Religion can often take a backseat in Israel when it comes to security, as brothers Muhammad and Milad Atrash, two Muslim member’s of the Israel Defense Force’s Golani Brigade, can attest to.
“While still in high school I asked my family, ‘Why don’t we, the Muslims, enlist?'” Milad, 19, told the IDF blog. “‘Why do the Jews, the Druze and the Bedouins enlist, while we don’t?’ They explained to me that Jews serve because it’s their country, that the Druze [community] had signed agreements with the IDF and that we have a lot of Islamic movements that oppose military service in the IDF.”
Milad’s response? “I told them I don’t care about that. I want to join the army to protect my village, my country.”
Five months later, Milad started his military service and arrived at basic training. “Because I didn’t know anything about the army, I packed a bag for 4 months!” he says with a smile. “After four days my commander told me I was going back home for the weekend.”
When Muhammad graduated high school a year later, he considered immediately pursuing his academic studies – until his older brother convinced him that the army was the best solution for him.
“After a few conversations with Milad, I understood that this was what I wanted: to enlist, to contribute to my country,” he explained to the IDF blog.
Recently Muhammad took his oath to the state as part of his enlistment while holding the Quran rather than the Hebrew Bible, as Jewish soldiers do.
The brothers say that they’ve enjoyed their experience thus far and have faced no racism from their fellow soldiers. This isn’t the case, however, with how they have been received back home.
“People in the village talk behind our backs,” explains Milad. “And when our mother washes our uniforms we make sure she does it inside the house so that our uniform won’t be stolen.”
“Despite it all, I go back to the village with my uniform on,” says Muhammad without hesitation. “So far, I haven’t gotten any comments, and even if people stare I don’t notice. I’m fine with it.”
Some of the Atrash brothers’ friends also objected to their military service. “I no longer have friends from my village,” Milad says. “All of my friends decided to end our friendship, but that’s all right. I’m making some new friends here, in the army. They also stayed away from Muhammad because he’s in the army.” Muhammad agrees.
“At first my mom was afraid of [my] enlisting in the IDF,” Milad continues, “but she saw it makes me happy, so she is happy, too. Now she tells my brothers to enlist. I’m trying to convince my cousins to enlist,” he smiles.
But despite the sacrifices, Muhammad has no regrets, and even encourages others like him to do the same . “It doesn’t matter where they serve – contribution is the most important thing. For me, for example, it doesn’t matter if I serve in Judea and Samaria or on the Gaza border and will have to confront Muslims from the other side of the fence. We are guarding our country, we have to protect it and it doesn’t matter who’s the other side is – Arabs or not, Muslims or not. In the end, everyone protects his or her family.”