Jewish doctor serving in Druse unit wins President’s Award

In interview with ‘Post,’ Lt. Gilad Spiegel reflects on diversity in IDF.

Lt Gilad Spiegel treats a patient 370 (photo credit: IDF Spokesman’s Office))
Lt Gilad Spiegel treats a patient 370
(photo credit: IDF Spokesman’s Office))
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 Zalman Shazar.
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 families.
“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 group.
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.
In the IDF, “sometimes you can find yourself with a Druse, Beduin and Jew for coffee,” he said.
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 religious education.