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Minorities in the Israeli Military, 1948–58

Randall S. Geller

This will be the first study to explore the attitudes and policies on all sides of the majority/minority divide in Israel during the state’s formative decade, and how the social, political, and strategic decisions made vis-à-vis the non-Jewish populations then continue to impact this unique Middle Eastern state today. While land, labor, and settlement policies, or the educational, legal, or political systems could have been used to explore majority-minority relations in Israel between 1948-1958, I have chosen to do so through the prism of the army – in theory, the state’s most unifying social institution.

The central questions investigated in this study are; how did the leadership of the Jewish majority balance its declared commitment to the state’s democratic ideals and the principle of equality on the one hand, and its commitment to creating a Jewish state and ensuring its security on the other? Was the army – charged with instilling Zionist patriotism in Jewish youth – prepared to absorb and integrate Arabs, who constituted the overwhelming majority of the non-Jewish minorities? Would the state’s minority groups be viewed as trustworthy and loyal enough to serve in the army? Furthermore, how would (potential) Arab military service impact the educational mission, and particularly the simultaneously transformative and integrative effort the army was charged with carrying out among Jews?

While a specialized work in the fields of Israel and Middle Eastern Studies, this book should appeal to all students interested in majority/minority relations and the state-building process in newly-emerging democratic societies.
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Lexington Books
Pages: 270Size: 6 x 9
978-1-4985-4163-3 • Hardback • August 2017 • $100.00 • (£70.00)
978-1-4985-4164-0 • eBook • August 2017 • $95.00 • (£65.00) (coming soon)
Randall S. Geller is a visiting scholar at the Schusterman Center for Israel Studies of Brandeis University, lecturer in the Liberal Arts Department at the Massachusetts College of Art and Design, and lecturer in history at Emmanuel College.
Chapter 1: David Ben-Gurion and the Dilemma of Arab Service in the Israel Defense Forces
Chapter 2: The Background to and Formation of the Minorities Unit in 1948
Chapter 3: Druze and Jews after the Transition to Statehood, Fall 1948 to Early 1949
Chapter 4: The Druze and the State, 1949–53, Culminating in a Short-Term Druze Conscription Plan
Chapter 5: An Abortive Effort to Draft the Entire Arab Population, 1954
Chapter 6: The Druze Draft, 1956
Chapter 7: The Rise and Demise of a Christian Arab Unit
Chapter 8: Bedouin Service in the IDF, 1948–57
Chapter 9: The Recruitment and Conscription of the Circassian Community into the Israel Defense Forces, 1948–58
Chapter 10: Conclusion
Minorities in the Israeli Military, 1948–58 is a unique and original prism to view the challenge Israel faced as it set out to become both a Jewish and democratic state. With exhaustive research into Arabic and Hebrew sources, Randall S. Geller illuminates the dilemmas of integrating non-Jewish minorities—Muslims, Christians, Druze, and Circassians—into the army of a Jewish state that faced the threat from brethren of its own citizens living across its borders. The successes and failures of integration during those early years impact Israel through to the present. This scrupulous and well-written assessment is essential for many courses in Israel studies and Middle Eastern studies as well for those engaged with understanding a complicated region.
S. Ilan Troen, Brandeis University

Israel’s future as a democratic state depends in large part on the successful integration of its non-Jewish citizens. Randall S. Geller’s study of the first decade of Israeli policies on conscripting Christian, Druze, and Muslim men into the IDF provides invaluable context for this essential issue. His ability to access Hebrew-language and other primary sources makes Minorities in the Israeli Military, 1948–58 a work of significant scholarship, providing insights that should be widely disseminated.
William F.S. Miles, Northeastern University

Randall S. Geller has written a remarkably interesting and lucid book on the conscription policies and practices of the newly emergent State of Israel towards its Arab minority during the first decade of statehood. Especially enlightening are his chapters on the role of conscription in serving Israeli foreign policy objectives, such as the relationship between conscripting Druze and creating divisions amongst Israel’s foes, the very practical difficulties of transforming the minority into an effective fighting force, and squaring these objectives within a normative framework that seemingly wanted to include the non-Jewish minorities into the State body politic. The reader is left to judge whether Israel missed a window of opportunity to fully integrate its Arab citizens.
Hillel Frisch, Bar-Ilan University