[News] Syrians living under Israeli occupation resist civil service recruitment drive

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Mon Aug 11 19:10:07 EDT 2014

  Syrians living under Israeli occupation resist civil service
  recruitment drive

Patrick O. Strickland 

11 August 2014

Tamara Halabi has spent her whole life living under Israeli rule in her 
hometown of Masade, one of the six Syrian villages still standing in the 
occupied Golan Heights <http://electronicintifada.net/tags/golan-heights>.

Local residents' historic refusal to accept Israeli citizenship and 
normalize the Israeli occupation did not stop a Zionist organization 
from attempting to get Halabi and others to participate in civil service.

Civil service is a state-run volunteering program aimed at individuals 
otherwise exempt from compulsory military service, participation in 
conditions equal access to education and the job market.

"We reject civil service because it is a way for Israel to pressure us 
to give up our Syrian Arab identity and culture," Halabi, 19, told The 
Electronic Intifada.

Israel has maintained its occupation of the Golan Heights after 
capturing it in June 1967. The 130,000 people expelled by Israel that 
year have now swelled to at least 433,000 displaced Golan natives living 
elsewhere in Syria <http://electronicintifada.net/tags/syria>, according 
to "Breaking Down the Fence 
<http://golan-marsad.org/wp-content/uploads/Family_Separation.pdf>," a 
2010 publication by Al-Marsad, a human rights group that works in the Golan.

Today an estimated 23,000 Syrian Arabs --- the majority of whom are from 
the Druze <http://electronicintifada.net/tags/druze> religious community 
--- live under Israeli military occupation in six villages across the Golan.

The indigenous Syrian residents of the Golan have historically refrained 
from working in Israeli institutions. Yet according to local activists, 
at least eleven Syrians in 2013 from the Golan Heights were tricked into 
registering for civil service through the auspices of Aminadav, a 
Zionist group that promotes civil service among communities that do not 
serve in Israel's occupation army. They later dropped out of the program.

A report 
published earlier this year by Baladna, a Haifa-based Palestinian 
advocacy group, confirms that eleven Syrians registered in 2013 for 
civic service.

As the Golan Heights grows increasingly divided over the ongoing 
violence in Syria, local activists accuse Israel of seizing the 
opportunity to strengthen its occupation while the world's attention is 

During her final semester of her senior year in high school in the 
spring of 2013, Tamara Halabi and her sister were approached by Hajali 
as-Safadi and Aadna al-Wili, who concealed their identities as Aminadav 

    "Too good to be true"

In addition to her and her sister, Halabi says approximately thirty 
other classmates were also targeted for recruitment. As-Safadi told 
Halabi and others that a new program called Helping the Hometown 
(Musaadet al-Balad in Arabic) included recent graduates spending a year 
volunteering in schools, hospitals and other places in exchange for 
university scholarships and stipends for living costs.

Due to Israel's restrictions and isolation of the occupied Golan 
Heights, as well as its promotion of Jewish-only settlements, indigenous 
residents suffer from a lack of economic infrastructure and 
opportunities. For impoverished families, the prospect of free education 
is appealing.

"I told her that I wanted to participate, but I wanted to understand the 
benefit [for Aminadav]," Halabi recounted. "After a while, my sister and 
I became suspicious because [the recruiters] aren't from our village --- 
and it's not logical that it's in their interest to help our hometown."

"It sounded too good to be true," she added.

After Halabi consulted relatives, she requested help from Aamer Ibrahim, 
an activist based in Majdal Shams, a Druze town in the northern Golan 
Heights. Ibrahim campaigns against attempts by Israel and its supporters 
to normalize the occupation by promoting cooperation between Israeli 
Jews and Arabs without addressing structural injustice.

    "Sell your morals"

"Little by little we started to understand that it wasn't volunteering 
for the village or helping the village; it was civil service ... to give 
up your identity, to sell your ideals and morals," Halabi said.

After Ibrahim searched the name of the recruiter online in Hebrew, he 
found that she works for Aminadav, whose website says it was "founded in 
the spirit of religious Zionism 

Aminadav's "about us" page explains that the organization recruits for 
civil service among orthodox religious Jewish and Palestinian 
communities --- both historically exempt from compulsory military and 
civil service.

Ibrahim subsequently telephoned Aadna al-Wili, one of the managers of 
the branch responsible for recruiting in the northern region of 
present-day Israel and the occupied Golan.

Al-Wili grew suspicious of Ibrahim's voice and said he sounded too old 
to participate in the program. "She said it's [for people aged] between 
17 and 21," Ibrahim told The Electronic Intifada. "So I told her I am 
asking on behalf of my little brother. Then she began to describe the 
project and she didn't use the words 'civil service.'"

When Ibrahim asked her directly if the project involved civil service, 
she denied that it did. "It was clear that she was lying at this point," 
Ibrahim recalled.

Speaking to The Electronic Intifada by telephone, al-Wili confirmed a 
civic service program in Aminadav working in many Palestinian 
communities in present-day Israel. When asked about their work in the 
occupied Golan Heights, however, she replied: "I am not required to 
answer that question and I refuse to answer."

    Tax exemptions

Ibrahim's suspicions were vindicated by Sahar Vardi of New Profile 
<http://electronicintifada.net/tags/new-profile>, a group that monitors 
the militarization of Israeli society and supports conscientious 
objectors <http://electronicintifada.net/tags/conscientious-objection>. 
She explained that organizations like Aminadav work under the auspices 
of "the national civil service secretary" and "are registered as 
nonprofits and receive tax exemptions."

"These NGOs [nongovernmental organizations] are in a way implementing 
the agency of national service," Vardi told The Electronic Intifada by 
email. "They are responsible for finding volunteers and matching them 
with volunteer opportunities, as well as training and preparing these 

Organizations that promote civil service "get a budget from the [science 
and technology] ministry to pay volunteers and provide them with 
housing," Vardi said.

Local residents say they reject cooperation with Israeli governmental 

After the news spread that the program was part of an Israeli plan to 
recruit Syrians into civil service, the Aminadav recruiters canceled a 
meeting that had been scheduled for participants and their parents.

All of the estimated thirty people dropped out when they learned that it 
was a civil service recruitment attempt.

Ibrahim explains that the plan "is a step towards eventually promoting 
service" in the Israeli military, which for decades has occupied 
Palestinian, Syrian and Lebanese lands in violation of international law.

Ibrahim believes that Israel wants to "tokenize" Syrians from the 
occupied Golan Heights as it has done with Druze Palestinians and some 
Palestinian Bedouins <http://electronicintifada.net/tags/bedouins> who 
serve in the military.

    "Exploiting suffering"

"In my opinion, there is a direct link" between what is happening in 
Syria today and the timing of this program, added Ibrahim. "The [Israeli 
authorities] wanted to do such a project before but the circumstances 
didn't allow it."

As natives of the Golan Heights grew more divided over whether or not 
they should support Bashar al-Assad's 
<http://electronicintifada.net/tags/bashar-al-assad> regime in Damascus, 
Israel increased its efforts to strengthen the institutions of 
occupation in the Golan.

As of July 2013 -- the last time the United Nations updated its death 
toll in Syria -- more than 100,000 people were estimated to have been 
since the uprising against Assad broke out in March 2011.

Ibrahim accused Israel of "exploiting Syrian suffering" by attempting to 
install a civil service program, further expanding its Jewish-only 
settlements and simultaneously increasing its exploitation of natural 
resources in the occupied territory.

In February 2013, Israel awarded a contract 
to a subsidiary of former US Vice President Dick Cheney's Genie Energy 
company, permitting the group to explore for oil and natural gas in a 
150-square-mile area of the Golan Heights. Cheney, one of the chief 
architects of the disastrous 2003 American war on Iraq, will serve as an 
adviser for the exploration of the occupied territory.

According to the /Al-Monitor/ website, some 4,000 Israelis moved 
into Jewish-only settlements in the Golan Heights over the course of the 
five years prior to October 2012. Settlements and Israeli industrial 
zones were both expanded during that period.

Locals say those numbers have continued to increase since the violence 
in Syria worsened.

Taiseer Maray <http://electronicintifada.net/tags/taiseer-maray>, a 
doctor from Majdal Shams, began an organization to raise awareness about 
Israel's recent attempts to further the colonization of the Golan 
Heights. Israel "had been waiting for an opportunity" to strengthen its 
occupation, such as when the world is focused on bloodshed in Syria and 
other places in the region, he told The Electronic Intifada.

"It is a colonial state," he said. "This is expected."

/Aamer Ibrahim, Sawsan Khalife' and Irene Nasser contributed translation 
and research in Hebrew. /

/Patrick O. Strickland is an independent journalist and regular 
contributor to Al Jazeera English, /AlterNet/ and The Electronic 
Intifada. His website is www.postrickland.com 
<http://postrickland.com/>. Follow him on Twitter @P_Strickland_ 

Freedom Archives 522 Valencia Street San Francisco, CA 94110 415 
863.9977 www.freedomarchives.org
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