There has recently been some skepticism as to the willingness by Arabs to join national service. However, it appears that the number of Arabs seeking to apply for national civic service has quadrupled over a period of only four years and demand exceeds the supply, according to Public Affairs Coordinator in the Administration for National Civic Service Lior Shohat.
"Whereas in 2004-2005 there were only 240 Arab volunteers for national service, years 2008-2009 have seen 1,050 volunteers. The numbers certainly speak for themselves," Shohat said.
Employees of the Administration for National Civic Service which was founded 18 months ago are currently busy with preparations for the new recruit year targeting the Israeli public as a whole and the Arab sector in particular.
"Currently the demand is exceeding the amount of vacancies we can offer. I can safely say that if we had more vacancies the number of volunteers would have been much higher.
"The will of Arab youths to volunteer is far greater than the message being conveyed by their public leaders," Shohat added. He also wished to emphasize that there will be nowhere to direct new volunteers if they start encouraging more volunteers.
Shohat said that the volunteers are part of a community of 20,000 18-year-old Arab youths. The amount of vacancies offered by the State is limited since the annual cost per volunteer is estimated at roughly NIS 20,000 ($5,279).
The Administration and in particular the office of Science and Technology Minister Daniel Hershkowitz, which oversees the Administration, are engaging in constant battles with the Ministry of Treasury in order to increase the number of volunteers. They have recently succeeded in adding 150 vacancies.
"The integration of Israeli-Arabs in national service is a strategic goal as far as I'm concerned," said Hershkowitz. "Our goal is that we don’t reach a situation where a person wishes to volunteer and the State does not allow it. Nevertheless, volunteers must realize that they can't always be stationed where they want to, but where there is a need," he added.
Leaders of the Arab community have made negative statements in the past regarding national service. Balad Chairman Jamal Zahalka stated two years ago that young Arabs who will join national service will be regarded as lepers and will be ostracized from the Arab community.
The increase in volunteer rates among Arabs is likely to be beneficial to Arab schools according to Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar's plan to reward schools with high army and national recruit rates.
Muhammad Naama, 21, of the town of Dir al-Asad, volunteers at the Chaim Sheba Medical Center at Tel Hashomer. He says that the number of Arab youths wishing to volunteer increases every year.
"Only this year I convinced my friends to go to civic service. My village has a lot of appreciation for this and encourages young people to volunteer. It's important for me to serve and contribute to my country, and national service – as opposed to the army – provides a solution. This way I can serve the country and contribute without fighting my Palestinian brother."
However Adalah, the Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights stated that the Sa'ar plan constitutes a major hit to the Arab education system and is discriminatory.
"Seeing as Arab citizens are exempt from any military service the initiative will deny the schools from receiving funds based on recruit rates. This exclusion amounts to wrongful discrimination against the Arab education system on the basis of nationality," the statement said.
Similar responses were made Wednesday by Arab Knesset members and members of the Higher Arab Monitoring Committee .