Willingness by young Arabs in Israel to volunteer for civilian national service has steadily fallen over the past six years, as the community’s support for contributing to national service, a new study to be published Tuesday by Haifa University’s Jewish-Arab Center has found.

Despite this, researchers Professor Sammy Smooha and Dr. Zohar Lechtman, who interviewed some 968 Arab citizens of Israel, noted that the actual number of young people from the community volunteering for national service has actually increased.

Based on numbers provided by the National Service, which is an alternative to serving in the IDF, 2399 young Arabs volunteered in 2011, compared to 1050 in 2008 and 240 in 2005.

Smooha and Lechtman, who carried out the study last year between the summer and fall as part of ongoing research into the general attitudes of Israel’s 1.5 million Arab citizens, highlighted that even though the numbers of those willing to volunteer have fallen, the 40% who are interested in joining is still exceptionally high.

Preparing to present the full study at a conference at Haifa University on Tuesday, the two academics said that – despite a fall in public opinion about volunteering for national service and attempts by the Arab leadership to dissuade young people from joining – there were still many young people who wanted to give back to their community and to the country.

According to the data presented in the study, 40% of young Arabs in Israel are willing to volunteer for national service, compared to 53% in 2009. In addition, 62% of the Arab community believes that civilian national service is important, a fall from 68% in 2009 and 78% in 2007.

The researchers also noted that many young Arabs interviewed for the study (252 of those interviewed were aged between 18 and 22) said they had been given little information about national service and what exactly volunteering meant.

“There are many negative voices in Arab society about joining national service and little outreach has been done to address this,” said the researchers.

While the focus on the study was on willingness to volunteer, the researchers also interviewed 154 young people currently volunteering and 152 who had completed more than six months in national service.

More than 90% of those who had volunteered said they were satisfied with their experiences and some 95.8% even they were proud they had volunteered.

In addition, 89% said they felt that by volunteering they had given something back to their own community and 82.4% said they felt good about giving something back to the country.

The goal of the multi-year study is to examine the degree of exposure of the Arab sector to civic service, gauge public opinion toward civic service and monitor changes in public opinion over the years.

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