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In Hebrew, Tz’va Haganah L’Yisrael. The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) grew out of the Haganah, the Jewish self-defense organization formed during the period of the British Mandate and the Jewish Brigade, a military unit which fought alongside the Allied Forces during World War II. Its purpose was to defend Jewish life and property in Palestine against Arab marauders. Since its creation in 1948, Israel’s army has been called upon four times to fight for the survival of the country: in 1948, 1956, 1967, and in the Yom Kippur War of 1973. In February 1991, the IDF planned to launch an air and ground attack on western Iraq to put an end to the Scud missile attacks against Israel, but the U.S. dissuaded Israel from doing so.

The IDF must be constantly on the alert to defend Israel’s borders against attacks from hostile neighbors. The IDF has a nucleus of career soldiers, but it is basically a citizens’ army. All men from the age of 18 to 29 and women from 18 to 26 are called for regular service of up to 30 months for men and 20 months for women. Married women, mothers, and pregnant mothers are exempted from the draft. Women from strictly Orthodox homes who have religious objections to serving in the army must perform national services as teachers or nurses. Israeli Arabs are exempt, but Druzes are drafted at their own request, and a number of Muslims and Christians have volunteered. Following their term of national service, men and women without children are in the Reserves until the ages of 55 and 34, respectively, and men must report each year for various periods of training. With this arrangement, able-bodied citizens can be mobilized for combat within hours if a national emergency erupts.

Organization. The IDF includes all three branches of modern armed services: army, navy, and air force. Ranks are uniform throughout, under the orders of one General Staff, headed by a chief of staff with the rank of lieutenant-general. The General Staff consists of the chiefs of the General Staff, Manpower, Logistics and Intelligence, the Commanders of the Navy and Air Force, and the officers who command the Northern, Central, and Southern regional commands into which the country is divided.

Women in the Army. The women’s force, known as Hen (an abbreviation of Hel Nashim, or Women’s Force); the word hen also happens to be the Hebrew word for charm. This force provides non-combatant personnel such as nurses, mechanics, communication workers, and other specialists, thus freeing the men for active combat duty. Some women serve as combat personnel.

Nahal (No’ar Halutzi Lohem). This pioneer youth group combines soldiering with pioneering. After a few months of intensive military training, Nahal groups are assigned to agricultural settlements for about a year to gain practical experience in farming. A Nahal group joins a frontier settlement or sets up one of its own, often in areas too dangerous or difficult for settlement by civilians.

Gadna (G’dude HaNo’ar). The “Youth Battalions” are pre-military organizations for boys and girls between the ages of 14 and 18, supervised jointly by the Ministry of Defense and the Ministry of Education and Culture. Training is along scout lines, and there are also naval and air sections. Emphasis is placed on pioneering and practical training in agriculture. Many developing countries, especially in Africa and South America, have formed youth movements modeled on Nahal and Gadna.

Role of the Army in Education and Citizenship. In addition to fulfilling Israel’s defense needs, the Army helps weld the many different elements of the country’s population into a unified whole. Soldiers are taught Hebrew, Jewish history, and the geography of the country. In this manner the Army has helped new immigrants become integrated into Israeli life. No soldier leaves the army without getting a basic education. Soldiers are also trained in trades of their choice so that they return to civilian life better prepared for the productive work necessary for the nation’s continued growth and welfare.

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