The Israeli Police will launch next week a low-profile programme to enlist 18-year-olds from the Arab population into its ranks.
The plan has three aims: to establish a national service option for Arab school leavers, to swell the police’s understaffed ranks and to try and improve relations between the state and the Arab community.
Despite its national conscription laws, over a quarter of young Israeli men from the strictly-Orthodox and non-Jewish sectors do not join the IDF each year. For historic reasons, the non-Jewish communities have been exempted from military service but a majority of the Druze and, in recent years, almost half of Bedouins, still volunteer.
The number of Muslim and Christian Arab soldiers, though, is only a handful and is not expected to grow.
Over the past two years, a number of government and private initiatives have been launched to try to get Arab school leavers to participate in some form of national service.
In the past, non-military national service has usually been the preserve of religious women but the new National Service Agency has been trying to develop various service options for the Arab community. Last year almost 2,000 young Arab men and women did national service.
Most of the political leaders of the Arab community have opposed these efforts, claiming that their youth should not serve the state until their rights as a minority within Israel have been clearly established.
For this reason, the Internal Security Ministry has been keeping its plan to eventually enlist thousands of them under wraps. Sources in the ministry, however, claim that the programme has the support of local leaders, anxious for larger numbers of policemen on their streets and for more career options for their younger generation.
A pilot will be launched next month with a few dozen new recruits who have already been selected by joint teams of the police’s recruitment branch and the National Service Agency.
The Chief of Staff, Lieutenant General Gabi Ashkenazi, said last month that due to the declining recruitment numbers, in the future, all school leavers, regardless of religion and ethnicity, should be recruited together to national service. He added that the IDF should get the first pick for its own ranks, followed by the other national agencies such as the police, the fire brigade and other rescue services.
The new national service plan is part of an Internal Security Ministry programme to better coordinate policing efforts in the Arab sectors with local councils and communities.