TEL AVIV – An all-Arab unit in the Israeli army is the subject of a controversial new documentary by BBC Arabic, titled “Israel’s Arab Warriors.”
The documentary followed recruits in the Gadsar unit for six months, highlighting the soldiers’ patriotic attitude toward the Jewish state against all the odds.
“I consider myself an Arab and a Muslim but I also consider myself part of this country,” one soldier, Mahmud Kashua, told the BBC.
“It’s our state and we have to give back, to help as much as we can to the state which protects us.”
Although Arabs make up 20% of Israel’s population, less than 1% of them serve in the army. Today, however, there are ten times the number of Arabs serving in the IDF than there were three years ago.
The head of the IDF’s Minorities Unit, Israeli-Arab Col. Wajdi Sarhan, said he hopes that those numbers would double in 2017. The Gadsar unit has some 500 Israeli-Arab soldiers.
“Our mission is to enlist as many as we can,” he said.
“We are doing our utmost to integrate minorities into the army to maintain the status quo demographically. Serving in the army is a great platform to connect the Muslim community to the state.”
Mahmud Kashua’s father, Jamil Kashua, is supportive of his son’s decision to serve in the IDF.
“I’m proud of him – this is his choice and we back him. We are happy and he is happy.”
However, not all Arab families are so accepting. Many have to hide the fact that they are serving for fear of retribution from their families or communities.
One female soldier, Sergeant Jenifer Jozein, recounted her experiences showing up in her hometown in IDF fatigues. She said neighbors call her “a traitor, collaborator and a Zionist” and described how one even threatened to “break her legs” if he saw her wearing the IDF uniform in their town again.
Nevertheless, Jozein insists she’s proud of her uniform. “That’s why when I return home with my head held high, wearing the uniform, I’m not scared of them,” she said.
Because they understand the language and the culture, Arab soldiers are deployed in the West Bank to man checkpoints and search Palestinian villages for terrorists.
One Palestinian driver passing through a checkpoint said in reference to the Arab soldier, “I don’t understand his position, the job he is doing, he is an Arab like us. We consider him a Palestinian and he is serving the army of occupation. I don’t know what to make of it.”
A Palestinian building yard owner, Yahya Abu Shameh, is shown talking with the mayor of his town. The IDF often enters his compound because of the stones thrown at Israeli drivers on the roads below.
“I am staying here until I die. This is my land, my country,” Abu Shameh tells the mayor.
“I’d leave my kids before my land,” he adds.