Academic journal article Arab Studies Journal

Trapped Escape: Young Palestinian Women and the Israeli National-Civic Service

Academic journal article Arab Studies Journal

Trapped Escape: Young Palestinian Women and the Israeli National-Civic Service

Article excerpt

Rima is a young Palestinian woman who lives in occupied Palestine/Israel and serves in the Israeli national-civic service.3 Her experiences shed light on the contingencies and complexities of being a Palestinian, and particularly a Palestinian woman, with citizenship in Israel. While scholars have often employed the notion of an ongoing Nakba, or catastrophe, to describe the post-1948 realities of the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, and the diaspora, the Palestinians in Israel are just as mired in an ongoing and, in some ways, more intimate struggle with the Israeli state.4 Indeed, the demolition of Bedouin Palestinian homes and villages in the Naqab is the most immediate, but certainly not the only, evidence of Israel's expansive and brutal attempts to maintain settler-colonial control over contested lands, people, resources, and power.5 Palestinian citizenship in Israel is a site of struggle between a disenfranchised and colonized group of Palestinians and a state that is premised on the ongoing confiscation of those Palestinians' lands and their claims to national self-determination.6

Several scholars have argued that Israel uses its national-civic service as an apparatus for both interrogating and achieving Palestinian loyalty to the Zionist state and its agenda.7 Most of this research has focused on political ramifications and social attitudes. Yet, by and large, the national-civic service has targeted young women and it is mostly with that demographic group that it has been successful. The voices and experiences of these women are absent from both the scholarly and the political discursive landscapes. To fill this lacuna and to study the intersections between gender, the family, economy, the state, and politics, this article explores how Rima and the thirty other young women I interviewed navigated their volunteer work in the national-civic service. This study examines the complex web of considerations, interests, and strategies in which the national-civic service takes shape as a trapped escape.

The Israeli national-civic service, known as Sherut Leumi-Izrahi, began in the 1970s as an alternative to military service for religious-Zionist Jewish Israeli girls exempt from the draft.8 In the late 1990s, sixty young Palestinian women and men participated in a pilot program of communitybased national-civic service launched by the Israeli government, after two Palestinian municipalities positively responded to the government's initiative.9 This step sought to "Israelize" Palestinian identity and, at the same time, foment internal divisions. Such maneuvers are not new, as Israel has historically used various tactics intended to dispossess Palestinians of their indigeneity, including integrating Palestinian subgroups in the armed forces.10 In 2007, the government adopted the recommendations of the Ivri Committee to extend eligibility for national-civic service to additional groups exempt from military service and to establish the Administration for National-Civic Service. National-civic service was thereby expanded to include ultra-Orthodox male youth, male and female Palestinian youth who had finished high school and still lived inside the Israeli state borders, and youth exempted from the military on health grounds.11 Druze and Circassian young men must serve in the Israeli military, while the young women of these two groups are exempt.12 They are now able to choose to serve in the national-civic service as well.13 According to Israel's Law Book from July 2014, there are two types of national-civic service.14 The first is "social service" in "internal security, front protection, educational institutes, health care, welfare, elderly institutes, environmental protection, road traffic safety, community safety, employment promotion, and immigrant absorption." The second is "security service" in the police, the prison guards, environmental and beach protection units, the national authority for firefighting and rescue, the witness protection authority, and Magen David Adom (the Israeli national emergency medical organization). …

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