by Lazar Berman
The North was burning. It was the summer of 2006, and I was a young lieutenant in the newest company of recruits in the Bedouin Scout Battalion 585. Our soldiers had been inducted four months earlier, and the company staff was involved in a two-day workshop on the coast of Netanya after successfully guiding the soldiers through basic training. The workshop was run by two women, organizational consultants brought in from the civilian sector. I sat astounded. The other commanders were deliberately misrepresenting the situation in the company. I struggled to understand why they were un—to face our problems and improve themselves and their soldiers. The answer became clear to me as the workshop progressed, and has served me as a paradigm for understanding Arab culture.
The 585 is the only unit of its kind in Western militaries. Its soldiers come almost exclusively from Israel's Arab communities. The majority of soldiers and almost all of the officers' corps come from Israel's sizeable Bedouin minority. There is a large number of Muslim Arabs who are not Bedouin, called Felahim, as well several Christian Arabs. The only non-Arabs are the occasional Circassian, and Jewish officers transferred in to fill command positions when the battalion lacks the manpower to do so.
I was the only Jew in my company. Upon completing the eight month Officers School in February 2006, I requested a position in the 585. I had done my basic training on the same base as their recruits, and had several Bedouin friends from various courses we had completed together. I admired the battalion's singular mission and its soldiers' bravery, and I saw an opportunity to discover a new facet of Israeli society while instructing young Arab Israelis who had volunteered for service. Naí¯ve, maybe, but to me this was real Zionism.