Meet René: The IDF’s First Ever Swiss-Bedouin Medic

Sgt. René Elhozayel is a perfect example of what the IDF calls the ‘kur hituch’, or melting pot. One of his parents is Bedouin, and the other a Swiss Jew — he celebrates both Eid al-Adha and Passover. One day, he hopes to become a doctor. René agreed to sit down with us and talk about his unique IDF journey. Here’s his story.

 What is your family background?

My parents met in Switzerland, where my father, who is Israeli Bedouin, studied engineering. They decided to move back into Israel and start a family. We speak German and English at home, and I learned Hebrew in school.

You could say I have a big family — there are about 5,600 people in the Elhozayel clan, since my grandfather had 39 wives!

My family has lived in the Negev desert for many generations. Now they live in Rahat, which is a Bedouin town near Beersheba. I think we can call ourselves a patriotic family. Almost all of us have served in the IDF, and some of us are career soldiers. When a family member decides not to join the IDF, the family isn’t happy.

Sgt. Rene Elhozayel in the field.

Sgt. Rene Elhozayel in the field.


You grew up with lots of different influences at home. Which holidays do you celebrate?

At home, we celebrate Christmas, the Bedouin holidays, Eid al-Adha and Passover. But it’s more of a tradition – we’re not religious or strict about it.

When did you decide to join the IDF?

During my last year of high school. Joining the IDF was an obvious step for me – I always knew that I wanted to become a combat soldier. Most of my family served in the IDF.

Where did you enlist?

I joined the Desert Reconnaissance Battalion in 2009. Unfortunately I had to leave my combat position because I developed a serious eye condition. A year later, I fought to have my medical profile raised so that I could return to a combat role. My eye wasn’t perfect, but it was healthy enough for me to become a medic. Luckily, since I had already gone through basic training as a combat soldier, I didn’t have to do it again. I just had to complete a three-and-a-half month medic’s course and I was ready to go.

Sgt. Rene Elhozayel, a mixture of cultures.

Sgt. Rene Elhozayel, a mixture of cultures.

Where do you serve now?

I’m near the Egyptian border. My job is to treat combat soldiers, but as a medic, I’ve sworn to treat anyone, including the people we’re fighting against. In addition, I often find myself treating African illegal immigrants who have crossed the border.

What’s the most difficult thing you’ve ever done as a medic?

I was responsible for recovering the bodies after the terror attacks of August 2011. Gazan terrorists affiliated with the Popular Resistance Committee crossed into Israel via Egypt, killed eight people and wounded another 31.  It was an incredibly difficult mission, and also very dangerous.

Sgt. Rene Elhozayel

Sgt. Rene Elhozayel

What are your plans for when you are released from the army?

My service as a medic inspired me to go to medical school. I don’t know if I’m going to study in Israel or overseas – getting into medical school in Israel is extremely competitive. The army also offered me a position as a career soldier. It might be very interesting – I’m definitely considering it.

What do you say to people who ask you why a Swiss-Bedoin is serving in the Israeli army?

There are lots of different types of people in the army, but at the end of the day, we’re all the same thing – IDF soldiers. I may be a bit unique, but I consider myself to be just like any other IDF medic.

Check out our interactive map of stories of IDF soldiers from around the world!


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