Equal Opportunities in the IDF

Date: 24/03/2009, 8:10 PM     Author: Na’ama Rak

For the five young people who arrived on Monday afternoon (Mar. 23) at an IDF (Zahal) induction center, enlistment was the fulfillment of a dream. For the IDF (Zahal) and for the whole of Israeli society, their enlistment was nothing less than a historic event. For the first time since the establishment of the IDF (Zahal), five soldiers who suffer from mental disabilities were drafted. This was made possible by a joint project of the Personnel Directorate, the Welfare and Social Services Ministry, the Sar El unit and the National Association for the Aid of the Mentally Disabled. The five new recruits – David Dagami, Roi Halel, Shmirit Kroitov, Gilad Rosdiel and Oren Hason– all in their twenties, were found suitable for military service.

The soldiers were instructed by the Welfare and Social Services Ministry and by the units that they will be deployed in, and familiarized themselves with the IDF (Zahal) by volunteering for the Sar El IDF (Zahal) volunteer program. Throughout the year, Roi and Oren volunteered in the Warfare Equipment Center, David and Gilad volunteered at the Medical Equipment Center, and Shmirit worked at the personal welfare offices at the Rabin military base. The Sar El unit tested their work and their suitability for the military framework, and in the end it was decided that they were equipped to serve in the IDF (Zahal). “The idea was to make them as independent as any other soldier,” explains the commander of the Sar-El unit, Maj. Tiran Attia. “To our delight, they all received great feedback from the units that they were deployed in.” On Monday (Mar. 23), they went through the enlistment process at the induction center, and at the end they were welcomed by representatives of the IDF (Zahal), the Welfare and Social Services Ministry, the National Association for the Aid of the Mentally Disabled, and of course – their families and friends from their respective units.

“I feel very happy about my enlistment,” Gilad explained, just before beginning the enlistment process, “I want to see my uniform already.” Also David Dagami, who is the same age as Gilad and served with him at the Medical Equipment Center, can hardly hide his excitement, which is evident even in his clothing choice – army style camouflage pants and a shirt that features the Border Police logo. “Now I finally change from a volunteer into a soldier. Since I was 18 I’ve been dreaming of enlisting, and now my dream is finally coming true,” he boasts. During this emotional event at the Induction Center, the enlistees were accompanied by their friends from the unit who worked with them throughout the past year. “They came to the unit before I got drafted, and at the beginning I was very surprised to meet them,” remembers Private Karin Lovkovski, “but we connected very fast – we have a lot of fun with them and they are amazing people. We all work at similar tasks, and apart from the fact that until now they did not have soldier ID cards and identification tags, they have been soldiers just like us.”

The enlistment of the five soldiers may be the first of its kind, but it is definitely not the last. Maj. Attia points out that the project is currently looking for additional young people with mental disabilities who are able to join the military framework, and at the moment there are 40 potential candidates who may be joining the IDF (Zahal) within the year.