I See Soldiers With Guns Everywhere!
I don’t know where you are coming from and if you ever saw a gun in your life, But you are probably going to see some guns on your visit here. More than you will see in Europe, less than you will see in Mexico City.
Soldiers in Israel are using public transport
The soldiers in Israel use the public transportation to go on vacations, yes it is weird. If you are going south to the Negev, they can be half of the bus passengers. Most of the Negev is a huge empty hot place and no one wants to live there. No one asks the soldiers where they want to live so most of the military bases are located in the Negev.
In the past, a lot of terror attacks happened on public transports or central bus stations. Tt some point, the government decided to just let the soldiers carry their gun home and by doing that you get a quick response to any event. The soldiers are already there and we don’t have to pay them. it works, there were several times that terror attacks were stopped by soldiers on the way home.
So who has to join the Israeli military? girls? minorities? What is like to serve in the IDF?
No matter what your opinion on the state of Israel you have to agree it is in a tough neighborhood. It is a small country and in order to keep the presence on the borders and be ready to an emergency situation the country has to establish an obligatory service system. Man do 3-year service while the woman does 2 years unless they volunteer to a combat unit and then they do 3 years.
Man do 3-year service while the woman does 2 years unless they volunteer to a combat unit and then they do 3 years.
Most of the people understand why they are joining the military and want to do it. It is not like in other places in the world where soldiers are sent overseas, here in Israel the front line can be 10 min drive from a soldier home.
When there are rockets attacks during conflict times the front line can be safer than the soldier home. The soldier can be more worried about his family than the fact he is on the front line.
Combine it with the fact that it is a small country and there is a good chance you will meet your officer on the street or know some of his friends or his high school teacher, and you'll get special relations between commanders and soldiers.
The Israeli Melting Pot
Unlike how it seems in most Hollywood movies, in the IDF the relations between the commanders and soldiers is more like a Boy Scout or your big caring brother relations.
Less formal, less discipline
The commanders are not allowed to humiliate/hit a soldier and the relationship is based on trust and not disappointing the commanders or your friends. After basic training, you are allowed to call your commanders and officers by their first name. We don't have 'permission to speak sir' if you want to talk to your officers you just go and talk to them.
As a result of that, the IDF became what we call here "The Melting Pot". Because everyone has to join, whether you are rich or poor, finished high school or not and no matter what is your background, you are going to meet all kind of people in your service. People get friends all over the country, and people with low chances of meeting in real life can suddenly become best friends.
Mixing People from all backgrounds
People who grew up in a Kibbutz with zero religion background suddenly will have religious friends, people from Tel Aviv will suddenly have friends from small villages in the desert. New immigrants from France will have Ethiopian friends and so.
In the army, your economic status doesn’t matter. It's not that you can buy better guns/uniforms/boots/beds. Everyone becomes equal and what matter is the character of a person. it all creates people who come from a different background to share this strong experience which creates a common story to tell, a sense of belonging and friendship that goes on to the civilian life.
So basically it is a country in which everyone is a little Rambo?
Most of the people who serve are not even in combat units. The military is a huge organization with many jobs. Because the country is small, a lot of people serve close to their homes so it's cheaper to the military to let them live with their parents. They come to the base in the morning, do their job which can be typing things on computers/cooking/truck drivers, mechanics and go back home in the evening.
Teachers, mechanics, drivers and even lifeguards!
Some soldiers serve as teachers for soldiers who didn’t graduate from high school. A soldier who didn’t finish high school can choose to spend his last months of service in a military school where he will learn math, literature or anything else he didn’t complete in high school. Some soldiers stay at the base and come home every weekend, some soldiers can stay at the base for a couple of weeks. All depends on the job.
"Jobnikim" or soldiers who serve close to their home and have an easy service
There is a big military base in the center of Tel Aviv next to Azrieli mall and Sarona compound. Some soldiers who serve there are going to eat their lunch in the mall because the base food sucks, or just chilling in the mall at their free time…
Each job gives the individual a completely different experience of "how it's to serve in the military".
You can see here an example of the effects on 18 years old teenagers after you put them in the hot desert sun for a long time:
An example of a job which takes you around the country:
Hi-Tec- One of the world Elite technological organizations
Because everyone joins, it means that also the smartest teenagers of the country join. The military knows that and created units of computer geeks. They are going through courses and using the latest technologies on the market. Some of those units are world class professionals when it comes to cyber and programming. Most of these soldiers as they finish their service joins startup companies in Israel or around the world.
If they IDF was a civilian company, it could be easily in the silicon valley next to the big boys.
-Ok but the infantry are Rambos!
The fighting skill you learn is relevant for fighting modern warfare, not to street fights. The strength of a soldier is coming from the teamwork. That why it's called a unit. If no one covers him while he is moving or reloading he is not really effective.
It’s the teamwork.
-But the Special Forces!
Yes, they are Rambos.
-If someone is carrying a gun it means he is in a combat unit?
Some of the none combat soldiers also carry a gun from time to time as they go on guarding duties.
Sometimes combat soldiers in courses don’t carry a gun. The most reliable way to know if a soldier is from a combat unit is if he tries to sleep in any given situation and he is really good at this. (the guy shuffling in the video above is not in a combat unit)
You will probably see them mainly in Jerusalem but also in other places. They have gray uniforms and on their vehicles and vests, it will be written police. It's because they are a policeman, not soldiers. Although with the full equipment they might look like soldiers. But their duties and training are very different. they will mainly deal with riots and securing areas which are more sensitive.
It's an option to do 3 years in this police units instead of the military.
Reserve - The weird yet professional side of the IDF
After finishing the 3 years some people go into a reserve unit which depends on the job they had in the service. If they are assigned to a reserve unit it means they will go back to the military for 1-4 weeks a year to do some training or guarding the border.
If the regular army has low discipline the reserve can be ridicules. Your officer might have dreadlocks because he just came back from India, the sergeant maybe is now fat, that guy became a pacifist and is not coming to the reserve anymore, the chubby lazy guy became an iron man competitor and he is now an elite soldier and so and so...
Everyone dressed sloppily with a combination of civilian equipment which can be more comfortable. So if you see a soldier that looks sloppy, unshaven and looks more like an escaping prisoner than a soldier, he is probably on reserve.
in this video you can see that the soldiers are more mature and older than teenage at their 20's:
Minorities in the IDF
As I mentioned before, because of the political situation not all minorities are joining the IDF. The Muslim Arabs who lives inside Israel are mostly relatives with the Palestinian Arabs in the West Bank and in the surrounded countries. It can create sensitive situations and because of the historical status qu, the Muslims are not obligated to serve.
Some Bedouin tribes chose to serve and have their own battalion:
Some of them also serve as trackers along Israel borders:
The Druze as a community chose to serve and be part of the state. some of them serve as high-ranking generals in the IDF. In the past They used to have their own battalion which used to guard the Lebanese border next to their villages but both the Druze themselves and the IDF decided it will be better to spread them in the whole IDF and not distinguish them in their own battalion. this way more people will get to know them and they will learn more about the bigger Israeli society.
The colorful flag is the Druze flag.
They are considered to be some of the best soldiers of the IDF.
There are other minorities who serve like Christians Arabs, Samaritans, and Circassians. they don't join in large numbers so they don't have cool edited videos on YouTube to share...
(Which by the way is another job you can do, video editing)
Ultra-Orthodox or Haredim in the IDF
some of them choose to serve in specific places which are adjusted to their way of life.
this issue is under a big debate in the Haredi community. you can read more about it on the Haredim page.