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For Israeli Arab teens, a way to serve the country – without joining the army

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"It's as if the opponents from both communities are helping one another," he says.

Status of Arab citizens 'most sensitive' issue in Israel

The public has focused more on Israeli Arabs since they engaged in widespread rioting in parallel to the outbreak of the Palestinian intifada 10 years ago. In a 2003 report on clashes with police that left 12 Israeli Arabs and one Israeli Jew dead, an independent state commission called the status of Arab citizens "the most sensitive and important issue on the domestic Israeli agenda."

Israeli Arabs' higher birthrates and frustration with government policies that they see as discriminatory are testing Israel's aspiration to be both Jewish and democratic. But despite their status as central to both Israel's internal politics and its relations with the broader Arab world, relations have deteriorated in the past decade.

Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman's ultranationalist party Yisrael Beiteinu became the third largest in parliament last year, and has pushed laws questioning the loyalty of Arabs. Arab leaders, meanwhile, are arguing that Israel seeks to perpetuate the ethnic superiority of Jews by severing ties between its Arab minority and Palestinians.

"The situation is as explosive as it was 10 years ago and perhaps even more," says Elie Rekhess, a recognized authority on Israel's Arabs.

Modeled on program for Orthodox women

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