As Israel debates how to get Orthodox Jews into the army or national service, Arab activists defy their more radical elected officials and say they are ready to serve, too
Sunday, July 01, 2012 | Ryan Jones – israltoday.co.il
Israel is currently engaging in vigorous review of its military draft laws, which currently permit Orthodox Jews and Arabs to avoid national service. Interestingly, there are a number of Arab voices insisting that their sector of society should serve the same as Israel’s Jews.
Reforming Israel’s draft laws was one of the conditions of former opposition party Kadima joining Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government. At the center of the negotiations was the Tal Law that enables Jews to bypass military service if they are attending yeshiva (Jewish seminary). Non-Orthodox Israelis are unhappy that so many of their religious brethren do not help carry the burden of national defense.
But the situation is not so simple. In a democratic society, it is not possible to only target Orthodox Jews for national service, and so the laws governing the drafting of Israeli Arabs are also being reviewed, much to the irritation of Arab Knesset members.
Arab members of Israel’s Knesset like Ahmad Tibi and Talab el-Sana have long insisted that Israel is a racist state and therefore its Arab citizens should not do any kind of national service.
In an interview with Israel’s Ynet news portal, Bedouin Arab activist Ibrahim al-Huzeil strongly disagreed.
“You want rights? Make your contribution. If not in the army, then help the community, your sector, your town,” said Huzeil. “I see no problem with everyone enlisting, including Arabs and haredim.”
As for Tibi and el-Sana, Huzeil said they do not represent most Israeli Arabs, but rather “they represent the Palestinian Authority and terror.” Interestingly, Tibi was once an advisor to former Palestinian Authority leader Yasser Arafat, who at one time was the world’s most visible terrorist.
Huzeil said that so far eight of his nine sons have served in the Israeli army, and he will continue to raise them to view national service to the Jewish state as a duty.
Protesters at the “Suckers’ Tent” in Jerusalem where IDF reservists are challenging the exemption of Orthodox Jews from national service were surprised to hear a message similar to Huzeil’s last week when an Arab mother visited.
Anet Haschaya insisted that, like the Orthodox, Israeli Arabs “must also carry their equal share of the burden, stop complaining and begin serving in the IDF – or at least join the national service program.”
Haschaya, a Muslim, noted that all three of her sons had or currently were serving in the Israeli army.
A few years ago, the BBC profiled Maj Fehd Fallah, an Israeli Bedouin from the Golan Heights who explained that there are thousands of Arabs serving in the Israeli army, with pride.
“Israeli Muslims who don’t serve in the IDF should be ashamed for not serving their country,” said Fallah.
While enlistment among Bedouins and other Arab Muslims is relatively low, a comparatively large percentage of Israeli Druze do serve in the IDF, a decision their leaders made shortly after the rebirth of Israel.
It is also more common for Arab Christians to enlist than their Muslim brothers. Two years ago, the IDF celebrated the promotion of its first female Arab combat soldier, Cpl. Elinor Joseph, whose father before her had been an Israeli paratrooper.
“I know I am part of the Jewish state’s army and therefore when we speak about that I listen and learn,” said Elinor at the time. “I believe in what I am doing. In my eyes, I am here for a mission.”
Earlier this year, Ynet reported on a female Arab Christian soldier who encourages young Israeli Jews to take pride in their upcoming military service.
Shirin Shlian from Nazareth speaks at schools in the Jewish part of the town helping teenage Israelis make sense of the life changes they are about to face.
“I give the students a lesson about the first draft notice, IDF enlistment and the jobs the army has to offer. In addition, I hold personal conversations with each student with the aim of encouraging them to have a significant and contributing service,” said Shlian, whose brothers are also soldiers.
“The students applaud me for my decision to volunteer, enlist – and make a contribution to the State.”