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Israeli gov't allows non-profit to direct Arab volunteers to national service jobs
01 June 2007

Israel: Israeli Welfare Minister Isaac Herzog recently approved the first Arab non-profit agency, the Organization for Social Equality and National Service, to direct Arab volunteers to civilian national service jobs.

Since the cabinet ratified recommendations to expand civilian national service to the Arab and ultra-Orthodox sectors in February, a steering committee has worked to implement the decision. This committee recommended officially approving the Organization for Social Equality for a pilot period of two years.

The Organization for Social Equality and National Service in the Arab Sector was founded some four years ago, according to director Aataf Alkarinavi.

Alkarinavi is aware of criticism from Arab public figures, who have called national service a prologue to mandatory military service. "This is not serving in a tank or holding a gun," he says. "We are citizens of one state in which Jews and Arabs live, and our young people should contribute to society."

The non-profit is based in the Negev Bedouin town of Rahat, but offers services nationwide, so far placing 4,000 volunteers, including 200 Jewish youth, in civilian volunteer positions.

Alkarinavi says most of the youths seek positions in educational institutions or in healthcare. "Undoubtedly the organization faces a complex challenge," Herzog said. "This is another important step toward integrating all sectors of Israeli society and we are convinced the move will encourage additional populations to volunteer for national service."

Former deputy chief of the National Security Council, Dr. Rueven Gal, who is now heading the steering committee, told Haaretz that recognizing the non-profit was a breakthrough because of its "Arab character". "In meetings with the Arab population, we heard that if there were an Arab nonprofit, that would help them volunteer," Gal explained. However, he emphasized that the non-profit is committed to placing ultra-Orthodox youth as well.

Steering committee members explained that much opposition among the Arab population stems from misinformation. The team explained that the service is voluntary and will be carried out within the volunteers' communities, and will earn benefits similar to those granted discharged soldiers.

Alkarinavi hopes to see 11,000 Arab volunteers in the next few years. "We are motivated to succeed because we are working for the entire population," he said.