National service in Arab sector up 76% over past year

Many face attacks and intimidation against participating.

Bennett with Arab volunteer 370 (photo credit: Yoram Cohen)
Bennett with Arab volunteer 370
(photo credit: Yoram Cohen)
A ceremony was held on Tuesday at the Haifa Cinematheque to recognize the record-high 3,000 Arabs volunteering in the national service program this year.
This represents an increase of 76 percent over last year, when 1,700 participated.
Economy and Trade Minister Naftali Bennett, who is in charge of national service, attended the event and spoke against the incitement by Israeli Arab leaders against those who participate in the program.
“There are those that do not like it, who want separation and do not want to see Arabs and Jews living together in coexistence,” he said.
Sar-Shalom Gerbi, director of the Civil and National Service Administration, also attended the event. “We will take all legal measures and deal with incitement in the Arab sector,” he said.
Gerbi told The Jerusalem Post that Arab volunteers have asked for help dealing with the threats they receive from members of their community. He mentioned that MK Jamal Zahalka (Balad), for example, called Arab volunteers traitors last year.
“There is no good argument to explain why this [service] is not good,” said Gerbi.
He said that he has written and called upon Israeli Arab leaders to come to meetings and talk with him about cooperating, but that he never received an answer.
Ninety percent of Arab volunteers serve in the Arab sector, in schools, daycare centers and programs against drugs and violence.
According to Gerbi, 85% of participants either study or enter the workforce after their service.
But many endure intimidation and attacks because of their sacrifice.
Gerbi mentioned one young woman who had the windows of her home broken as a result of her service. Gerbi says that while Arab political leaders are very strongly against Arab participation in national service, “most of the population is very much for it.”
Out of a total 16,000 national service volunteers, 19% are members of minority groups. The make-up of the minority volunteers is Christian Arab 17%, Druse 21%, and Beduin Muslims 51%.