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Desert Reconnaissance Battalion emblem

The Israel Defense Forces’ Desert Reconnaissance Battalion is one of a kind: not only are its fighters volunteers, but they come from Muslim, Christian, and Circassian backgrounds, often having left their families and friends, who opposed their enlistment, behind.

They have served on the border with the Gaza Strip for many years, protecting Israel and putting their lives on the line.


According to one of the fighters, “there are people here whose identities cannot be revealed not because of the operational aspects, but because of what would happen to them if their photos or names were made public.”
The unit was established in 1986 in order to regulate the enlistment of Bedouin youth in the IDF. What began as a small unit has over time grown into a battalion.

When the Oslo Accords were signed in 1993, the unit became operational and was stationed along the Gaza border. During the Second Intifada, between 2000 and 2005, the fighters participated actively in operations in the strip, especially the Philadelphia Route, combating underground tunnels and the spread of terror.

In January 2002, four of the battalion’s fighters were killed in an attack on an outpost near the Kerem Shalom border crossing, where several years later Gilad Shalit would be captured, and where the fighters carried out patrols with us, the journalists, in the dead of night.

A few years ago, the unit suffered some serious blows, both militarily and image-wise. In 2017, then-Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot ordered the unit to be reduced from 200 to only 130 soldiers with the aim of turning it into a small, high-quality patrol battalion.

Two years later, a fighter in the unit was caught selling military ammunition to a criminal. Similarly, two more soldiers were busted by undercover agents for trying to sell marijuana and guns.

Lt. Col. Guy Madar, 33, married and father of five from the Karmei Katif settlement in southern Israel, has been commanding the battalion for the past three months. He grew up in the Givati Brigade, and when he reached the rank of major general, he naturally wanted to continue his service in the purple brigade.

But today, he says, he could not be prouder of his fighters, even though sometimes the Arabic language, which is used outside of operational activity – as that is only conducted in Hebrew – is a challenge for him. 

“I manage. The soldiers know Hebrew, and othertimes, they help me. My ambition is to learn Arabic. This is my first job as a battalion commander, but I got to know the Bedouin patrol unit because they are trained in a Givati base. But you only think you know something before you actually do it. Before that, there are a lot of preconceived notions. When I joined, I discovered how amazingly they operated. I grew up in Givati and I wanted to be an officer in Givati, and I will honestly say that at first, I was a little disappointed because I had a lot of fears, we all have our prejudices. It was only when I joined that I found out how serious this unit is. The fighters really don’t get the appreciation they deserve.

“When I say that I am the commander of the Bedoun patrol unit, everyone tells me that it must be challenging and asks how I manage. My answer is that it is like any fighting unit in the IDF. That it is a group of fighters who want to contribute. They are strong, good fighters, and know the sector like the back of their hand. I have a company commander who has been here since 2013. Everyone who comes across the unit discovers that they are wonderful guys, not spoiled, who just want to fight and contribute to the country.”

The stereotypes that Madar mentioned are the main reason why the reconnaissance battalion has agreed to let Israel Hayom get to know its inner workings. It seeks to fight against stigmas and rehabilitate the unit’s image. The fact that there are preconceived notions about the Bedouin fighters and the patrol unit, in general, does not make it easier for them to face the difficult challenges. 

“My ambition is for the battalion to rise to its former glory. In recent years, something happened, consecutively with the closing of the Sword Battalion [also known as IDF Minorities Unit]. The military wanted to close the sectoral units, but unlike the Sword Battalion, our fighters voted with their feet.

“If the company had a standard of 60 soldiers, in practice 270 soldiers would arrive. They came to enlist voluntarily. Now we already have two companies, and we are now opening a mortar platoon, and our sniper platoon is no different than any other patrol in the IDF. These are very serious people who have experienced a lot, shot quite a bit, and are taking advanced courses.”

“My name is Sergeant Hassan Fudi. I was born in the Taibe village near Afula. When I was 20 years old I started thinking about enlisting in the IDF, and three years later I enlisted in the Bedouin patrol unit. My family did not accept it and was very angry with me. As far as they are concerned, they are Palestinians. Since my decision to enlist I have not spoken to my parents, and I live in a nearby village as a lone soldier.

“I haven’t seen friends from home in years, nor my family. I cut off all ties, and I have no idea if contact will ever be restored. At first, it was difficult, no doubt, but I got used to it. I’m happy with my decision.”

Speaking Hebrew with a heavy accent, Fudi explained why he decided to go against everything he knew and enlist in the Israeli military, the only one in his village to do so. 

“In my past, I was a bit wild, with a bit of a mess in my life. I have a problematic past, I don’t hide it. I was dragged into a world of disgust, and criminals, but in the end, I said that’s it, when the knife already reached my neck I said ‘enough’. I realized that I will either go to jail or someone will kill me. In the end, I decided to sort myself out, and help myself, and the country. I realized that we are brothers, that I was born here. It is true, I am Arab, but we are brothers. This is my country and we need to protect it.”

Q: Your family would probably disagree with your last statement. 

“Yes, my family does not agree with me. Neither do my friends. When I told them that I wanted to enlist, they called me a traitor and said that I was a Palestinian, but I am more connected to the Jews than to some Palestinian from Nablus. You don’t spit on your plate. Look at what happened during Operation Breaking Dawn when there were missiles from Gaza. You think about the citizens, that they should not be harmed. I thought about the soldiers with me, who have to protect each other. We eat together, and sleep together, what does it matter if I’m Arab or Jewish? In the end, most of my friends are Jewish, not someone from Nablus that I’ve never met.’

Meters away from where Fudi and I sit there is a small building where classes are held every day. We enter the classroom quietly and take a seat in the last row. There is a world map on the wall and the letters of the Hebrew alphabet because fighters here start at the very beginning. Sometimes soldiers arrive at the base without speaking almost any Hebrew at all, let alone reading and writing. Right now, they are learning about the seasons of the year. 

The Desert Reconnaissance Battalion fighters are unique in that way. Their training not only includes the physical aspect, but also various courses on the Hebrew language and Israeli history. 

“I am the only education officer in the IDF,” said Sgt. Maj. Hila Demari, introducing herself. She heads a team of four non-commissioned officers who teach the soldiers. 

“Unlike any regular battalion, our goal is not only to convey educational content but also to succeed in getting the Bedouin fighters to integrate after the service. It starts with the recruits, who learn, among other things, the letters, and then with additional and more advanced content.

Demari continued, “There are many gaps between them and Israeli society and we bridge these gaps. We teach them about current events, history and more. And along with regular lessons, we also show the fighters how to write a bank statement or a resume before being discharged from the military.”

Israel Defense Forces – The Desert Reconnaissance Battalion During a Drill

Chief Warrant Officer Ami Mazariv is a testament to what fighters in the Bedouin patrol unit can achieve.
“My name is Ami, and I’m the master sergeant of the battalion,” he says, surprising our photographer with his fluent Hebrew. “Are you a Bedouin?! You sound like a Tel Avivian.”

In August 2004, Ami, 36, a resident of the Zarzir village in the north, enlisted in the unit. At the time he could not even read Hebrew, and lo and behold, by 2022, he has a bachelor’s degree in management.

After his mandatory service, Ami continued to serve in various elite units and recently began studying law for a master’s degree. Recently he was approached with a request to return to the unit where he started, and he willingly agreed.

He is known as “the father of the fighters” in the unit, and for good reason.

“This is my home, the family,” Ami said. “I am committed to this place. I studied the alphabet here and today I am a university graduate. I never would have believed at the age of 18 that I would reach the place I am in. The commanders gave me so much support and discipline, they knew how to restrain me when necessary. Now I am here for the lost children. I want to be here for them, to explain to them that this is the right way.”

Having assumed the position of master sergeant, Ami jumped right in.

.”I think that the role of a master sergeant is rehabilitation. I’ve encountered this in many units. Soldiers who were considered problematic and did not succeed in anything, and today they call me for job references, which makes me very happy. They call me ‘the father of the fighters’ sometimes, and it’s true, I do feel like I’m their father.

“This place is the perfect coexistence. You are exposed to all religions, and to all of society. I always say that my goal is to be a messenger, to show the good side of Bedouin society. Every time we hear some stereotypes, for example, that Bedouins are thieves. This stigma haunts us and it is not fair. Here we prove that we are the best fighters, the human shield of the State of Israel.”

Ami stressed that the fighters had no obligation to serve, but chose so voluntarily.

“I want the whole world to know that we have a unit that is making the State of Israel proud, soldiers with courage above and beyond, who fight all the time to protect, with the richest history in the field of counterterrorism,” he said. “We have lost 30 fighters over the years, but we are not giving up, and continue to stand guard. The citizens of Israel should know that there are people here who were rejected by their families because they came here, there are people who risk their lives to be here.”

There is a lot of societal pressure on Bedouin and Arab youngsters not to enlist in the IDF. For example, just two months ago, Fayez Abu Sahiban – the mayor of Rahat, an Arab-majority city in southern Israel – said in a radio interview that Bedouin youngsters should not enlist in the Israeli military.

“Our soldiers join the army and risk their lives. But my opinion is that they should not join the army,” he said.
Nevertheless, the Desert Reconnaissance Batallion is in high demand, Madar, who as mentioned above is the commander of the unit, said.

“While other soldiers cannot wait to complete their service, our fighters want to stay on, to contribute more. I am forced to tell the officers that unfortunately soldiers cannot continue with us, and I am looking for other places. This should not be taken for granted,” he said.

After a short briefing, we get on the jeeps, bypass the Kerem Shalom kibbutz on the way and stop on a half-ruined asphalt road.

“This is one of the roads where they used to reach Gush Katif before the disengagement,” Madar explained.
A few dozen fighters dismount from their vehicles and position themselves on the side of the road.

“We carry out foot traffic up to the ‘hourglass’ [the border fence between Israel and Gaza] and put the snipers in position. The goal is to not be discovered since the essence of an ambush is to surprise, to create an area of destruction where we will ambush the enemy. If we are discovered – the story is over.”

The sniper division is led by Second Lieutenant M. He grew up in the Manshiya Zabda Arab village in northern Israel, which is also where many of the fighters come from.

After completing his service in the patrol unit, he was released from the military and returned a year later as an officer, having completed the necessary course.

“My cousin, First Lieutenant Malik Grifat, was the deputy commander of the unit before he was killed at the Erez crossing. I want to continue in his way, and uphold his legacy. This regiment respects you no matter where you come from. There are people of all religions here – Muslims, Circassians, Christians, and Jews. You see every possible type. Personally, I grew up among Jews from a relatively young age, but there are people here who came here without ever having met a Jew before.”

The snipers unit actively participated in Operating Breaking Dawn last August. Madar became commander of the battalion a mere three weeks before the campaign was launched.

“I didn’t sleep for days,” he recalled. “It was incredibly challenging mentally. Our snipers were in positions night after night, not moving, until the mission was completed. We were recently informed that we would be decorated for our activity.”

At this time, the Gaza border is relatively quiet, but the situation can escalate at any moment. Just as we arrived at the border, the fighters received a report of a drone crossing into Israeli territory. Two days earlier, a Palestinian armed with a knife was also trying to enter.

“Most of the time, the goal is to arrest, but every incident is treated individually. Quite a few of the infiltrators come with a gun or a grenade, so you never know.”

The fighters continue to operate in silence and the snipers assume their positions. And just several hundred meters away, residents are sound asleep on what is another uneventful night for Gazans and the Desert Reconnaissance Battalion.


{Reposted from IsraelHayom}


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