Against the Flow: The Bedouin Youth Who Became A Soldier

Ali comes from a small Bedouin village in which the idea of drafting into the IDF (Zahal) is uncommon. He turned this idea into his reality, and now Ali shares the story of his journey – from his parents’ strong disapproval, to the completion of a meaningful service and reconciliation with his family.

All IDF (Zahal) soldiers remember the first time they came home from basic training; they remember the longing for their comfortable bed, home-made food, and the loving faces of their families. But Ali faced a completely different reality when he came home: his parents refused to open the door and let him inside.

When Ali told his family that he was going to draft into the IDF (Zahal), his parents strictly forbade it. His begging and reasoning failed to convince them and his father proposed a final ultimatum – Ali was told that if he chose to draft, he wouldn’t be welcomed back home.

Against the Flow: The Bedouin Youth Who Became A Soldier

“I was furious at them for not supporting me and for not realizing how much time and thought I had put into this decision before I made it,” recounts Ali. “At first I thought that maybe they simply needed more time to digest it. After all, in my community and my village it is not so common to draft,” he explains.

Israel’s Bedouin community is not obligated to serve in the IDF (Zahal), but they may choose to serve as volunteers. The 21 year-old Ali was recruited into the unique Bedouin Desert Reconnaissance Battalion, tasked with tracking down terrorists and thwarting terrorist infiltration attempts into Israel. During his service, Ali faced a variety of experiences – he disengaged from his family, reconciled with them, finished his high school studies, participated in Operations Pillar of Defense and Protective Edge, began working, and even found love.

A Service in Disguise

Until recently, Ali would return to his village in full military attire but search for a spot to strip his uniform and put on civilian clothing. He is not ashamed of his IDF (Zahal) uniform, but he would take precautions because no one in Ali’s village knew he was a combat soldier.

“If it were up to me, I wouldn’t hide the fact that I had served in a combat role. The problem is that this also affects my family,” Ali explains. “So I respect the agreement that I have with my parents and I don’t tell other people about my service,” he states.

Against the Flow: The Bedouin Youth Who Became A Soldier

 No Guidance, But Loads of Persistence

Israeli youth know of the outlets they can use to learn about the IDF (Zahal) and the army roles that are most appropriate for them. This helps them with their drafting process and educates them about their army service. Many also have older siblings that can help explain to them everything they need to know about army service. For Ali, it was much more difficult because he did not have any of these resources. “I always knew that I had the option to draft but I needed some sort of channel to link me with the army,” he explains.

Therefore, after receiving his draft notice, Ali decided to take matters into his own hands and educate himself about his options. He was eventually connected with a Bedouin soldier who serves in Desert Reconnaissance Battalion.“Thanks to him, I made the decision to draft,” asserts Ali.

Against the Flow: The Bedouin Youth Who Became A Soldier

 The Road Back Home

According to Ali, the path to his military service was, “difficult and challenging but worth every minute of it.” He had to face a lot of criticism from both Israeli and Bedouins, and even his own family.

“I knew what the consequences of drafting would be,” he notes. “But what I never could’ve  imagined is that my family would refuse to accept me and my wishes; that has made my path much harder.”

Throughout more than half of his service Ali wasn’t in touch with his parents. “I told my commander about it and he decided to go speak with them,” he recalls. “He wore civilian clothes and travelled by himself to my village. To this day I don’t know what he told them, but what I do remember is him returning the next day and telling me not to give up hope.”

Against the Flow: The Bedouin Youth Who Became A Soldier

The commander’s conversation with Ali’s parents took effect quickly – shortly afterwards, the dispute between Ali and his parents was settled. He received their support, especially when they saw how much he had changed and matured.

Overall, Ali’s service has been extremely beneficial to him. Throughout his time in the army he completed his high school studies, completed a Hebrew course to better his language skills, and even began driving lessons to obtain his driver’s license. While reminiscing about his process to draft, Ali remarks, “Everything stems from the education you receive, but that can be changed. I am living proof of that.”

All of the images in this article are illustrations.