In response to the petition by the National-Civic Service Forum, the Public Petitions Committee, chaired by Knesset Member Adi Koll had a discussion today on the issue of volunteering to national-civic service and the lack of service spots for those that are exempt from army service.

In the opening of the meeting, Knesset member Adi Koll said: ”This is an issue of big importance to me and to the State of Israel and we do not hear about it in the media. We do hear a call for equality of burden and a call for all sectors to join the army, national and civic service. That is while ignoring a big group of citizens that seek the chance to serve and do not get it. It makes no sense to put our resources in insubordinate groups for equality of burden, when there is a group of perfectly capable young men and women who want to give more and the country ignores them. This problem has existed for many years, and the gap between those who want to serve and the number of spots is huge. It is not a thing the state can afford to refuse. This service is more expensive than any other volunteering service, and it is still a very important need of the state from the aspect of morality and social responsibility.”

Knesset Member Shuli Moalem-Refali stated her stand on the big importance of national service and the discussion of equality of burden: ”It is a contract between the country of Israel and its` citizens. We have got to enable this right also to people who might cost more to the country. We need to use the terminology – the equality is of right and not of burden. The national-civic service is equal to army service.”

The discussion also included three young ladies who volunteer in national service through the Bat-Ami Voluntary Association, who wish to continue to a second year but there are no spots for them. They talked about the meaning of the service to them. Those young girls came from institutes for youth at risk, one of them told the listeners: ”Before my service I was in rehab. I finished nothing in my life. I said to myself: `I don`t want to get back to the street, if I don`t do national service I`ll go back to using drugs, to being in the streets, to drinking alcohol. I want to do my service so as to make something out of myself. Going back home is not an option for me.` I don`t know what I would do if I can`t do my second year. I am in the middle of a process against myself. If what I`ve done so far is taken away from me, I`ll have nothing left.” Another young girl, a handicapped who travel via wheelchair, who had finished a two-year national service, has witnessed that the national service was without a doubt a way for her go get to school and to work.

Amongst the talkers was also a mother to a girl who suffers from autism. She described how throughout her life, the family has aspired to integrate her in the normative society through different programs. After she finished high-school they looked and found a place for her to do her national service, but it turned out there was no space for that. ”Some kids in the state of Israel are not a part of the existing service spaces.”

Dafna Lifshitz, CEO of Appleseeds Academy and chair of the National-Civic Service Forum said that what the girls are saying are clear proof of what they`ve found out through research. That for every young boy or girl who do national service there is a refund of 250,000 to half a million shekels as a result of their future earning capacity. ”Those young people, instead of having to take money from the state, manage to rehabilitate and become productive to society.”

In response to the participants Sar-Shalom Geraby, CEO of the National and Civic Service Administration said he understood the big importance of service for youth at risk and volunteers with special needs. He described the big rise in number of spots since 2010 and declared there will be a 100 more spots for next year (the total number is of 15,389 spots). Yet, he said he had to limit the number of spots due to budget problems. ”Unfortunately I often have to refuse to requests to serve, because everything depends on resources and budget. I received two decisions at the administration: First, because of the limited resources, the national service volunteers can only serve one year, to enable more young people to volunteer. The second one is that they can only serve while living at home.” In response to the last sentence, said Tami Nachmias of the Elem Voluntary Association: ”Those young people have no home. If they had gone to the army they would be declared lone soldiers. Those young people will be repeatedly excluded. They are excluded from the army and will be excluded from national service because they can`t be volunteering living at home. If not given a place to live, those young people will not serve.” In the rest of the discussion it was clear that the voluntary associations are the ones who pay for volunteers` housing and it is not included in the money they receive from the state.

Ran Ridnick, employment coordinator at the budget wing in the Ministry of Finance, presented the budget issue: ”The government, in the last few years, showed activism in the subject of civic service. There have been no cuts or reductions and there have been a few raises in the budget. We must understand there are a lot of discussions like that about things that are essential and in the end of the day the government has to decide what the right priority is. The budget cake is actually growing and there is a future and a way to continue. I think we should arrange a better allocating of existing resources. If, for instance, the Ministry of Education will move some of its spots to weaker populations, it might solve the problem. Our professional stand is a better division of the existing spots is a blessed initiative of the committee. I think spots for populations at risk are more important that spots for weak populations. ”

In summing up the discussion, chair of the committee, Knesset Member Adi Koll stated: ”From one committee to another, we hear of the difficult budget cuts, and therefore, a call to enlarge the `budget cake` is a problematic call, and yet we are having this discussion. National and army service should be obligatory to everyone and I know many resources have been allocated to enlisting the ultra-orthodox. I think there must be a call to enlarge, within that budget, the number of spots, and define the burden as not only army. Second, we will send for all the offices to increase the number of spots for populations at risk. I cherish the voluntary associations` work but I think this responsibility is of the state and not them. I call for the state to take responsibility for the youth that it has abandoned in earlier stages.”