The way the Arab society in Israel sees the IDF had changed thanks to efforts of the Home Front Command invested in combating coronavirus, and the assistance it provided Arab local authorities, said the OC of the Galilee and Valley, Col. Nissim Tourgeman.
During the pandemic, Tourgeman’s district command was in charge of the area of the Lower Galilee, which spans from the Megiddo junction in the west to the area of Beer She’an in the east. Among the 26 authorities included under his jurisdiction, some 15 were Arab authorities.
The district operates through communications units that work closely with mayors, municipalities’ director-generals, and communities’ security officers.
Their main functions were to supply the communities with COVID-19 tests, help with communicating the Health Ministry restrictions and bring their military knowledge in command and control to the Arab municipalities.
“What might seem natural in non-Arab authorities, things that we learn in the army and practice them in management, were new to some Arab mayors and leaders,” Tourgeman told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday. “We brought what know, and gave them tools that would help them overcome the obstacles that the virus brings with it.”
Tourgeman told the Post that during the past year, he had to closely observe and learn the Arab culture, and via that adjust the service that they are providing in order to break infection chains and lower the infection rate.
“For example, we didn’t know the power of traditions, such as condolences visits after a family death,” he said. “In the village of Ein Mahel, we saw that the death rate is getting out of control, and became proportionally larger than all the communities around it.
“We figured out that it is caused by large gatherings in grieving events. It happened that someone died of corona, and many of his family members also had it without knowing – and without symptoms. Then half of the village came to pay their condolences and got it too.
“We had a hard time convincing people to stop that custom. By cooperating with the mayor and religious figures, we managed to replace the physical gathering with phone calls. Then, the infection rate suddenly dropped,” he said.
Tourgeman holds that their actions had a positive impact on the way Arab-Israelis view the IDF.
“The images of soldiers in uniforms walking around big cities and villages was unthinkable even a couple of years ago,” Tourgeman said. “But now, we see more and more Arab youth that want to join the Home Front Command and volunteer. We also see a rise in the willingness to join the IDF,” he said.
“It became natural to see the Home Front Command soldiers in the Arab towns,” he added.
“Once, when we were operating in Nazareth and people were standing in line, I heard some asking his friend ‘who are these soldiers? What are they doing here?’ and the friend replied: ‘it’s okay, it’s the Home Front Command. They are here to help us’.
“This bondage, that was created in the past year did an amazing change,” Tourgeman said.