Nahal (נח"ל, an acronym for Noar Halutzi Lohem, lit. Fighting Pioneer Youth) is an Israel Defense Forces infantry brigade. Historically, it refers to a program that combines military service and establishment of new agricultural settlements, often in outlying areas. Later, the program branched out into volunteering and social welfare projects.
Gar'inei Nahal served together in various army units, most famously in the Nahal Mutznakh (Airborne Nahal) battalion of the Paratroopers (Tzanhanim) Brigade, the reserve battalion of which was instrumental in the Israeli victory in the Battle of Jerusalem during the Six-Day War (1967). Also, many Nahal-founded settlements are still thriving today in the Galilee, the Negev, and the West Bank (as well as formerly in the Sinai Peninsula and Gaza Strip).
Today, a gar'in refers to a group formed by a youth movement, such as the Israeli Scouts, for the purpose of volunteer work.
Also in the Nahal and Youth Command is Lahakat HaNahal (The Nahal Band), a famous military choir/music troupe known for its canonical Eretz Israel songs which have become classics. The band gave birth to many Israeli entertainment talents such as Tuvya Tzafir, Neomy Polani, Gidi Gov and more. The band was recently featured on the popular Israeli telenovela HaShir Shelanu.
The brigade was created in 1982 as a consequence of an increased need for infantry manpower in the IDF, a result of the emerging conflict in southern Lebanon. The name Nahal was given to the brigade because the first battalion attached to it, the 50th, was the Airborne Nahal battalion, transferred over from the Paratroopers brigade (which was compensated with the raising of a new battalion). Two former patrol units, the 931st and the 932nd were also converted into infantry battalions and attached to the new regiment. Today, the 931st and 932nd are both high-quality, regular infantry battalions whose soldiers are drafted from the general population and serve a full three-year combat service. Nahal brigade soldiers are distinguished by their light green berets, which earned them the nickname "sticklights" (Hebrew for glowsticks).
The 50th battalion, on the other hand, currently has a unique makeup. Two thirds of the battalion's companies are made up of gar'inim, who serve one year prior to drafting to the army running programs in lower socio-economic communities, one and a half years training and serving in the IDF in the same manner as other infantry units, one more year participating in community service followed by ten months of combat infantry service. The other one third of the battalion, including the battalion's veteran combat companies, are made of Bnei Meshakim LePikud, nicknamed Mishkonim. The Mishkonim are youths from kibbutzim and moshavim, who, pass a two-day gibush (selection phase) prior to being drafted. After their initial training, they are sent, most often within the first year, to Command Sergeants School. As a continuation of 50th Battalion tradition, they also complete a paratrooper course after their advanced infantry training. The 50th is considered to be the IDF regular infantry battalion with the highest quality manpower, even more than the Paratroopers Brigade, as a result of the selection phase that the soldiers must pass prior to admittance and the fact that nearly 70% of its soldiers are qualified command sergeants, though only a few are picked to actually serve in this regard. The Mishkonim all serve a full three-year service and many continue on to Officer Training School.
A fourth Nahal battalion was created in the early 1990s to serve as a special forces detachment for the brigade. Soldiers wishing to serve in this elite battalion must pass a three-day gibush, after which they are dispersed into specialized training programs for each of the three companies that make up the battalion: the Palsar (Reconnaissance Company), which is generally considered to be the most elite company (enjoying the highest budget, longest training cycle, and receiving first pick of the soldiers from the gibush, though the difference in quality between its soldiers and those of the other two companies is negligible), the Palnat (Anti-Tank Company), and the Palhan (Engineering and Explosives Company). The task of the battalion is to serve as a pathfinder force for the regiment, and to conduct special operations in accordance with each company's unique abilities. In the current low intensity conflict, the companies usually act as counter-terrorist forces, raiding terrorist homes and hideouts.
Due to the unit's history and the social strata from which it primarily recruits its soldiers, the Nahal brigade has been tagged (unjustifiably) with a leftist-leaning stereotype. Throughout its history, the regiment has struggled with issues of prestige, and is often looked upon as being unproven in combat and of only average soldiering capability. This is in large part because it is one of the newer infantry brigades, and has yet to achieve the combat resume of the Golani and Paratroopers units. In an attempt to remedy this, Nahal commanders in recent years have begun aggressively lobbying for more high-risk deployments, as they have seen that such deployments not only remove the stigma from new units, but also drastically improve their combat skills. Still, despite high performance scores by the brigade's 50th Battalion and special forces units, the Nahal still consistently ranks only third or fourth in the yearly Officer's School scores, sports competitions, and combat games. Nevertheless, for the past three years the Nahal has been the most highly requested infantry placement among new recruits.
Palhan Nahal is the elite unit of Nahal involved in the figth against terrorism. Selection of his figthers is tough and training is intensive and comprehensive in all military aspects. Palhan Nahal togheter with parallel units in Paratroopers, Givati and Golani made the elite core of the infantry troops in the Israeli Army.