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Israel considers drafting its Arab citizens

Plans to reform Israel's draft law include the possibility of requiring Arab citizens of Israel to perform non-military national service. Serve us first, many of them say. 

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According to a 2009 survey conducted by the Israeli-Arab youth association Baladana – as part of the organization's effort to convince Israeli Arab youth not to volunteer for national service, according to Haaretz – 64 percent of Israeli Arabs between the age of 17 and 20 believed then that national service "was an impractical solution for creating equality between Arab and Jewish Israeli citizens."

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As a non-Jewish minority in a state that defines itself as Jewish, Arabs often complain about unequal access to land and discriminatory legislation, such as the Citizenship and Entry into Israel Law, which prohibits Palestinians from the West Bank or Gaza who are married to Israeli citizens from acquiring Israeli residency. Most of them strongly identify with Palestinians.

In a recent report, the International Crisis Group described Arab citizens of Israel as “politically marginalized, economically underprivileged, ever more unwilling to accept systemic inequality.” 

No benefits, no loyalty

One of the speakers at the festival held in Nazareth last week was Fida Zidan, a 23-year-old woman from Israel’s Druze community. The Druze have enjoyed a special status in Israel and are officially treated as an ethnic and religious group distinct from Arabs. Most important, they have been required to serve in Israel’s army for decades, with the exception of the Druze of Syrian origin who live in the Golan Heights

“The Druze gave Israel loyalty because they thought they will get full rights in return. But today we see that this loyalty has not brought us much,” Ms. Zidan says. 

Two of Zidan's brothers died while serving in the IDF. One died in an accident; the other during fighting in south Lebanon. She says she and her only remaining brother have since rediscovered their Arab identity, and now emphasize their solidarity with Palestinians, not their fellow Israeli citizens.

“Many Druze don’t really feel Israeli, just like Arabs," she says.

“The Druze made a historical decision to serve in the army, but a younger generation realizes now it was a mistake,” says Ilan Pappé, an Israeli historian and professor at Exeter University. “They have hardly benefited economically or socially from this.”

Mr. Pappé, who is a prominent critic of Israeli policies toward Palestinians, says that today’s Arab citizens of Israel understand that contributing to the common good by performing national service will not make them equal citizens.

“Non-Jews in Israel will never be equal citizens, whether they serve in the army, do national service, or not,” he says.

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