Director of the National-Civilian Service Administration, Sar Shalom Jerbi, issued a harsh letter of rebuke to Education Minister Shay Piron this week demanding immediate and decisive action against Arab-sector schools that are refusing to incorporate national service volunteers into their institutions.
The Arab schools refusing to take any part in the national service program -- which is designed as an alternative for youths who do not enlist in the Israel Defense Forces as part of the mandatory draft -- are located mainly in Nazareth, Sakhnin and the Druze village of Maghar. In Nazareth, in fact, the refusal to incorporate national service volunteers is city-wide. All Arab-sector schools are subordinate to the national school board.
There has been a significant rise in the number of Israeli Arab volunteers within the national service program in recent years, but some Arab communities are resisting this trend and, in some cases, launching aggressive campaigns against it. Volunteers are often referred to by their communities as "lepers" and warned that anyone who volunteers will have trouble "finding a mate."
The National-Civil Service Administration invests a lot of effort in engaging youth who are exempt from mandatory military service, including the Arab population. The program recently marked a significant achievement when it surpassed 3,000 Israeli Arab volunteers of its total of 16,000.
In his letter, Jerbi noted that, like the Jewish sector, many of the Arab volunteers work in educational institutions.
"Unfortunately, we are running into trouble in the elementary schools in the Arab sector, due to strong opposition by the local political leadership," he wrote. "This phenomenon also occurs in the high schools in the sector, where school principals refuse to incorporate national service volunteers. Therefore, I would appreciate your help in instructing all the schools in the sector to cooperate with the National Civil Service Administration and allow the volunteers to practice in their fields while ensuring the safety and wellbeing."
In conclusion, Jerbi called on the education minister to take immediate action against school principals who oppose the national service program.
"I urge you to take harsh, decisive measures against school principals who refuse to allow volunteer activity," he wrote.
Economy and Trade Minister Naftali Bennett, who is in charge of the National-Civilian Service Administration, has also been notified of the problem.
The goal: 6,000 Israeli Arab volunteers to national service by 2017
Meanwhile Sunday, the cabinet approved setting a goal to have 6,000 Israeli Arab volunteers in national service by 2017 on Sunday.
The decision was made as part of a cabinet discussion on conclusions drawn from the Peri committee on sharing the national burden. The government ruled that the Israeli Arab volunteers' service would be "in a civilian capacity only."
On Friday, Israel Hayom reported a rise in interest by young Israeli Arabs to volunteer for national service. The report stated that many of the interested Israeli Arabs would like to do national service or volunteer near their hometowns, the most sought-after roles among young Arabs being firefighting, medical assistance and social work assistance.