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Israel: Arab Citizens of Israel Oppose National Service

“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??

8 comments

  • I don’t personally think there’s anything wrong with the concept of Arab-Israelis doing social service instead of military service. But then again, it’s not an isolated thing, you have a whole state that defines itself as a “Jewish State” which automatically will eliminate any kind of belonging any of the other religions might have. Hell, I dont even get how secular and atheist non-arab-israelis can live with that.

  • You’re hitting an important point here Yazan. Most people don’t realize how deep the internal tear is within Israeli society. A majority of 2nd generation-born secular Israelis see religion there as oppressive & parasitical. These communities who live on tax money and pray all day long. I think that if Israel didn’t have so many external problems, it would have a huge internal crisis – redefining the role of religion.

  • I think your point Yazan also refers to coneptualization of what Jewish is. The thing is that it goes beyond definition of religion. I view myself secular and Jewish, where the later part for me is an ethno-cultural concept. My grandparents’ families were not killed in the Holocaust because of their religious practices…

  • Louis

    I don’t see anything wrong here. It’s a social reform, not a religious reform. It’s not asking the Israeli-Arab to abandon their religion and identity, but asking for their contribution to the state. I think “physical extermination of the Arabs” is a bit too extreme of a speech.

  • 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?

    Arab citizens don’t pay for the same welfare with their taxes? Or when he’s talking about the ‘service’ Israel provides to Palestinians is that a reference to the IDF?

  • Abe Bird

    See no reason why Israeli Arab citizens won’t do the same public service as the Jewish Israelis. Some small portion of the Arabs, Muslims too, are enlisting to the IDF and serve for 3 years. The government wants the others to give at least one year of their life to help supporting social Arabs’ condition. Arabs should enlist to help themselves and not blame Israel for all their own faults.

  • Nadia, of course the Arab citizen are subject to the same tax system as anybody else in Israel. I think, and please correct me Gilad if i am wrong, he refers to two points.

    First, all Israelis are required either to serve in the army (majority) or do civil service (minority) that includes working with socioeconomically challenged (very PC term) populations. The only exceptions are Arab-Israelis (Israeli-Palestinians, whatever you prefer) for the reasons described in the post and orthodox Jews for another array of historical reasons. The people who serve in one way or another are in fact contributing to the society in various ways (you may agree with some and disagree with others). This contribution goes to everyone Jews and Arabs.

    The second point, is probably referring to the fact that the degree of socioeconomically challenged among the Arab-Israelis is unproportionally higher. It is not to say that there are no populations in similar status among Jews and it does not taking away from the discussion about the roots of the problem. What it does say is that today contribution to the welfare is relatively higher among the the Jewish population compared to the Arab, and at the same time there is greater reliance on welfare system among the Israeli-Arabs, compared to the Israeli-Jews.

    Hope it helps to clarify. But i do share the amusement from the fact that this idea is being rejected and framed as “physical extermination of the Arabs”. I fail to see that link.

  • Actually, Nadia and Dima, I believe there are actually many Arab Israelis who refuse to pay taxes because they don’t recognize the government of the land that they live in. However, while not paying taxes, they do take advantage of the welfare services that other people’s tax dollars fund.

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