As Israel is the Middle East's only democracy - and only place where people of all faiths and backgrounds can live freely - it is heartening to see all of these diverse people give back to their country. The Times of Israel's Dov Lieber reports on the many Arab Israelis who are finding patriotism, benefits, and joy in serving the nation they call home:
They sound like your average religious Zionist couple in Israel: she serves in the Jewish state’s national service and he is an army combat veteran. Except they are both Muslim Arabs, and she, Bara’a Abed, is from East Jerusalem while her husband (unnamed) is from a village in the north.
Abed, 20, who now does works as a volunteer in an Israeli Interior Ministry office, is part of a fast-growing community of young Arabs who are eschewing decades of anti-normalization with the majority-Jewish Israeli government to both give back and receive from the state.
Historically, nearly all national service participants were Jewish religious-Zionist women, who wanted to serve their country but for religious reasons didn’t want to be in the army. Such women receive near-automatic exemptions from the military, though the last several years have seen a large increase in those choosing to serve in the IDF.
Six years ago, only 600 non-Jews served in Israel’s national service program, in which participants volunteer for one to two years in public institutions like schools, hospitals, courts or health clinics.
Presently, 4,500 non-Jews are doing national service, of whom 100 are from East Jerusalem. That total is three times more than those coming from the ultra-Orthodox community (1,500), most of whom are men obtained a religious exemption from the army but still wanted to serve their country. There are also 8,500 religious Zionists doing national service, mostly women.
Non-Jewish Israelis, mostly Arab, constitute around 20% of the country’s 8.6 million citizens.
Speaking to a group of journalists on Monday in Jerusalem, Abed said her husband inspired her to volunteer...