01/08/2012 09:42 BST

Israel's Strictly Orthodox Must Join Army After Tal Law Expires

Israel's young strictly Orthodox men are in legal limbo over conscription into the Israeli Defence Force - as a law exempting them from service expired on Wednesday, but no new law is in place to order them to serve.

And a new draft of the law governing conscription into the army could include Israeli Arabs - a move which the Israeli Knesset speaker has called "impossible" to implement.

The booming strictly Orthodox population of Israel has long escaped universal conscription - but now 54,000 are technically obligated to join the IDF, as are all citizens over the age of 18.

orthodox protest

Handcuffed strictly Orthodox Jewish children participate in protest in Jerusalem against attempts to draft members into the Israeli military

The Tal Law, declared unconstitutional in February by the Supreme Court, expired on Wednesday, but it had allowed strictly Orthodox men to skip army service if they were studying in Jewish educational institutions, known as yeshivahs.

Army recruitment centres across Israel should, in theory, begin on Wednesday handing out army helmets to strictly Orthodox men.

But in practice, no system to begin conscripting the strictly Orthodox is in place, causing anger from left-wing activists.

The Times of Israel reported that a group of activists from NGOs the Joint Camp and Israeli Forum for Equal Service distributed mock conscription notices to young men in Bnei Brak on Tuesday evening.

They read: "We are brothers. We always were and always will be. Come and join us in the national burden to create a healthy society where we know and respect one other.”

Strictly Orthodox leader Meir Porush, a former Knesset member, told Associated Press that conscription would unleash "civil war", and said the the army itself did not really want the potential hassle of religious recruits.

orthodox protests

The sign in Hebrew reads: "If you not let us live as Jews we'll die as Jews but we'll never surrender to serve military or civilian service"

The issue of conscription of the Charedi and Arab populations has also caused a huge political rift, with Kadima, a centrist party, leaving the governing coalition after split with Israeli prime Minister's Benjamin Netanyahu's right-wing Likud party on the issue.

Last month Netanyahu dissolved a Knesset committee on the subject, headed by Kadima MK Yohanan Plesner, calling its recommendations "impossible", and after subsequent talks, Kadima dramatically left the coalition.

Nothing more will be decided on the issue until the parliament reconvenes in October, but Netanyahu has been clear about his desire to draft strictly Orthodox recruits.

"The Israeli military will decide whom to draft, how many to draft - and it will draft. I will give it all my support," he told Israeli media.

Universal military conscription plans, which would include Israel's significant Arab population, have been sharply criticised by the Knesset speaker Reuven Rivlin, of Likud, the Jerusalem Post reported.

"You don’t have to be a genius to realise that it’s impossible to draft the Arab public. Any initiatives of this sort smack of hypocrisy and even malice."

He proposed a separate system to enlist Arabs in national civilian duties, exempting them from military service. Rivlin said he favoured a version of national service including Arab volunteer programmes in their own local communities.

But many Israeli Arabs, who make up 20% of the population, said they still objected to a national system of volunteering, because no infrastructure was in place in Arab towns for volunteering projects, and would lead to young people being forced to travel and volunteer in Jewish areas.