Representatives of the country’s largest organization responsible for
facilitating national service said on Wednesday that forcing certain sectors to
volunteer if they do not serve in the army would be a grave
Speaking at a workshop convened to discuss the increasing
involvement of the Arab sector in national service, Itamar Schwartz, deputy
director of the Arab sector for the National Civil Service Volunteers
Association, said that if volunteering for the country became compulsory for
populations such as Arab Israelis or the ultra-Orthodox then fewer people would
be willing to do it.
“We started national service 40 years ago with only
four young religious girls, and today there are more than 13,000 volunteers
countrywide from all sectors,” said Schwartz, whose own organization is the
largest of six NGOs involved. His group oversees volunteering opportunities for
more than 5,000 people who either chose not to serve in the army or were not
accepted for military duty.
Adi Luria, spokeswoman of the association,
explained to The Jerusalem Post
that if volunteers are forced to undertake
national service, even if it is for projects within their community, then it
will “destroy what we have built up over the last 40 years.”
of national service comes from the volunteering spirit; if you lose that then
you change the whole nature of what we are trying to do,” she said, adding,
“When volunteers come to us, they come because they want to contribute to the
country and their society, it is in their hearts.”
Nothing proved this
point more at Wednesday’s symposium than a presentation by Haifa resident
Jonathan Nizar el-Khoury.
Born in Lebanon and relocated to Israel in 2001
at the age of nine, Khoury described his satisfaction from volunteering at the
city’s Rambam Medical Center.
“Israel accepted us and gave us shelter,”
said Khoury, whose family is one of several hundred linked to the South Lebanese
Army that fled after Israel withdrew from the area in 2000.
we did not get all the rights and benefits promised to us by the [Israeli]
government, I still want to give something back to the country that took me and
my family in.”
He described how he had been rejected for military service
and opted for national service as an alternative. Despite criticism from within
the Arab community in Israel that the sector should not participate in the
governmentsponsored program, Khoury said he feels happy with his
“We live in this country and we should help this
People should not expect something from the country without
doing anything in return,” stated Khoury, who described how the program has both
fiscal and experiential benefits for participants, ultimately helping them to
find work placements or receive a subsidized education.
He added that
national service – which the Arab community refers to as community or civil
service – is a way for the minority population to become more
“Every month all the [national service] volunteers at the
hospital have a joint meeting. Suddenly you see Jews and Arabs coming together,
talking and laughing,” said Khoury. There are some 75 national service
volunteers at Rambam Medical Center, and 25 are from the Arab sector, he
According to information provided by the National Civil Service
Volunteers Association, the number of Arab’s volunteering countrywide for the
program has greatly increased over the past three years from about 300 to some
2,000 today. The association is currently responsible for the volunteer
placements of 600 Israeli Arabs.
Schwartz said that in addition, the
association oversees some 3,600 religious Jewish girls exempt from military
service, and 1,500 young men and woman who either have special needs or are
considered at risk and therefore never received army call-up papers. Those from
the Arab sector include Druse, Beduin and other Arabic-speaking minorities; 95
percent of the Arab volunteers are young women, he said.
highlighted some of the challenges he faced encouraging Arabs to volunteer,
including the fact that it is often portrayed negatively by the community’s
leadership and because of cultural attitudes that it will have a bad affect on
He said, however, that despite the criticism and the
lack of awareness about national service in the Arab community, young people
such as Khoury are coming forward and defying their leaders because they want to
be part of mainstream Israeli society and realize the benefits from
A recent survey carried out by the University of Haifa’s
Jewish-Arab Center found that despite an increase in Arab national service
volunteers, the collective willingness of the community to contribute to the
program has steadily fallen over the past six years.
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