As many as 1,700 Muslim soldiers are currently fighting for Israel as part of an alliance that dates back to the 20th century when Jews and Bedouin joined forces to protect the Jewish communities from their hostile Arab neighbours during the British Mandate.
Among the Muslim soldiers is 25-year-old Mohammad Ka’abiyah who became the first one from his clan to join the Air Force, where he served in a helicopter unit.
“If you told this story to people from Europe or the United States, or even other Arabs from the Middle East, they wouldn’t believe it. But it’s really a true situation,” Mohammad Ka’abiyah told British newspaper.
Although they are exempt from conscription, certain tribes are particularly patriotic towards Israel, and up to 10 per cent of Bedouin men choose to join the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) each year. To date, 363 Arabs have been killed in action while fighting for Israel.
“I am proud to be a Bedouin fighter. And I am also proud to fight in the Israeli army. I am proud of being Bedouin, Arab, Muslim and Israeli,” the 25-year-old said.
When Israel was established in 1948, the Bedouin pledged their allegiance to the Jewish State and were granted full citizenship. Today, the Bedouin comprise about 2.5 per cent of Israel’s population. However, tension is rife in the community.
Speaking about a terrorist attack in October perpetrated by a Bedouin, Ka’abiyah, a political sciences student at Haifa University, said, “There are some extremists who are trying to divide us and turn us against Israel. The Bedouin community needs to come together and be strong. Otherwise it could be very bad.”
Bedouins are mainly recruited as trackers, using their desert legacy to apprehend terrorists trying to infiltrate the country along Israel’s borders. However, they are viewed as traitors by most Palestinians.
Ka’abiya dismisses the criticism saying he and others like him fight against terror organisations. “I didn’t fight against Arab people. I was fighting against terror organisations because I don’t want the Arab people to be injured or killed,” he said.
“Arabs are victims of the terrorist organisations. Some people call us traitors, but Israel is a democracy where all cultures and colours have the same rights. The ones who refuse to serve are the real traitors,” he added.
The Bedouin’s history of fighting for Israel is long and some believe the traditional bond is secure.
When asked whether he is concerned that telling his story may get him into trouble, he laughed.
“I am a Bedouin fighter. I don’t care and don’t worry,” he said.