Nahal is the Hebrew acronym for "Noar Halutzi Lohem" - Fighting Pioneer Youth - a military cadre unique to Israel. It is a framework which combines military service in a combat unit with civilian service in a newly founded kibbutz or moshav (collective and semi-collective agricultural settlements).
The Nahal was established during the 1948 War of Independence by David Ben-Gurion. It was the natural continuation of the pioneering values and customs of the nascent state and the legacy of the elite underground Palmach unit. The aim of the Nahal was to ensure security and settlement, combining the sword and the ploughshare (the Nahal official emblem). The Nahal was created as a subdivision of the Gadna (pre-military age youth battalions). The unit's function was to maintain Gar'inim ('nuclei'), or groups of youths who had united for the purpose of founding new settlements or joining existing ones, in the framework of youth movements. At the time, 17 year-olds were drafted along with these groups of youths in times of national emergency. From its inception, the Nahal included women in its ranks. The aim of the Nahal Gar'in was to provide its soldiers with extensive military capability as well as the basic tools for life on a new kibbutz or moshav. Since its establishment, The Nahal has helped found at least 108 new settlements and has assisted in the development of many more.
Preparation for the Nahal once began before the actual induction: it started at high school, when Israeli teenagers became active in youth movements. As the actual draft year approached, groups of youth movement members declared themselves a Gar'in" in a formal ceremony (attended at the time by Nahal representatives). Service in the Nahal also obligated these youths to serve an additional 4 months in the army. The nucleus was then registered with a defined goal: the founding of a new settlement or the strengthening of an existing one, affiliated with the youth movement to which it belonged. Their military and pre-military service was divided into eight phases to train Nahal recruits and to ensure settlement:
The Gar'in first settles at its "target settlement", where they receive agricultural instruction and aquire social cohesion. The Gar'in members then go on to basic training. They re-unite at a joint ceremony and proceed on their route of service, which includes periods on the kibbutz or moshav out of uniform as well as operational activity. The path of service may be divided as: Agricultural orientation and group binding at the "target settlement" (at which the nucleus was to spend several months) Basic Training Agricultural Training and Social Development (at the outpost - "Heahzut") Border security deployent (men - military operations on the border; women - administrative and rear duties) More advanced military training Service at a kibbutz on non-paid leave Further operational deployment Further service at a kibbutz on non-paid leave
Upon completing military service, the Nahal soldier has undergone both extensive military training and acquired a basic knowledge of agriculture. Nahal Gar'in soldiers have completed their military service in this way up to present day. As reservists, they are able to serve in some of the IDF's elite units.
After discharge there is no obligation for Nahal soldiers to remain on their "target settlements" though many have ended up doing so. The Nahal aims to see that once a settlement is established it becomes permanent. If economic conditions and manpower are sufficient, the settlement may be handed over to civilians.
Until a decade ago, Nahal recruits were volunteers primarily from youth movements. The Nahal also accepted new immigrants, who have always been highly regarded for their motivation. They found the Nahal to be an exellent means of integration into Israeli society. Immigrants receive a special pre-military program which includes an intense course in Hebrew education, weapons handling and military orientation. The Nahal likewise accepted a number of high school dropouts, or "problematic" youth, in special programs geared to give them remedial education and train them to be productive citizens.
Some 108 villages, moshavim and kibbutzim had their beginnings as Nahal settlements. These settlements were established to secure the border. In the years following the Six Day War, Nahal outposts played an important role in combatting infiltrations. Nahal outposts in the Jordan Valley and the Arava may well have helped to deter Jordan from participating in the Yom Kippur War. In the Peace for Galilee War the Nahal troops also played a key role, fighting in all sectors of Lebanon. Nahal paratroopers entered West Beirut. In an attempt to rescue an incapacitated tank, the unit suffered a large number of casualties. Inside Israel, Nahal soldiers were carrying more security-related duties than any other unit at the time. In 1982, the Nahal also doubled its capacities. It was at this time that the Nahal realized that it was in desperate need of an increase in manpower.
Most Nahal settlements were started on sensitive border points, and have by their location improved the defense situation drastically. Nahal settlements have made many other settlements possible indirectly, by beginning a population flow into a particular area targeted for development.. Nahal Original Traditions and Unique Institutions
Since its birth, the Nahal has developed many institutions and divised unique organizational methods to provide "tools" to enable unit to obtain its goals. Among these are the following:
- Mahane 80 ("Camp 80") - the Nahal (basic) training base.
- The Nahal NCO school
- The He'ahzut (the outpost) - located either at a sensitive border point or at a purely defensive one.
In 1988 Nahal had an estimated total strength of 5,000 men and women who had volunteered upon call-up. The basic unit was the platoon, which ranged from about twenty to eighty young people depending on assignment. A small headquarters served as a command element for a number of platoons located in the same general area. Platoons were assigned either to reinforce existing frontier settlements or to establish new ones in areas unsuitable for development by the civilian population. Strategic considerations were fundamental in selecting locations for Nahal units. Some sites were later abandoned as no longer useful; others became permanent civilian settlements.
The Nahal Unit which exists today has undergone an enormous change. It has successfully overcome a tarnished image since the mid 80's, following tragic accidents and mishaps. In 1982, at the time of the Lebanon War, the Nahal began recruiting more personnel, since the IDF was in need of another infantry unit. At first the classic Gar'in recruits were sufficient sources to maintain the unit, but in subsequent years the unit's manpower demands gradually increased, and as a consequence the Nahal opened its rosters to young people wishing to serve in an infantry unit (who hadn't been accepted into the IDF paratrooper's unit). Initially, the demand was for a 20% increase in manpower. In 1992, the demand rose to 30%, and in 1996, an 87% increase was registered. There are three existing courses of service in the Nahal today: Most of the soldiers undergo a course identical to that of other infantry units (basic training, advanced training, service in a combat unit, service on the border, command course). The second is for 3% of Nahal recruits with command potential who attend NCO school. The third is a modified version of the Gar'in track: after the basic and advanced training stages, the nucleus members spend 8 months on a "He'ahzut". Although there is much dispute regarding the need for this third course of service and the relevance of the Nahal's original goals in present-day Israel, in the past year there has been a marked increase in candidates volunteering for service in the nuclei and the Nahal Infantry Unit. As of 1997, the regular Nahal Infantry Brigade came under the command of the Central Command, while the Nahal Command, which continued to serve as a special cadre for combining military and nation-building civilian service was integrated into the framework of the Education and Youth Corps.
The Nahal Brigade was transferred to the Central Command in a process that was begun in 1996 and was completed in February 1997. In the context of the organizational changes carried out this year (1999) in the IDF, the Nahal Brigade was placed under the command of the a formation in the Central Command, and will no longer be an independent brigade directly subordinate to the GOC Central Command.
The Nahal Command continues to be responsible for the traditional service plan of the Nahal nuclei in the IDF. Today, the Nahal Command is subordinate to the Chief Education and Youth Officer.
The Nahal has proven that a standing army may serve not only defensive purposes, but also constructive ones. It has left its imprint by building some of the country's proudest possessions: idealistic, well-motivated men and woman. Although the Gar'in movement is no longer as necessary or possible as it was two decades ago, new Nahal recruits are making their commanders proud at sensitive border points, such as Southern Lebanon, and have definitely become some of the nation's finest and most productive soldiers.
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