When the Likud Party and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced yesterday their support for extending obligatory military or civil service to the ultra-Orthodox and the Arabs, representatives from Baladna, an association for Arab youth, were sitting in their Haifa office to discuss the way forward. Baladna has been conducting a campaign against obligatory national service for years, both online and on billboards.
The organization’s director, Nadim Nashif, is concerned about the developments but certain the law will not pass. “Most Arab youth will oppose it, and this will lead to a confrontation between the state and the Arab citizens,” he warns. “Since 2007, we have claimed that national service, which started as voluntary, would turn into an obligatory draft, and that’s what is happening. All this talk about equality and assistance to the Arabs is nonsense. After 64 years of repression, suddenly the state wants to help the Arabs? If the state wants to help, it should build apartments and create jobs for young Arabs. We are not lacking volunteers.
“In a survey that took place in 2010, it emerged that 80% of youth oppose national service. Today there are some 2,400 volunteers, the vast majority being women who come from poor families, who don’t have the money to send the girls to college or university. For them, the NIS New Israeli shekels] 700 [that the girls receive from the Administration [of National and Civic Service] is considered significant income and they also believe that it will help the girls find work in the future. We don’t believe that," Nashif continues.
“I won’t enlist, even if I go to jail”
Says Wared Khial, 17, from Haifa: “I won’t enlist, even if I go to jail. I don’t need to volunteer or serve in national service in order to receive the rights I am entitled to, like the right to work and live in dignity, or to bring my family back to the village from which it was expelled in 1948. The state can’t demand that I participate in fulfilling obligations if it doesn’t give me my rights.”
But other voices do exist: Jalal Awad, 19, from Tamra, volunteers with the Karmiel fire department. In Tamra he is accused by some of being a traitor or an Israeli agent, but that doesn’t break his spirit.
“I volunteer in order to receive my rights and because it will help me work in a field that I like,” he says. “I serve the Arab villages of Dir al-Assad and Majdal Krum.”
Opposition From Religious Leaders
Aya Hamud, a 20-year-old Druze citizen from Beit Jann, volunteers at a school in the village but is against obligatory service. “My father served in the army for 25 years,” she says, “and my family doesn’t have a problem with service, but other people in the village do. The adults, especially the religious leaders, are against it. It is a mistake to obligate everyone to enlist, even though service will improve the lives of those who serve and help them find work.”
Surprisingly, officials at the Administration of National and Civic Service are also against the prime minister’s proposals. Sar-Shalom Jerbi, the director of the administration and a member of the Plesner Committee charged with finding a solution to the draft question, said that the “number of those serving will increase if it remains voluntary. As soon as it becomes obligatory, extreme and militant voices in the Arab and ultra-Orthodox public will become stronger.”