The number of Arab volunteers to National Service in Israel has increased six-fold in the past five years, its directorate announced on Monday. Of the volunteers, 92% are young women.
The directorate's chief, Sar-Shalom Jarbi, presented the Knesset's State Control Committee with data showing that there are currently 1,473 Arabs volunteering for national service, up from 240 in 2005.
The volunteers are generally allocated to Arab populations, where they assist with matters of health, education, welfare, social projects, helping the elderly, technology, and computers.
Jarbi explained that there were a number of factors contributing to the rise, one of them being that volunteers get to help members of their own sector.
"There is, in the Arab sector as in every other sector, the will to give and receive. There has been an increase in awareness. Youths see their friends serving and receiving benefits and their neighbors receiving tools and being incorporated into the workforce, and they want this for themselves," he said.
The directorate has struggled to make room for everyone who wants to enlist, with the state supplying more available spots. In addition, and in answer to complaints, the directorate now issues its own letter of discharge instead of the one formerly supplied by the Defense Ministry, attracting Arabs who would not like to see themselves as working for this authority.
Still, Israeli-Arabs are constantly running up against objections at home, with Arab leaders counseling youths to refrain from performing services to the state.
"For years the Arab leadership has demanded, justifiably, benefits for Arab youths similar to those received by discharged soldiers. Now, when this opportunity is available, it is precisely these leaders who reject the state's call to come and do the service, and receive these benefits," said Jarbi.
And the Arabs are not alone – Jarbi says the trend has leaked into the ultra-Orthodox sector as well. "A year ago there were only 870 volunteers from this sector, and today there are 1,370. All of them are young men, because rabbis will not allow women to go out and volunteer due to modesty issues," he said, adding that the young men also demand very specific service plans in which they can observe religious decrees.
The haredi volunteers serve in areas of welfare, health, environment, immigrant absorption, rescue, and national security. Jarbi predicts at least 1,500 more will join next year, after a campaign is launched in the haredi public. "We are planning a huge revolution," he said optimistically.
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