Israel considers drafting its Arab citizens (CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR) By Andreas Hackl JERUSALEM, ISRAEL 08/01/12)
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Plans to reform Israel´s draft law include the possibility of
requiring Arab citizens of Israel to perform non-military national
service. Serve us first, many of them say.
Thousands of Israel’s Arab citizens could soon be asked to do
national service for their country, but many are pushing back, saying
Israel has yet to serve them.
“When the moment comes and we are asked to perform civil service, we
will resist,” said Nizar Hilawa, an Israeli Arab activist at a recent
festival in the Israeli town of Nazareth. “Israel wants us to do
service to the state, but first of all this state has to treat us as
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has made military draft
reform a top priority, primarily to "share the burden" of military
service between Israel´s secular and ultra-Orthodox Jews, who are
currently exempt from serving in the Israeli Defense Forces. This
month Mr. Netanyahu proposed a bill suggesting that by 2016, 6,000
ultra-Orthodox Jews should serve in the IDF.
The bill also includes a less-talked-about provision that would
require 5,000 Arab citizens of Israel to perform national service.
Resistance is coalescing among Israel’s 1.5 million Arabs, who make
up about 20 percent of Israel’s total population. Like the ultra-
Orthodox, they have been exempt from compulsory service since
Netanyahu´s office ruled out the possibility of compulsive military
service – a scenario Israel´s Arab community has long feared –
earlier this month, but it will become a reality for civil service,
says Mark Regev, an Israeli government spokesman. “We want to see an
incremental process where more and more Arabs perform the service,”
Mr. Regev says.
Skepticism about equality abounds
Previously, Israeli Arabs could volunteer to do various types of
national service. The number who choose to do so has increased by 60
percent since 2011, reaching 2,400 Arab volunteers in 2012, Israeli
newspaper Haaretz reported. Israeli officials have emphasized that
national service opens doors and job opportunities for Arabs and have
criticized Israeli Arab leaders for their opposition.
Under the new law, national servants would work in various social
service and health care institutions, such as hospitals, schools, and
community centers (similar to those volunteering already). In theory,
performing such national service would entitle Israeli Arabs to the
perks that a Jewish Israeli who has completed military service
enjoys: cash grants, discounted mortgages, better access to
government jobs, and financial aid and housing at Israeli
But many Arabs in Israel think they´ll continue to be discriminated
against, despite performing national service intended to make them
for equal to Jewish Israelis. And while about 41 percent of the
Jewish public agreed that Arabs should be required to perform
military or civil service at the age of 18, according to a June
survey by the Israel Democracy Institute, about 45 percent said the
current situation, where Israeli Arabs serve on a voluntary basis,
According to a 2009 survey conducted by the Israeli-Arab youth
association Baladana – as part of the organization´s effort to
convince Israeli Arab youth not to volunteer for national service,
according to Haaretz – 64 percent of Israeli Arabs between the age of
17 and 20 believed then that national service "was an impractical
solution for creating equality between Arab and Jewish Israeli
As a non-Jewish minority in a state that defines itself as Jewish,
Arabs often complain about unequal access to land and discriminatory
legislation, such as the Citizenship and Entry into Israel Law, which
prohibits Palestinians from the West Bank or Gaza who are married to
Israeli citizens from acquiring Israeli residency. Most of them
strongly identify with Palestinians.
In a recent report, the International Crisis Group described Arab
citizens of Israel as “politically marginalized, economically
underprivileged, ever more unwilling to accept systemic inequality.”
No benefits, no loyalty
One of the speakers at the festival held in Nazareth last week was
Fida Zidan, a 23-year-old woman from Israel’s Druze community. The
Druze have enjoyed a special status in Israel and are officially
treated as an ethnic and religious group distinct from Arabs. Most
importantly, they have been required to serve in Israel’s army for
decades, with the exception of the Druze of Syrian origin who live in
the Golan Heights.
“The Druze gave Israel loyalty because they thought they will get
full rights in return. But today we see that this loyalty has not
brought us much,” Ms. Zidan says.
Two of Zidan´s brothers died while serving in the IDF. One died in an
accident, the other during fighting in South Lebanon. She says she
and her only remaining brother have since re-discovered their Arab
identity, and now emphasize their solidarity with Palestinians, not
their fellow Israeli citizens.
“Many Druze don’t really feel Israeli, just like Arabs," she says.
“The Druze made a historical decision to serve in the army, but a
younger generation realizes now it was a mistake,” says Ilan Pappé,
an Israeli historian and professor at Exeter University. “They have
hardly benefited economically or socially from this.”
Pappé, who is a prominent critic of Israeli policies toward
Palestinians, says that today’s Arab citizens of Israel understand
that contributing to the common good by performing national service
will not make them equal citizens.
“Non-Jews in Israel will never be equal citizens, whether they serve
in the army, do national service, or not,” he says.(© The Christian
Science Monitor. 08/01/12)
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