In a devastating piece of satire, Sayed Kashua (sadly behind a pay-wall) exhorts his fellow Palestinian-Israelis to head straight to their nearest recruitment office, arguing that joining the army is the best way to say thank you for the wonderful conditions that most minority groups in Israel find themselves living in. He describes their tremendous infrastructure, first-class art venues, and plentiful options of employment; the joke being, of course, that most Palestinian-Israeli towns have no such benefits, and that they remain underfunded and marginalized.
“Sharing the burden” may make a great slogan, but it probably doesn’t sound so good to those who don’t get their fair share of the pie. There are a number of reasons for the neglect of Palestinian-Israelis – not all of them connected to evil Zionist oppression – but it’s clear that there is a strategic and moral imperative for providing them with complete material and civic equality. It’s also important to point out that this is understood by some people in the corridors of power, which is why, for example, over 700 extra classrooms are currently being built in the Arab sector, and there will also be an additional 5,700 hours for science and English.
Most of the debate over the Plesner Committee has focused on the Ultra-Orthodox community, but Palestinian-Israelis – or at least their elected representatives – have been just as suspicious of talk of a universal draft (even in the form of National Service) as their Haredi counterparts. These MKs claim that they do not want to contribute to a state that treats them like second-class citizens. I have some sympathy for their position. But they should not miss the opportunity provided by the draft debate. Leaving aside the political complications for the moment, enlisting Palestinian-Israelis for National Service would have huge benefits, which is why increasing numbers of them are ignoring the rhetoric of the MKs and are signing up. The benefits are threefold. First, it would mean them doing their bit for the country just like their Jewish counterparts. Second, it would ease their way into the employment market and allow them to enjoy other benefits. Third, it would give a much needed boost to volunteerism and communal solidarity in Palestinian-Israeli communities.
All this being said, signing up for National Service wouldn’t provide Palestinian-Israelis with a fair slice of the cake. This is why their MKs should link the two issues. They should express their support for compulsory National Service if they are guaranteed a proportionately fair cut of government funding. At the same time, they should demand that firm steps be taken to resolve some of the community’s outstanding grievances, for example the issues of land disputes and internal refugees.
The problem is that most Palestinian-Israeli politicians refuse to play the game like Shas. Instead they prefer to participate in gesture politics, like Hanan Zoabi’s ill-fated decision to board the MV Mavi Marmara. It’s often noted that no Arab party has ever been invited to serve in an Israeli government coalition, but it doesn’t have to be that way. At around 20 per cent of the population, Palestinian-Israelis should be able to make themselves indispensable to the running of the country. By putting ideological issues over which they can have little impact to one side, and by focusing on the material needs of their constituents, they can make decent progress in that direction.5 comments