'We think that being part of a larger system strengthens the volunteer's connection to the state and to society. Unfortunately, what I see as a plus, Arab leaders see as a big threat and detriment' Reuven Gal was the natural choice to head the government's Administration for Civilian National Service. His experience ranges from the classroom (as a clinical psychologist and a professor) to the command room (he reached the rank of colonel in the IDF, serving as head of the Behavioral Science Department and later becoming the chief army psychologist) and the board room (as deputy national security adviser for domestic policy, with specific focus on national service). He co-authored Service Without Guns, which explores the development and impact of national youth service programs, and examines the strategies and key elements of successful programs. It seems clear why the state would want to encourage Arab citizens to join this program. Why would young Arabs want to take part in it? The main reason is that volunteers can contribute first and foremost to their own communities. I don't need to tell you that the situation in Arab towns is very bad. They are the poorest in the country in infrastructure, health, education, welfare, etc. Volunteers are a tremendous resource to a community. They can help in dozens of ways... to raise the standard of living in these towns. Another reason is that, as we know, a year or two of volunteering is an empowerment process. These young people become more mature and more independent during the time they spend in the program. Also, we think that being part of a larger system strengthens the volunteer's connection to the state and to society. Unfortunately, what I see as a plus, Arab leaders see as a big threat and detriment. Are the financial incentives sufficient? Wouldn't volunteers be better off working instead? Firstly, the incentives are significant. Volunteers get discounts on taxes, on buying a home, on tuition for higher education and more. Whoever already has a job, great. There's no reason to leave a good job in order to volunteer. But this is for people who are at an age where they have a window of opportunity to contribute to the community without having to worry about raising a family or paying their way through university. Listen, Jewish girls who do national service could also go get a job instead, but they choose to serve the country first. What's right for Jews, in this case, is right for Arabs too. Arabs complain that performing national service won't spare them from the discrimination of employers who only accept applicants "after military service." In most places, even where it is written that you have to have served to be accepted for employment, civilian service is included in that definition of service. But for those places that don't respect the rule of including civilian service, we will go and ensure that they do. At the recent Herzliya Conference, you announced that the national service program for Arabs was expanding. How large do you see this becoming? Today there are some 630 participants. There are more than 300 others who have asked to join, but we don't yet have enough spots to give them. If this continues, we'll be talking about thousands of participants instead of just hundreds. Is there enough money budgeted to pay for thousands of volunteers? We have received authorization to add 1,000 people each year. It is worth noting that, until now, a considerable amount of the funding for the volunteers has come, not from government funds, but from private funds. For example, a hospital's supporters donate the money to cover the costs of a volunteer, and we find them someone to serve. So far, the vast majority of volunteers have been women. Is it difficult to attract men to this program? Do you have a plan to encourage more men to participate? We don't differentiate between one sex and the other, and we don't dedicate time or money to influence one or the other. Men, in general, seek a full-time job right after high school, while young women often are looking for something to do before going to university, or before they get married. But the number of men signing up is rising all the time. One of the stated goals of the program is to integrate Arabs within the larger population. If the Arab volunteers are serving in their own communities, how much interaction is there, really? Ideally, national service would be performed in groups, and each group would include a mix of Jews and Arabs from different parts of the country. For a year or two, they would live together and learn about each other, bonding the whole time. Right now, this isn't possible. However, I can tell you that there is a group of girls from Acre who are serving in courts in Haifa. Several Arab boys are serving in Hadera. We don't forbid them to serve outside their villages; the opposite. Also, there are "supplementary education days" during which national service volunteers of all kinds, Jews and Arabs, boys and girls, study together and mingle. I hope that we will have more of these events. Another of the ideas behind the program, as you have stated, is creating equality. Yet there are still huge gaps between the government's budget allocations to the Jewish population and the Arab population. I don't think that civilian service, by itself, will bring full equality. That will require a ton more work - from the government, from NGOs, etc. - to overcome stereotypes and fill the gaps that are present now. I do think that this is a step in the right direction. But no, it isn't enough by itself, and no one should kid himself by thinking that.