Lt. Gilad Spiegel, one of 120 soldiers who received the President’s Award for
Excellence this year, is the second member of his family to be so honored. His
grandfather, who served in the Palmah, received the award from then-president
Spiegel is 28 and lives with his family in Kibbutz Dafna,
east of Kiryat Shmona. He entered the IDF’s Atuda program where youngsters
complete their university studies and then serve in the army for at least five
years. He started studying medicine at the Technion-Israel Institute of
Technology in Haifa at the age of 18, finished his studies, and joined the army
when he was 26. There were periodic military courses throughout his studies and
after he finished at the Technion he took a three-month course about being a
doctor in the army.
During his medical studies, Spiegel volunteered in
Uganda and interned in Brazil and Australia.
Spiegel proudly serves in
the IDF’s Herev (“Sword”) infantry battalion, an Arabic- speaking (mostly Druse)
unit that serves near the Lebanese border. Spiegel said he was enjoying the
experience and learning about Druse culture.
Because of his position on
the medical team, he has intimate contact with the soldiers and their
“I did not know about this unit before I was put there, so
today, after I see the great and professional job they do, it is a privilege for
me to tell others about this unit and the Druse people and how they serve
faithfully,” he said.
The Druse take their service very seriously and are
very professional, as many of them seek to build careers in the army and become
officers, Spiegel said.
His battalion donated the most blood in the IDF
last year. In addition, last year his medical unit won the yearly competition
among all parts of the IDF Medical Corps. The Herev Battalion’s medical unit has
nine members, seven Druse and two Jews.
He even said his medical unit
came up with a new technique for carrying injured soldiers using a rifle strap,
allowing the soldier to keep his hands free.
“The unit is family-like
because many of the soldiers are related, which is something special,” he said,
adding that the few Jews in the unit become part of this tight
Courage and honor are very important for the Druse fighter – if
you give honor you get it back, Spiegel said. Druse tend to be modest and
friendly, he added.
In conversations touching on religion, Druse soldiers
have pointed out to him that they also have been persecuted throughout their
history. Druse soldiers participate in Jewish holidays, he said. He said that he
has learned about Druse holidays and the traditional Debka dance.
IDF, “sometimes you can find yourself with a Druse, Beduin and Jew for coffee,”
Spiegel grew up in the ultra-Orthodox city of Bnei Barak, but in
a traditional family, and became more secular after leaving the city at the age
of 10, though he still celebrates Jewish holidays and highly values his