The National Service Bluff

Even military service will not make the Arabs equal - while with the ultra-Orthodox, even evasion of service does not prevent them from enjoying economic privileges.

In my innocence, I thought that any minute now the compulsory service by Druze Arabs would be abolished. There is a story about a young man who informed his father that he intended to get married. The father, who was constantly quarreling with his wife, started to yell in anger: "Why are you talking about weddings? If the situation here doesn't improve, I'll divorce your mother!"

Therefore, before national service is imposed on the Arabs, it would be a good idea first to hear from those who have undergone the exciting experience. In a survey carried out in the Druze community by Prof. Majid al-Haj and Dr. Nuhad Ali of the University of Haifa, 46.7 percent of the respondents said that their situation hadn't changed as a result of the service, while 26.5 percent said that it was in fact worse than that of the other Arabs.

As for military service, the majority - some 64 percent - would either like it to become voluntary or to be canceled altogether (46.6 percent and 17.3 percent, respectively). This is how things look.

Even military service does not make the Arabs equal, while with the ultra-Orthodox, even evasion of service does not prevent them from enjoying economic privileges. Therefore before the Arabs are asked to change their approach to the state, the state must change its approach to the Arabs. And before national service is applied to the Arab population, they must first be enticed to serve.

And there are possibilities aplenty: For example, it is possible to inform the sons of those uprooted in 1948 that if they serve, their lands will be returned to them. Or to promise any village where the percentage of those serving is above 50 percent that land will be allocated to them for setting up an industrial zone. For purposes of morale, for example, it is possible to decide that the flag would include a Palestinian component - let's say a kaffiyeh of the type worn by Yasser Arafat - and perhaps even a word like "biladi" ("my country" ), which is suitable for both nations, could be added to the national anthem.

Let them add some flesh to the proposals and not merely create much ado about nothing, or as Arabic expresses it so picturesquely: "A stormy funeral, but the deceased is a dog." However, and more to the point: The Arabs need to do national service. This will strengthen their feeling of national belonging at the expense of ethnicity and clanship. After all, nothing bolsters group rights more than the service of people of the same society in their institutions. What is more educational and moral than youngsters serving on the Higher Arab Monitoring Committee, in the local authorities, in Arab social organizations or in activities against uprooting illegal villages in the Negev? What will deepen awareness of Palestinian culture more than serving on Arab cultural organizations? What will contribute more to getting to know the land than volunteering to organize trips, including to destroyed villages? And serving in museums will contribute to understanding both sides in history.

Thank God, there are abundant ideas. Therefore the leadership of the Arab population should conduct an open discourse with the establishment on the subject and internalize the fact that for issuing an automatic "no," there is no need for leadership.

The Arab leadership has the right and duty to demand complete partnership in the discourse about national service and to demand that nothing be instituted by coercion, just like the ultra-Orthodox.

But despite all the fuss, the whole idea of national service is one big bluff. At the time, this idea was cooked up in the kitchen of the Lapid committee, with the intention of thwarting the application of the recommendations of the Orr Commission [that investigated the deaths of 12 Arab citizens at the start of the second intifada]. And between us, does anyone think that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is keen to allocate hundreds of millions of shekels to a project in which Arab youngsters would get organized, even as a group in the Scouts, and will learn something about themselves and their society? Don't make Avigdor Lieberman laugh!