Interior Minister Eli Yishai is horrified. His heart goes out to every IDF soldier killed in the line of duty, but he is perturbed to see the mothers - and sometimes entire families - who arrive in Israel without any rights for citizenship and on the verge of being deported, win citizenship with the blood of their sons. As far as Yishai is concerned, this is a fiendish trick, which could harm Israel and Shas, in his mind the equivalent of the state and might show the ingratitude of these new citizens - who are mostly from the Commonwealth of Independent States - at election time.

Yishai's objections to granting citizenship to the soldiers and their families should be enough of a recommendation to grant that minimum measure of appreciation to those who became casualties during their service. There's no great innovation in this. Military service is a conventional gateway to citizenship in many countries, from the French Foreign Legion to the Philippine cooks in the American navy. If they wanted it, the Mahal volunteers of 1948, Palestinian collaborators and senior South Lebanese Army officers were all repaid for their service to the state with citizenship, or in some regrettable cases, permanent residency.

Thousands took it, for more than 50 years, but now it's not just a matter of moral obligation, but also a practical one: Israel needs citizens and soldiers. It is threatened by the demographic balance: Firstly, in a few years there will be an Arab majority between the Jordan and the Mediterranean; and secondly, if that's not enough, Israel proper will discover how the two lines on the graph, of Jewish birth statistics and Arab birth statistics inside the state, meet and the Arabs overtake the Jews.

Everyone agrees on the data but how it's used is rather strange, especially when coming from those near or in competition with Shimon Peres and Yossi Beilin. It's already been said that waving the sword of fear about the inevitable Arab majority to press for a speedy deal with the Palestinians is self-defeating. According to that logic, the Palestinians will foil any deal, because they can wait until they are the majority. Segmenting the demographic balance also shows how superficial are the conclusions meant to be drawn from it.

The first case isn't under Israeli control. Israel doesn't pretend to determine how many millions of refugees will be absorbed into the independent Palestinian state, no matter where its eastern border may be, or whether tomorrow, if Yasser Arafat were to sign an agreement and bring the entire Palestinian diaspora to Nablus and Gaza, he'd have a majority. The second case, inside Israel itself, undermines the political logic of the Peres-Beilin line. The division between Jews and Arabs means that when the time comes, around 2010 or 2020, Ahmed Tibi (if he's still in politics then) and Peres will part ways, while Beilin will vote with Effi Eitam, so that already now there's a built-in contradiction between the goals of these two communities in Israel.

The only way to break the momentum in that direction is to enlarge the foundations of Israel. Readiness to absorb all those who serve to meet the IDF's needs (mostly combat soldiers and technological support crews) - including their families - will help close the manpower gap. Without the soldiers, the crowd-pleasing fence will be a useless pile of metal, dirt and electricity.

This is not a new episode of "Who is a Jew," with an M-16 instead of a Jewish mother, but a military version of the foreign workers issue - with a lack of Israelis, which is worse, bringing them from Palestine or Thailand? When Israelis are escaping army service because "their Torah is their faith," it's justified to adopt as Israelis those whose service is their citizenship.