Baladna - The Association for Arab Youth

 

 

Baladna Association for Arab Youth

Since 2005, the Baladna Association for Arab Youth has been working together with a number of other civil and non-governmental organizations in opposing plans by the Israeli state to introduce a form of mandatory civic service for Palestinian citizens of Israel. The Coalition of Youth Against the National Service has been formed as a grassroots movement to raise awareness and inform young Palestinians of the potential dangers and consequences of Israel’s mandatory service project, and why it constitutes a real threat to the Arab community inside Israel.

Recent election results, and the current strength of political parties in favor of imposing mandatory service on Arab citizens, mean that Baladna must be ready to confront growing moves by the state to implement its plans which serve as nothing more than a disabling project for the Palestinian community and a means of acculturation and “Israelization” of young Palestinians. It also paves the way for making full military service compulsory, and the making of fundamental rights dependent on service to a state which has routinely suppressed, marginalized and ignored the needs of its original Arab population, and which continues to do so. In other words, fundamental civil rights would no longer be automatically given to citizens, but would have to be earned. This sets a dangerous precedent which would facilitate the further erosion of Palestinian civil rights in Israel, who could find that a refusal to serve in the military apparatus of the state (the primary tool of their occupation and oppression) would lead to a stripping of remaining, precariously held civil rights.

Baladna is also concerned at the Israeli state’s sectarian recruitment drive, which in addition to treating Druze and Bedouin as different from the rest of the Arab community, has recently been pushing military service among the Arab Christian population, using sectarian rhetoric as a tool for conscription. This is transparently a "divide and conquer" strategy by the Israeli state, and a dangerous one both for the Palestinian community and for society in general, as it fans the flames of sectarianism at a time when evidence of spill-over from regional tensions is increasingly apparent.

A recent survey by the MADA Research Institute has shown that opposition to the national service plan among young Palestinians has fallen by 6% in recent years from 76% to 70%. To avoid a situation where the Palestinian community is sleep-walking into surrendering its basic rights due to a lack of information among those most affected, its young people, a renewed campaign is required to offer young Palestinians a full picture of what the civic service project entails and its overall context.

We should clarify that Baladna, along with most Palestinians in Israel, are actively in favour of volunteering to support and develop their chronically under-funded communities. However, the history and political context in Israel means that the civic service program cannot be compared to the civic service schemes found in some of Europe's pluralistic, liberal democracies.

The Palestinian population of Israel has been systematically marginalized and repressed since Israel's creation 65 years ago, leaving most Palestinians understandably reluctant to serve in the state's institutions. Furthermore civic service positions are rarely based in Arab areas or in institutions which serve the needs of Palestinian communities, leaving participants feeling like unpaid workers in the service of the same state which discriminates against them. Sometimes they are even allocated to private companies. If the Israeli government is serious about encouraging Arab civic engagement, it should co-operate with the Palestinian community and Arab NGOs and local authorities and allocate resources to public institutions in these areas.

In addition to this, there are serious questions behind the motives and long-term strategy of Israel's national civic service plan. From its inception its senior proponents have come from the army and defense establishments, and upon completing it one is given a 'Soldier Release' form, allowing oneself to be enlisted by the Israeli state in time of war (against Arab neighbors and cousins) in posts supporting the military command. Indeed amongst many in the community, the civic service plan is regarded as the first step towards introducing compulsory military service. An additional concern is that the civic service plan aims to justify the withholding of fundamental civil rights from those who do not take part.

The Palestinian community in Israel is not opposed to contributing to a society in which they are regarded as equal citizens with full rights. Unfortunately this is not the case, and the civic service plan serves only to forcibly enlist members of an alienated community into the instruments of its own marginalization. We also repeat our opposition to the dangerous and discriminatory policy of linking Arab citizens' basic rights to serving the interests of a state which systematically ignores and represses the identity and needs of the country's native Arab citizens.