Salem Hourani – Muslim IDF Combat Officer

Lieutenant-Colonel Salem Hourani will never forget July. He was then 13 and a half years old, the days of the Second Lebanon War, and Safed, his hometown, was flattened every day by dozens of Katyusha rockets fired by Hezbollah. In the midst of this chaos, the Muslim boy, who grew up all his life in a Jewish environment, watched with admiration the soldiers of the Home Front Command, who distributed children’s booklets and sweets to the children, and dreamed at nights to be like them.

“We lived from one siren to the other,” he recalls in a quiet voice. “Every time I went with my mother and three brothers to the stairwell of the building, because the shelter was far away. I heard windows smashing, the explosion of a car that had been hit in the street, the cries of panic. I prayed that a rocket would not hit us.

“The soldiers behaved like angels, trying to calm us, providing fans for homes, and making sure to keep the frightened children busy. Although we were the only Muslim family in the area, they treated us like everyone else, and for a moment they did not let us feel any different from our Jewish neighbors. I knew that I would do everything to enlist in the army and return to our country everything that it did for me in that war. “

Salem kept his promise. Although he was not obligated to serve in the IDF, he chose to volunteer, not for the Bedouin patrol battalion or for a tracker, but for a combat infantry unit. He served in Givati, went on an officer’s course, was wounded in Operation Tzuk Eitan and returned to the IDF as a volunteer combat officer in the brigade, and was the first officer to participate in the establishment of the new mixed battalion, Lavi,

Today he is the commander of the first unit in the battalion, whose soldiers will finish their training in few months. They will operate in the southern Jordan Valley and the Jericho area, prevent infiltrations from Jordan and Judea and Samaria, prevent the smuggling of weapons and drugs and participate in the arrest of wanted persons.

His father was a Muslim from the village of Nahaf near Carmiel, and his mother is a Bedouin from the village of Akbara, which is adjacent to Safed. They met almost 30 years ago, married and moved to the Amidar apartment near Ziv Hospital. The father served as an excavator until his death 19 years ago. Salem was then 5 years old, his older brother was 8 years old, the older sister was 7 years old, and the youngest sister was a year old. In order to support the family, the mother worked in cleaning houses, and later in charge of a dining room in a youth hostel in Safed.

“Since there were no Muslims around here, my parents took me to a Jewish kindergarten, “he says, in pure Hebrew, without any trace of an accent:” At home I spoke to my mother in Arabic, but I read only Hebrew and English. I never felt different in Safed and I did not suffer discrimination or racism. We were always careful not to play music on holidays and Saturdays to honor the neighbors. I would stay in friends’ houses, and they would stay with us. I had friends the kept kosher, and they would eat fruit and vegetables or raw food when stayed at my place.

Salem approached the recruitment office in Tiberias and announced his desire to volunteer. He was sure he would be welcomed with open arms. “They asked me to do another year of service in order to complete national service, but I objected, and I asked Givati, like three of my friends, they insist that it was impossible and that I should choose the Bedouin Battalion or the scouts.

“I went to Tiberias almost every week and talked to every officer I saw there, and I even thought of sending a letter to the then defense minister, Ehud Barak, in the end they sent me to speak with a representative of minorities in the recruitment office.
The Minority Officer asked me why I insisted on serving in Givati ​​and not on a course suitable for Muslims, and I gave him a full lecture on the importance of enlistment in the IDF and on the contribution to the community and the state. That’s how I managed to convince him. “

In July 2012, Salem arrived at Givati’s training base. He had undergone basic training and advanced training for eight months, as the only Muslim soldier in the unit.
“I have no doubt that for some of the recruits it was strange at first, why did a Muslim Arab fight alongside them? they never cursed me or made a racist comments”
“We entered into a routine, ate from the same plate and slept shoulder to shoulder, and who has time to deal with whether you are Jewish, Christian or Muslim, and I have never used my right to leave during the Ramadan”

Still, at the inauguration ceremony in October 2012 in Latrun, he was accompanied by apprehension. “There is no soldier who does not know that we swear to the Tanakh, and I did not know what I was supposed to do. When I saw that they brought a Quran specifically for me, I was very excited. This was proof that the IDF is an egalitarian army of all Israelis and all religions. “

Salem completed the route at the end of February 2013, and was sent to the Rotem Battalion, directly to operational activity in Judea and Samaria, “I remember the first arrest of a wanted person. It was in an Arab village near Hebron, we went into the house to catch weapons and drugs, there was a commotion, there were cries and cries of the women. As soon as I spoke their language, everyone calmed down, including the wanted one. He told me that they finally brought someone who understood him. “

Did he call you a traitor?
“No one called me like that, and I doubt they knew I was a Muslim, and only someone who understands, understands that my Arabic accent is far from perfect.”

At every military ceremony they play the national anthem, how do you feel about the words “Jewish soul”?
“At the beginning of the service, I did not sing the national anthem, because in principle I do not like to sing, but during the officers’ course I did a research about Hatikvah and analyzed the lyrics and their source, I am not in their favor or against them, but there is no doubt that singing the anthem is something that unites us as a military framework. I sing it every morning in the flag parade with my soldiers, “Hatikvah” is to me something Israeli, not religious, and I am even excited during official events. “

When an attack occurs, do you hear comments?
“Attacks only strengthen the status of the Muslim fighters. We are the example that it can be different, and that not all are extremists. Our message is peace and brotherhood. I believe that I represent the sector with respect and want to encourage enlistment among the Muslims, my cousin joins Lavi in the next round. “

In April 2013, Salem realized his dream of becoming a commander and went to a squad commanders’ course.
At the end of February 2014 Salem stood at the gates of the officers Training base.

From Israel Hayom Article in Hebrew June 2017

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