Nothing and nobody can be an understudy for a Bedouin tracker
06 February 2011 , 16:43
The commander instructs each soldier, running with him through the drill
The most recent exercise included target practice, a nighttime chase and training with explosives. They also practiced with an MAG machine gun. Archive photo: IDF Spokesperson
geresh
geresh

The IDF Southern Tracking Unit, composed of volunteers alone, protects Israels borders and embodies the true spirit and diversity of the IDF. The IDF is like one big family, once each soldier puts on that uniform we are all brothers, and our purpose is clear- to protect the State of Israel


Rotem Eliav

In spite of pressures from Islamic movements and constant shifts in allegiances, many Israeli Bedouins continue to voluntarily enlist to the IDF and even extend their services.

Many serving as trackers, the Bedouins have become a vital part of the military force. I consider my work with the trackers and the Bedouin population in general a true vocation, said Commander of the IDF Southern Tracking Unit, Col. Yossi Hadad, I have no doubt that even with all the recent technological advancements, there is no replacement for the Bedouin trackers and their devoted work. This is why, he stresses, our main focus is the wellbeing of the soldiers, making sure they return home safe and sound.

The Bedouins are mostly concentrated in the northern and southern regions of Israel where they lead semi- nomadic, Muslim lifestyles. Entrenched in their culture are the value of peace of mind, enhanced senses, and an unparalleled familiarity with the land, making them one of the only societies able to master the position of tracker.

To be a Tracker

A tracker's job is to obstruct illegal breaches into Israeli territory including that of terrorists, illegal immigrants and smugglers (smuggling drugs, for example). Master Sergeant Hassan Heib adds, the tracker must guarantee that no illegal break-ins took place during his shift. We deal with these incidents at most fronts and with their constant increase we have immense responsibility.  

The skills required for tracking have been passed down generations of Bedouins, as they are essential for their everyday lives. Since we live in the desert and work as shepherds, we come to know the land, explains Master Sergeant Muhammad El Walidi, when one of our sheep goes astray, we track it down by following its footprints.

Trackers spend one strenuous, sleepless week on duty and are given one week to recuperate. Since the trackers have no understudies, their training exercises take place during their week long vacations.

To be Prepared, to be Professional

These exercises take place every six months with which the unit, maintains its operational preparedness and enforces professionalism, explains Commander of the Southern Tracker Unit, Col. Yossi Hadad. Since the exercises are divided up, soldiers are can exchange knowledge, learn from each other and strengthen their abilities as trackers.

During exercises, the commanders yell commands practicing both in groups and individually. The commander instructs each soldier, running with him through the drill. The most recent exercise included target practice, a nighttime chase and training with explosives. They also practiced with an MAG machine gun.

At their latest exercise, the Administrative Officer of the Southern Command came to speak to the trackers. I acknowledge and appreciate the trackers unit, and was very impressed when meeting with the commanders. I hope that my meeting you in person will encourage you to turn to us with any problems, which we will work on solving immediately.

Some of the problems we face when addressing the Bedouin population in the IDF is their different culture and background, explains the units non-commissioned welfare officer, Irena Reznikov. The army works to accommodate their requests for utilities and equipment theyre lacking at home, respecting their strong family values by allowing extended mourning time in case of a death, even in the extended family. Since many of them marry at a young age, the IDF offers special benefits for them as well.

"This country is our home and if we wont protect it nobody will"

The IDF accommodates our needs, it doesnt just use our skill sets, explains Master Sergeant Muhammad El Walidi, who followed in his brothers footsteps and volunteered to the army. The IDF allows us to improve skills other than tracking. We are given the opportunity to complete 12 years of basic education, extra help for those who need it, and some even get two years of industrial engineering courses at the university. Israel also helps our villages with organized rides to schools and medical services. Since the IDF and Israel take care of us, it motivates us to serve.

Master Sergeant El Walidi adds, The IDF is like one big family, once each soldier puts on that uniform we are all brothers and our purpose is clear- to protect the State of Israel. I joined the trackers unit because its the best way I can give to the nation, he explains.

At the end of the day, this country is our home, and if we wont protect it nobody will.

Bedouins have been serving in the IDF for a very long time and Master Sergeant Muhammad El Walidi urges the trend to continue. Being in the army teaches responsibility, discipline and perspective. While in the army you meet new people and come to understand their mentality. And of course your Hebrew improves.

Other reasons Bedouins join the trackers unit is the glory associated with the profession. Ahmed Hgagra, still in his regular service wanted to enlist ever since he was little.

Trackers are esteemed and respected in every post and sector of the IDF. Throughout my service, Ive been relocated several times based on needs at a specific post but also to help improve my skills as a tracker. Wherever I ended up, I was praised and hailed for my efforts.

Infiltrators, tunnels and the Gaza Strip's C-shaped route

Recently, the tracker unit has been dealing with exceptionally large amounts of infiltrators, the use of tunnels and an infamous C-shaped route where terrorists leave from the Gaza Strip and enter Israel via an unsecured border with Egypt. Additionally, the Southern Command is currently building a new separation fence, the Hourglass that may affect the units activities both positively and negatively.

The tracker is essential for the security of the state of Israel, says Col. Yossi Hadad. He is the only one truly able to thwart an illegal entry.