Israeli soldiers of the Caracal battalion carry their comrade on a stretcher during a 20-kilometer march in Israel's Negev desert, near Kibbutz Sde Boker.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Remembrance Day is a special time, as our nation puts aside 24 hours to honor the memories of the brave soldiers of the Israel Defense Forces who paid the ultimate price for our freedom and safety. It is only natural, and even instinctive, that we focus on those close to us – a friend or neighbor we knew, or as is too often the case, a relative we lost. I know that this is true for my own family as we gather each year by my father’s graveside participating in the poignant Yom Hazikaron ceremony, as we did last week.
Going forward, however, I call on all of us to take a few minutes to think of our non-Jewish brothers in arms who sacrificed their lives in the name of the State of Israel. Some in our society are all too quick to find fault with our minority communities, often because of their political leaders who unfortunately seem intent on tearing apart the delicate fabric of our society. We must not allow these few instigators to disparage the wider community, especially those who serve shoulder to shoulder with their Jewish Israeli brethren.
The contribution the Druse community makes to the IDF is thankfully well known by many Israelis. With over 80 percent of eligible Druse serving in the military, their community is one of the leaders in induction rates. The willingness of the Druse to serve and contribute can also be felt on Remembrance Day. Since the founding of the state in 1948, almost 400 members of the community have given their lives while in the service of the IDF.
While Druse society as a whole is known for its dedication to the state, members of other minority groups who serve do so despite intense pressure from their families and communities not to identify with Zionist movement. In the Beduin community there is the unfortunate phenomenon of families that lose their loved ones refraining from publishing their names so as not draw the ire of their neighbors. This is yet another reason it is so important that we show our respect to the families of almost 200 Beduin who have fought and died in the IDF in defense of Israel.
During my time as deputy defense minister another minority group I came to know well is Israel’s Christian community. While they are often grouped together with Israel’s Arab citizens, many view themselves as indigenous Christians with a history in the Holy Land dating back to the time of Jesus. Through a number of successful initiatives spearheaded by the Defense Ministry, we are seeing a significant increase in young Christians volunteering in the IDF.
This is especially impressive when taking into account that Israeli Christians do not receive a draft notice from the IDF and instead must enlist voluntarily. Due to the good work of the Defense Ministry, this is changing and soon all 18-year-old Christian Israelis will receive a draft notice in the mail and will then have the opportunity to make an informed decision as to whether they would like to enlist. It is my hope that in few short years we will soon see Christian conscription numbers approaching those of the Druse community.
After the mourning of Remembrance Day and the celebrations of Independence Day, we should also be thinking about how to strengthen the social contract that binds together our society. Much has been made of the efforts to increase haredi (ultra-Orthodox) participation in the IDF, and a lot of progress has been made on this issue, but even more must be done to encourage the minority communities in Israel do their part in strengthening our society.
In 1954 the leaders of the Druse community approached prime minister (and defense minister) David Ben-Gurion with a request. The asked that the prime minister amend the law that had excused Israel’s minorities from serving in the IDF. Instead, they all but demanded from Ben-Gurion that the mandatory enlistment bill be expanded beyond its application to Jewish citizens and include the Druse community as well.
It is high time that the Defense Service Law apply to all sectors of our society. If military service is not possible, then the option of national service should be included as well. It is clear that military or national service is the best way to strengthen the bond between the Jewish citizens of Israel and our minority communities.
On Remembrance Day I stood at my father’s grave and honored his memory. I then took a moment to contemplate the enormous sacrifice made by the non-Jewish communities of Israel to help us fulfill the Zionist dream. As we look forward toward the new Knesset and the soon-to-be-formed government, I pledge to do all I can to strengthen our society and increase fairness and equality for all.The author is a member of Knesset and served as Israel’s deputy minister of defense.