NAḤAL (Heb. נַחַ״ל, Noar Ḥalutzi Loḥem; Fighting Pioneer Youth), in its classic form a regular unit of the Israel Defense Forces whose soldiers were organized in garinim ("groups") of pioneering youth movements in Israel and Zionist youth movements in the Diaspora that educated their members toward cooperative settlement in Israel. During their term of military service, these soldiers simultaneously participated in intensive training and social and ideological preparation toward their future as members of cooperative agricultural settlements. Naḥal had two aims: to produce firstclass soldiers and to prepare garinim for establishing new settlements or joining existing ones. All members of such a potential group were mobilized together, form a single army unit, and together underwent training. Training consisted of initial military training (at a Naḥal army camp) which was combined with ideological and social activities. There was then a period of combined agricultural and military training in a kibbutz or at a Naḥal outpost. Advanced military training in paratroop, tank, artillery, engineering, or other units followed for the men, while the girls went to live in their destined settlement where they were later joined by the men. The group then served for a period of shalat (sherut le-lo tashlum, "unpaid service").
The Naḥal outpost was a typical army camp with military ranks and discipline, but at the same time preparations were made for a civilian agricultural settlement. During the first 20 years of its existence, Naḥal founded 36 outposts, of which 22 became permanent settlements. Another 18 settlements were founded or refounded by soldiers who once served in Naḥal; in a further 70 settlements, Naḥal soldiers constituted half the membership, while in hundreds of other kibbutzim and moshavim there were smaller groups of ex-Naḥal soldiers. It has been found that four years after mobilization (i.e., a year after completing Nahal), about a third of the soldiers remained on the land and, of these, about half (that is 15% of those who were originally members of the group), stayed in their settlements after 15 and 20 years.
Naḥal was sometimes employed on special projects. For example, in 1949 it built a road to En-Gedi along the west bank of the Dead Sea. In the early 1950s it organized large-scale vegetable production. In the 1960s it employed its soldiers to teach reading and writing to both young and adult illiterates in development towns. Other countries showed interest in Nahal methods, and courses for Naḥal instructors were organized in Israel for countries in Asia, Africa, and South America. Many Israelis were employed as instructors in training similar groups in developing countries.
In the 1980s, Naḥal changed its character. The name Naḥal is now used for two different army units: the Naḥal Command working under the Education Corps and responsible for the garin activity; and the Naḥal brigade, which is a regular infantry brigade and part of the Central Command. It includes the Naḥal ḥaredi battalion for ultra-Orthodox soldiers. The Naḥal garinim focus on educational activity in civilian communities.
G. Levitas, Naḥal – Israel's Pioneer Fighting Youth (1967); Ministry of Defense, Israel, Naḥal (1970).
[Yehuda Schuster /
Shaked Gilboa (2nd ed.)]