Arab Christians and Bedouins in the IDF: Meet the members of Unit 585

Unit 585 is made up of volunteers from Israel's Bedouin and Arab Christians

Troops from Unit 585 (photo credit: IDF SPOKESPERSON'S UNIT)
Troops from Unit 585
“I’m here to provide security, to protect every civilian,” said Lt.-Col. Nader Eyada, the commander of the IDF’s Unit 585, which is composed of Bedouin Muslims and Arab Christians.
“This is a strong unit that protects the South of this country,” Eyada told The Jerusalem Post on top of an observation post overlooking the border with Egypt’s restive Sinai Peninsula.
Eyada explained to the Post that his troops are protecting the Eshkol Regional Council from terrorist infiltrations from Egypt and the Hamas-run Gaza Strip, among other threats.
“This unit is an essential part of the Southern Command. We know the land like the back of our hand,” Eyada said during an interview near the unit’s headquarters at Kerem Shalom. “We live the land, we know the land, and we are here to protect the civilians of the land.”
While Jews, Druze and Circassians are conscripted into the IDF, Unit 585 is full of men who have volunteered to serve in the military.
Bedouin are not obliged to serve in the army and, since 1948, more than 110 have been killed defending Israel. During Operation Protective Edge in 2014 alone, more than a dozen Bedouin were killed.
An estimated 1,500 Bedouin are currently serving in the IDF, which has stepped up attempts to recruit Bedouin soldiers, including sending Bedouin troops into towns to encourage youths to enlist.
Israel has in the past – and continues to this day – demolished unrecognized Bedouin villages, mainly in the South. With fractious relations between the Bedouin and the state, the Islamic Movement also pressures Bedouin not to serve in the army.
“Their home environments are sometimes against the Israeli military and [they] throw them out because of their choice to serve,” Eyada said. “There are a lot of soldiers who’ve given up everything, even their families, to serve in the IDF.
“They are lone soldiers in every sense of the meaning. And we help them and when they finish their service they can continue on as combat noncommissioned officers and become career officers.”
But he’s lucky, telling the Post “I like to break barriers and push others.
“My wife and parents are very supportive. My father still can’t comprehend how far I’ve gotten as a fighter and commander,” Eyada said.
And even before they are discharged, the unit provides a wide range of support for the volunteer soldiers, including Hebrew classes, time off for university classes, writing CVs, as well as courses to get a driver’s license.
Lt. Gil Katz, the unit’s education officer, told the Post that there are several programs available to soldiers in the unit.
“There are many soldiers who didn’t finish high school and so we try very hard to help them,” she said, adding that “we have a platform where we are able to provide the soldiers with what they need” and “you can really see the outcome” of the various programs offered.
Along with the educational programs, troops also go on trips around the country once a month, including to Jerusalem and the Dead Sea, to strengthen their connection to the state.
“This is a very special unit where everyone serves hand in hand, shoulder to shoulder,” Katz said.
For Eyada, who rose through the ranks of the military to become the first Bedouin platoon commander, first Bedouin squad commander and first Bedouin company commander, “the sky is the limit” as a fighter in Unit 585.