By Anav Silverman –
Tazpit News Agency –
The IDF ‘Herev’ Battalion is made up exclusively of soldiers from the Druze community of the northern area of Israel, which has a long-standing tradition of proudly serving the IDF and carrying out unique missions near the Israel-Lebanon border. Originally known as the IDF Minorities Unit, the ‘Herev’ Battalion was formed by Druze and Jewish leaders in 1948 during Israel’s War of Independence, which Circassian and Bedouin soldiers also joined.
Recently, the Herev Battalion invited the bereaved families of the unit to come together on the eve of Eid il-Adha, the religious Muslim festival known as Feast of Sacrifice celebrated this year in mid-October. The Druze families gather together every year to remember loved ones that they have lost in operations and wars to defend Israel, numbering hundreds of casualties, right before the Eid il-Adha holiday.
“We used to bring all the bereaved families together for the national day of remembrance,” said Major Na’ef Hativ. “But it is a very difficult and sad day so we decided to invite the families before the Adha holiday because it comes at a time when the Druze community is celebrating together.”
“Eid il-Adha is a holiday that is about faith in God that is celebrated by many, many nations. It is also a time when there is a lot of kindness between the families. If someone fell, endured something difficult, or is feeling unhappy, we all feel the obligation to raise their morale, to tell them there is always another day, another hour, other children,” said the evening’s guest speaker, Faiz Ra’ed.
Ra’ed, as an IDF soldier during a basic training session, lost his left arm, most of his right hand, his legs, and his sight when a rocket exploded in his hand in 1981. He gave an inspirational speech to the Herev officers about his life’s journey in Israel.
“Nearly everything I’ve reached for in my life I’ve attained. I know how to deal with handicaps, which I never turned into disabilities,” explained Ra’ed. Following the basic training accident, Ra’ed went on to work with the IDF and other NGOs to help advance the understanding of minorities in Israel after finishing a bachelor’s degree in sociology, as well as marrying and raising a family.
Ra’ed says that he is proud to be Israeli. “To be Israeli is a positive experience. You see Arabic speakers, Hebrew speakers, real diversity across the spectrum,” said Faiz who is also a sheikh. “And when you get to the border, you see that to be an Israeli is something amazing and this is to such an extent that there is something different to be found in their souls.”
“I’ve educated young Israeli soldiers, and I know what purity of weapons means,” Ra’ed explained in an interview on the official IDF blog. “I personally know soldiers who have risked their lives to save Lebanese civilians, women and children…I’ve said this in front of Jordanians and Palestinians. Israel is good-hearted, humanistic and ethical.”
In Israel, the Druze community, which is numbered at 120,000, is officially recognized as a separate religious entity with its own courts and leadership whose culture and language is Arabic. The Druze faith is an offshoot of Islam influenced by ancient Greek and Hindu philosophy and other traditions and was founded in the Fatimid Caliphate in Egypt during the tenth century.
The first Druze officer to lead the IDF Golani Brigade was selected by IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Benny Ganz this past Thursday, October 24. Colonel Ghassan Alian has served in a number of commanding positions in the IDF and fought in the Second Lebanon War, where he was wounded. He had trained together in an officer’s training course with Israel’s Economic and Trade Minister Naftali Bennett, who called him a “brother” and congratulated him on the selection.