“Arab citizens of Israel” is a phrase used to describe Arabs or Arabic-speaking people who are not Jewish, but are citizens of the State of Israel. (definition: Wikipedia)
The Arab-Israeli sector comprises of over 1.4 million people (some 19.8 per cent of the Israeli population). Their dual identity is highly complex, in a country torn by an ongoing struggle between their two nationalities. Many Arab citizens in Israel feel that the state actively discriminates against them, just from being in its essence a ‘Jewish state’. Arab-Israeli youth are not required to serve in the military so as not to place them in an awkward position, fighting against their brothers. However, there has been a recent government initiative, aimed at passing a law requiring all Arab-Israeli youth to engage in some form of national service. This includes a range of volunteering possibilities with organizations in deprived communities and towns.
This proposal was received poorly by many of the Arab-Israeli community leaders. Here are translations of several Hebrew blog posts from Jewish and Arab citizens in Israel, reacting to this minority's complex social stance.
In his blog post, Avraham Pechter, an Israeli lawyer and consultant, describes the problematic reactions from several Arab-Israeli community leaders regarding the proposed national service:
Two months ago the government decided to start encouraging national service in Israel within the Arab-Israeli sector. This is voluntary service, which is also directed towards the Arab sector. Youth who are currently exempt from Military Service will be asked to volunteer in hospitals, community centers, drug rehabilitation centers, schools, clinics or any other charity services. Israeli-Arabs are exempt from the compulsory military service for obvious security and ethical reasons; they are not placed in the embarrassing position to fight the Palestinians. Yet they long for equality in this country without showing any intent on integrating and improving the Arab-Israeli community's social status, which can benefit immensely from this proposed national service. It is hypocritical behavior, trying to maintain the existing conditions: highlighting our differences, deepening poverty and crime, which result in their internal political gains.
Arab-Israeli parliament member Jamal Zahalka claimed that “the Arab society will extract those who volunteer to the national service and consider them as lepers”, in reaction to the formation of the national service committee. Other Arab community leaders who support Zahalka's stance stated that national service is the first step for the physical extermination of the Arabs.
And I ask – where is the logic here? How can the Israeli youth be required to serve and help the Arab sector's welfare while Arab youth are exempt because of their leader's requests? While the Arab community leaders righteously claim that there is a rise in crime, drug usage and violence within their communities, they still request volunteers from the national service and more funding, while they label those of them who want to volunteer as “traitors” or “lepers”.
In another blog post an Israeli reacts:
The Israeli government is trying to pass a law for compulsory national service for the Arab-Israeli sector. The protests did not fail to come, some hair-raising when reading their comments and claims regarding this law – “This will bring to Israelization of our youth”, claims an Arab-Israeli parliament member.
Excuse me, but are you not Israelis already?
Or are you Israeli only when it comes to accepting your national stipends, government pension, health insurance, water and electricity service? A committee gathered in Haifa today to discuss the topic of this new law proposal. Reading the comments and claims that were stated there, I wonder how we will all end up. The gap between our two separate sectors seems impossible to bridge.
In the following blog post an Israeli-Arab describes how it is to be an Israeli born Christian Arab:
As an Israeli born Christian Arab, my identity is complex and confusing. Even though I feel completely Israel, voices from the Arab side claim that I am Palestinian. Our roots were conquered here 60 years ago. The Israelis do not really let us feel Israeli. They look at us differently. I don't really know what we are. If we rebel against this country, the Jews will make us feel shameful that we, as Israelis, oppose our own country. But on the other hand, if we protect Israel because it is the land we live in, the Palestinians will call us traitors, and claim that we forgot our own people; forgot where we had come from… But the truth is that the Palestinians do not like the Israeli-Arabs. In fact, they hate and despise us even more than their hate towards the Jews. And the Jews in this country hate the Arab Israelis, because they are similar to Palestinians. So which side do we belong to??