NGO head decries drafting Arabs to nat'l service

State should coordinate with existing civil service frameworks rather than force youths to join state programs, says Jaffar Farrah.

Israeli Arabs at protest in Jaffa R 390 (photo credit:  REUTERS/NIR ELIAS)
Israeli Arabs at protest in Jaffa R 390
(photo credit: REUTERS/NIR ELIAS)
The state should recognize existing community- service programs in the Arab sector instead of trying to enlist Arab youth to national service programs run by the security establishment, Jaffar Farrah, the head of the the Mossawa Advocacy Center for Arab Citizens in Israel, said on Thursday.
“We do not need the government to define civil service for us; we need the government to recognize the civil service frameworks we already have in our communities,” Farrah said, adding that “there are already enough ways to perform civil service within the Palestinian society in Israel but the state will not recognize them because they want national service, which is an extension of military service.”
Farrah’s comments came a day after Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman said he will propose an alternative to the Tal Law that will decree that all Israelis perform some sort of national or military service to the state. Liberman’s proposal came a day after the High Court of Justice ruled against renewing the Tal Law, which since 2002 has afforded yeshiva students an exemption from military service.
Farrah said he sees Liberman’s bill as an “empty populist measure” meant to drum up votes, and accused the Israeli government of seeking ways of integrating Arab citizens into the national security framework under the auspices of community service.
“Instead of cooperating with us, they always want to come and force all types of service on us through the defense ministry and make us part of the cycle of violence in the area. We do not see civil service as a security issue.”
Farrah’s words are in keeping with the Arab sector’s suspicion of a system of mandatory national service in Israel. On one level, it is seen as a sort of slippery slope that could lead eventually to enlistment in the IDF, but would also be an act that would potentially make the affording of rights in Israel dependent on personal obligations and contributions to the state. In addition, there is a certain level of fear that it is an attempt to push “Israelization” of Arab youth through a system of public service supervised by the defense establishment.
A 2010 University of Haifa study found that 43% of Arab youths surveyed said they would take part in national service if they were to receive the same benefits as discharged soldiers. When asked if they would volunteer if they were to receive assistance with college tuition and housing, the number rose to 53% The same report included figures from the National Service Administration that said that the number of Arab youths volunteering for national service rose from 240 in 2005 to 1256 in 2009.
Amnon Be’eri-Sulitzeanu, the co-executive director of the Abraham Fund Initiatives, an organization that promotes coexistence and equality between Jews and Arabs in Israel, said that he believes the majority of the Israeli Arab community is in favor of public service, but are only interested in doing so if it is done through dialogue with their community, and not as an edict handed down by Israeli authorities and organized by the defense establishment.
“Volunteering in the community alongside Jews is an important component to bring integration and equality between Jews and Arabs but it will only work on three conditions: that it is done in collaboration and agreement with Arab leaders, that it be completely cut off from the security system, and that it is part of a long-term comprehensive program to eliminate social gaps between Jews and Arabs.”
Be’er-Sulitzeani said that a top-down system imposed on the Arab sector would be destructive to Jewish-Arab relations and “a very unintelligent move.”
“They [Israeli Arabs] want to speak about it and they’re waiting for the government to speak to them about it,” he added.