Israeli-Arab community upset over new military draft law

In an attempt to solve its draft problems, Israel may have created more. A new law that calls for the conscription of Israel’s Arab minority has many upset over being forced to serve a government violently at odds with their Palestinian heritage.

­Conscripted service is a way of life in Israel, with all Israeli citizens serving – men for three years, women for two.  However, the government has traditionally made several exceptions, some of which it is now seeking to repeal.

Arab Israelis make up about 20 per cent of Israel’s population. While they have not traditionally been conscripted by the government, many of them choose to serve willingly, either in the army or community service, thereby becoming eligible for the same social benefits that Jewish Israelis enjoy after serving.

However, the new law would make the above service mandatory for the Arab population, raising questions among a community torn between their loyalty to the Jewish state and their heritage as Palestinians.

One particular community that has been growing more and more vocal about mandatory service in the army has been the Druze community.  The Druze, a religious minority within the Arab-Israeli community that has willingly served in the army for decades, nonetheless feels that the state places Jewish interests above that of their community.

“Many Israeli Druze complain they're treated as second class citizens by a government that favors Jews,” Yamin Zidane, a member of the Israeli Druze community, told RT in an interview.

“And while it's true they do enjoy some benefits because of their military service, like Palestinians in Israel, the Druze continue to suffer inequalities in municipal budgets, education and employment.”

Zidane’s family lost several members, including two brothers to the perpetual conflict that seems to surround the Jewish state. Coupled with feelings of resentment concerning what he feels amounts to being second-class citizens, he has become disillusioned with the Israeli army.

“I used to see them as martyrs. Now I see them as victims. My brothers were victims of the Zionist movement and they died fighting their own people.”

“We the Druze are Palestinians and Israel can’t change that. We have always been and will always be Palestinians.”


A can of worms

The new law enforcing conscription of Arabs was proposed as part of a larger draft reform aimed at eliminating the broad exceptions for orthodox Jews. However, as reports surfaced that Arabs would be conscripted, a rift formed in the draft reform committee, with Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman threatening to quit in protest. Netanyahu reportedly agreed to the compromise in order to push the reform forward and avoid any further infighting. However, his decision may end up causing more problems than it solves.

“Arabs don't have to be the victims of the Jewish war between Lieberman and Netanyahu," Arab lawmaker Ahmed Tibi of the Raam-Taal Party told Army Radio on Friday, as reported by Fox News.

"For years, we've been demanding equal rights. No committee was set up to discuss the equal distribution of rights," Amal Elsana Alh'jooj, an Arab activist, told Fox.  "So now, when talking about the burden, why are they remembering the Arabs all of a sudden?"