The case of Palestinian-Arabs in Israel
Background and purpose:
Volunteering in state institutions by national majorities in conflict with the state raises fascinating issues. The identity of Arabs in Israel is divided, as they are members of the Palestinian-Arab nation as well as nominal citizens of Israel. This perception study reveals the meaning of the volunteering experience for fifteen Arabs engaged in various Israeli state institutions. Three themes arise from the interview analysis: motives for volunteering, challenges faced by the volunteers, and their coping strategies. The study contributes to the theory and practice of minority members who volunteer in government institutions despite an intractable conflict.
Data were collected through in-depth semi-structured interviews with fifteen Palestinian Arabs, nominal citizens of Israel, who volunteer in various state institutions, including the National Insurance Institute, Magen David Adom (the equivalent of the Red Cross), National Fire, and Rescue Authority, Israel Police, and hospitals. We used purposeful sampling and the snowball technique to locate the participants. Inclusion criteria were Arab citizens volunteering in state institutions of diverse backgrounds in terms of socioeconomic status, age, gender, and residential area.
The interview analysis raised three main themes. The first has to do with the motives for volunteering and is divided into three subthemes: egoistic, altruistic-ideological, and gender motives. The second theme is related to the challenges faced by the Arab volunteers. Finally, the third theme concerns the strategies used by the volunteers to cope with these challenges, again with three subthemes: reconciliation with reality, avoidance, and establishing their presence in the organization as a fact.
Conclusions and Implications:
The Arab volunteers are aware of the important role of state institutes in bridging gaps between Jewish and Arab societies. Their decision to volunteer in a government organization specifically brings them closer to the centers of power and enables them to act with authority, making services more accessible and enabling Arab individuals to take up their rights, thereby reducing socioeconomic and political gaps and improving the quality of life of the Arab minority in Israel. Whatever their motives for volunteering, all participants have faced various challenges that need to be considered. The research findings bring evidence to the need to consider the target population’s characteristics and the complexity with which it copes during its every day volunteering activities. Moreover, the current findings manifest that the research population seeks to integrate and assimilate into the Israeli society as citizens that have equal rights and duties rather than being seen as the "enemies": they wish to play an active role in society. Therefore, it is important to treat them as equals and to invite them to integrate within state institutions both as volunteers and partners and in sharing the national weight and challenges of the country. Raising various organizations' awareness of this call will bring forth the recruitment of volunteers, and members of the Arab society.