Muslim Arab Officer Proudly Serving IDF

Iris Lainer

Lt. Hesham Aborea enlisted in the IDF (Zahal) as a way to help his own Arab community. “The IDF (Zahal) is a strong, challenging, non-discriminatory army, and is a great supporter of human rights.”

Date: 07/10/2010, 7:10 PM     Author: Tammy Habteyes

Lt. Hesham Aborea is a Muslim Arab officer in the IDF (Zahal). His journey began in 2006 when he joined the army and it has not stopped since. He is currently serving in the IDF (Zahal) as the Community Relations Officer to the Arab Sector, speaking to the Arab community in times of emergency. His path to this very important and challenging role was not handed to him on a silver platter, but he appreciates his significant work. “Every morning I think of ways to help the community”.

“It was very important for me to reach my community through education”

At a young age, Hesham Aborea began thinking about what he wanted to do in life, and how to get out of his village in Northern Israel. He graduated from Ben Gurion University with an Bachelor’s degree in Hebrew and began working, but observing the lifestyle of young men in his community made him want to join the army to better the Arab world. “It’s very hard to grow up for a young man where I am from. You finish high school, some continue studying, and others work manual labor jobs. For example, if I had a degree in social work, at an interview they’ll ask me if I served in the army. If not, my chances would plummet, and then I would have to go back to my village and do manual labor. It’s a cycle that a lot of young Arab men are stuck in so they turn to alcohol, drugs and violence. I saw this cycle and I decided to join the army.” Lt. Aborea enlisted in his late 20s to the IDF (Zahal)’s Southern Command as a Youth Counselor for Bedouin high school students. He would speak to these students about various subjects like nonviolence, abstaining from drugs, being better acquainted with the land and country, and also about the Army. “It was very important for me to reach my community through education. We had teachers, school principles, and different chairmen come in and talk to the kids. My point wasn’t to push them to serve in the army, it was more to educate and inspire the students to serve their community.” Aborea says that 10 to 35 high school graduates would join the army.

After 6 months serving the IDF (Zahal) as a youth counselor, Aborea was sent to Commanders Course and was promoted to be a commander for a course which aided older teachers and other educational figures from within the Arab community in becoming youth counselors. “I never thought that a 56 year old would have the drive to complete the course. We don’t let just anyone pass, it’s difficult and demanding.”

Due to his clear ambition to succeed and desire to help his community, Aborea’s commanders recommended him for Officer’s Training Course. On Israel’s National Independence Day in 2007, less than a year into his service, Aborea became an IDF (Zahal) officer. He described his experience at the Bahd 1 Officer’s Training School as follows: “We were all separated into different platoons and crews. The crew that I was in was made up of one Muslim Arab, me, and the rest were all orthodox men!” Lt. Aborea laughs, adding that “they were the nicest group of people, they welcomed me with open arms and it did not make a difference to them what religion I was in. I joined them for Shabbat dinners and Jewish holidays.” Upon graduating the Officer’s Training Course, Lt. Aborea was recognized as a Soldier of Excellence, and soon became a Platoon Commander in the Sde Boker base.

Sde Boker is an IDF (Zahal) base in southern Israel specifically intended for immigrants who wish to join the army. Lt. Hesham spent 12 training cycles in Sde Boker and then was offered another promotion, this time as an Enlistment Officer for southern Israel and east Jerusalem. “I am never upset or sad when I get promoted and move on to a different job. I like to look forward. I am glad that I’ve helped my community in my previous job and I am continuing to serve the community in this new one.”

War does not differentiate between Jew and Muslim; we all live in Israel

“My job is to prepare the Arab community to handle any type of emergency. Whether it’s an earthquake, a flood or a war, the community must be prepared with the same level of readiness as the Jewish community.” Lt. Aborea explains that, “A missile or a war does not differentiate between Jew and Muslim. We all live in this country, thus we are all under the same threat together. Therefore, we all need to be able to protect ourselves.” Lt. Aborea has been serving in the Home Front Command as the Community Relations Officer to the Arab Sector for two months. He is the first Muslim Arab officer in the history of the IDF (Zahal).

Currently, Lt. Aborea and his soldiers are gathering information about how the Arab community performs during an emergency. He meets with different community leaders and educators to study more about how to help the most. “The fact that we are the IDF (Zahal) bothers the sector. As an Arab man, I understand the fears and doubts the community has. They see people in uniform coming into their area and they rebel, they think we want to take their land, but we just want to help them, train them and prepare them so that ultimately they will fend for themselves and be able to help themselves the same way the Jewish community can at a time of emergency, whatever it may be.”

Lt. Aborea describes how the Home Front Command trained Arab women in Search and Rescue emergency response. “It’s not an easy training course; it takes effort to be in the Search and Rescue teams. We have several personnel, however, it’s not enough, not enough by a long shot, and we need more people.” Lt. Aborea says that an assortment of Arab organizations support these Search and Rescue teams, and also try to spread the message of the importance of these teams. “I have a long list of different organizations that help us. But sometimes, some Arab organizations don’t want to be associated with something that is related to the IDF (Zahal).”

“Some people may disagree with the fact that I am wearing an IDF (Zahal) uniform, but I am here to serve you”

Lt. Aborea’s rank may not seem to be at a matching level to his task. He explains, “I am supposed to be a Captain, and I will be soon. But it doesn’t have to do with the ranking. Even a Colonel couldn’t do my job, because I am Arab, I know the sector, I grew up in an Arab village, I am familiar with the community and the lifestyle. I know what most of the Arabs in Israel watch, and how they feel about things. It’s about understanding and having the full motivation to want to help your community. It may seem that because I am an Arab Muslim the sector would be more prone to trust me. However, some people may disagree with the fact that I am wearing an IDF (Zahal) uniform, but I stand on my own, I am here to serve you- take it or leave it.”

Lt. Aborea explains that in order to get to where he is now he had to work tirelessly for five years. “I wasn’t always like this. Before army life, I was a student. I would wake up late, just do my own thing. But being in the army makes me wake up early and I know I am going to do something greater than myself. I have always been motivated, but in the army I learned that failure to be something is a challenge and success is the motivation. I don’t wonder to myself why I failed, I try to figure out how I can do better and move on from there.”

Final Say…

Lt. Hesham Aborea is very happy to be serving his community and is happy to belong to an organization like the IDF (Zahal). He concludes, “I want to emphasize that the IDF (Zahal) helps any soldier, and it will gladly accept Arab soldiers as long as they are skilled in their task. The IDF (Zahal) is a strong, challenging, non-discriminatory army, and is a great supporter of human rights. This is the first step to bringing both the Jewish and Muslim nations together. I hope that we may live in peace and equality for both nations.”