Israel’s first non-Bedouin Muslim IDF officer faces backlash from Arab community

Hisham Abu Ria, the first Muslim officer in the IDF from a non-Bedouin background, spoke to Israel’s Kan News about the backlash he’s faced from the Arab community.

By Lauren Marcus, World Israel News

Hisham Abu Ria, the first Muslim officer in the IDF from a non-Bedouin background, feels like he has a foot in two worlds. Born and raised in the northern Israeli Arab town of Sakhnin, he made the unprecedented decision to volunteer for the IDF.

In an interview with Israel’s Kan News, he spoke about the backlash he’s faced from the Arab community because of his military service.

Abu Ria decided to join the IDF after spending time with Jewish classmates while studying at Ben Gurion University.

“It’s hard for me to feel differently,” he said. He felt there was a major gap between himself and his Jewish classmates that would prevent him from fully integrating in Israeli society.

“I decided I needed to do what they [Jewish Israelis] had done, and joined the IDF.”

After completing his basic training at the age of 23, Abu Ria was sent to an officer’s course and served for a decade, eventually reaching the rank of major.

For his entire Army service, he was the only non-Bedouin Muslim IDF officer and one of very few Muslim soldiers from a non-Bedouin background.

The IDF regularly invests in specialized outreach efforts to recruit Bedouins, Christians and Circassians, but the non-Bedouin Muslim community is ignored by army recruiters.

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“They don’t deal with us at all,” said Abu Ria. He launched an initiative to recruit Muslims to the IDF, visiting local high schools and speaking to students. But when he asked for support for his efforts from the Ministry of Defense, he was turned down.

“In the entire IDF, there’s really no officer who is responsible for recruiting non-Bedouin Muslims,” confirmed another Muslim former IDF soldier, Shadi Abu Fares.

“Yet there’s budget allocations for [pop star] Noa Kirel’s backup dancers. How can that be?”

Touching on the backlash he’s faced from the Arab community, Abu Ria said, “If you served, you’re viewed as a traitor. You walk in the streets and greet people, they don’t acknowledge you.”

“They’ve threatened me on Facebook, they even tried to burn my house down once. I’ve had to switch my kids to new day cares, three or four times,” he said, because the other parents found out he’d served in the IDF.

“The administrators said to me, ‘better to lose one child than 10,’” he explained, implying that the other parents would have removed their children had Abu Ria’s stayed in the class.

After his release from the Army, Abu Ria struggled to find work. “I found myself begging for people to employ me, asking them to ignore the fact I served in the Army,” he said.

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Abu Ria called upon the Israeli government to do more for Muslim IDF veterans.

“The state, the Prime Minister, and members of the Knesset need to intervene. They need to give us support, they need to give us back-up. You guys abandoned us.”

Another Muslim Israeli who served in the IDF spoke to Kan News about his experience with discrimination from the Arab community.

G., who wished to remain anonymous, said he’d been denied the opportunity to buy land from the local council in Sakhnin. Out of around 200 people who’d applied to purchase land, 10 people were rejected, all of them ex-soldiers.

The man was sure the decision to deny them land was based on the fact they had served in the IDF, citing a statement from Sakhnin’s mayor Muhammd Zubeidat posted on Facebook, which asked the local council to give preference to applicants who were not ex-soldiers.

“Released soldiers [from Muslim backgrounds] don’t have anyone looking out for them, period,” said G. “If you’re Muslim, it’s better not to serve.”