics and literacy as well as preparations for the Psychometric Entrance Test.
Its first class of 30 initiates will join the army academic reserves, attend university and then serve in the army, with their service coordinated to their degree speciality.
Another course for the enlistment campaign, which itself is not new, is Nahal groups working in Bedouin communities.
Nahal groups comprise of young Israelis who have already finished high school and are on the verge of enlistment.
They live and work together for the greater part of a year, with an emphasis on volunteering and helping their community, before enlisting and serve together as a group.
"Lately we have broadened our efforts to the Misgav Regional Council in northern Israel," says Pini Ganon, head of the Bedouin division at the Defense Ministry.
"The (Nahal) groups have proven themselves. There's communication between the soldiers and the public, something that has helped greatly in teaching Hebrew – itself extremely lacking in Bedouin communities. This is in fact our biggest challenge and we hope the Education Ministry, which is aware of this, could improve the situation," adds Ganon.
Since the beginning of the recruitment drive, more than 500 Bedouin teens have shown interest in joining the army.
Ganon explains that: "Every year we get about 450-500 recruits from the Bedouin sector. The chief of staff has made it a mission to double this number – something that we have achieved in the south of Israel, but not so in the north."
On the importance of Bedouins enlisting in the IDF, Ganon explains: "We believe that a person who knows their neighbor can begin to see social phenomenon that are not his own. Military service opens many doors, not only during the service and after it, but also of rights and privileges in their civilian life afterwards".