Special panel urges civilian service for all non-conscripts (HA´ARETZ NEWS) By Yair Ettinger 02/04/05)
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A special committee set up to review the issue of civilian national
service will submit its conclusions to Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz
on Sunday, and the government is expected to adopt the panel´s
proposal to make voluntary civilian service open to all Israelis who
do not serve in the Israel Defense Forces.
The proposal calls for the program to go into effect at the end of
this year, with an initial complement of hundreds of volunteers -
Jews and Arabs, men and women, religious and secular, including ultra-
Orthodox yeshiva students who have received draft deferrals. The
program, according to the committee´s recommendations, would be
open "to all Israeli citizens and residents who are not called to do
security [i.e. IDF] service, are exempt from security service or have
been rejected for security service."
Most program participants would be volunteers, with two exceptions:
The committee recommends making civilian national service mandatory
for people who would normally be drafted, but have been exempted due
to health problems, conscientious objection or any other reason that
would not preclude civilian service. It also recommends mandatory
service for soldiers who are released as unfit for military service
during their first year, but would be fit for civilian service.
Since the leaderships of both the Arab and the ultra-Orthodox publics
vehemently oppose national service, the committee, headed by Major
General (res.) David Ivri, proposes appealing directly to these
communities´ young members via advertisements. To encourage them to
volunteer, the committee proposes a significant incentive: Every
graduate of the civilian national service program will receive the
same financial benefits granted to IDF veterans, adjusted for their
length of service.
The committee´s tentative proposal is that the volunteers serve only
one year, with the option of staying on for a second 12-month period.
IDF service, in contrast, is usually three years for men and two for
women. However, the committee is still considering the idea of making
civilian service the same length as IDF service.
To oversee the program, the committee proposes establishing both a
public council and a government agency, with the latter to be
subordinate to the Prime Minister´s Office. The agency would sign
agreements with the health, education and welfare institutions where
the volunteers would serve, encourage young people to volunteer,
place them and give them professional training where necessary.
The agency would have two divisions: "national service" and "civilian
service." The former would deal with people doing mandatory service,
as well as those religious women who do national service in lieu of
army service today. The latter would be aimed mainly at Arabs and the
ultra-Orthodox - two populations that might be put off by the Zionist
implications of "national service."
The committee believes that some 9,000 ultra-Orthodox a year might
ultimately volunteer for such service, but offers no numerical
predictions about Arab volunteers.
Arab and ultra-Orthodox volunteers would be offered positions within
their own communities - for instance, in Arab or ultra-Orthodox
schools or community health centers - or in programs that already
have a significant number of volunteers from these communities. Ultra-
Orthodox volunteers, for instance, might work for ZAKA, an
organization founded by the ultra-Orthodox that helps to identify
victims after terror attacks or other disasters.
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has frequently signaled his desire to
expand civilian service, particularly to the Arab population, as he
believes such service would promote the integration of the Arab
public. The committee´s report includes a similar assessment.
"This process would have positive social ramifications for the status
of Israel´s Arabs and relations between Jews and Arabs in Israel," it
said. "In this way, the committee hopes to pave the way for this
sector to integrate better into the Israeli sociopolitical fabric."
The one possible snag to the government´s adoption of the program is
its cost, estimated at tens of millions of shekels in the short term
alone. This may lead the Finance Ministry to oppose it.
The committee has been working on its proposal for the past 18
months. In addition to Ivri, its members include former Supreme Court
justice Itzhak Englard, attorney Yaakov Weinroth, Dr. Gila Menachem
and Major General (res.) Gideon Sheffer, a former head of the IDF´s
manpower division. (© Copyright 2005 Haaretz. 02/04/05)
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