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The dangers of drafting Christian Arabs into the Israeli army

January 24, 2014 at 3:29 am

Israel’s Druze and Circassian citizens have been drafted into the Israel Defence Forces since 1958. Now, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has decided to oversee the plan to draft into the IDF Christian Arab Israelis residing within the Green Line, specifically the Greek Orthodox community, despite the fact that Christian institutions reject the idea completely.

Interestingly, Netanyahu’s office has established a joint forum for the government and the Greek Orthodox community. This seeks to engage Christians in the Israeli army and civil service, as well as integrate them into public life.

A statement issued by Netanyahu’s office noted that the forum will work towards integrating the Christian community in the context of the law of equality regarding national burdens, such as military service, dealing with the required administrative and legal matters, and defending supporters of the draft against acts of violence and threats directed against them. “This forum will also work towards promoting the implementation of the rule of the law in order to work against rioters and the instigators of violence,” it concluded.

What’s behind the draft?

The decision to draft Arab Christians falls under the government’s attempts to erase the identity of the Arab minority living in Israel by dismantling and fragmenting the community.

In order to suppress those opposing the draft, Israel’s General Security Service, Shabak, summoned a number of Arab Christian activists, including the head of the Orthodox Community Council in Nazareth, Azmi Hakim, for questioning. This was also a warning to anyone else about the consequences of an anti-draft campaign.

It is important to note that all Israeli governments since 1948 have considered the existence of an Arab minority among its citizens as a threat to the country’s existence. The official strategy, therefore, has been to enforce a system of racial discrimination and oppression to make life so miserable that the Palestinians in Israel will leave their own land “voluntarily”. In Zionist terminology this is known as “silent transfer”. Massacres have been committed over the years by Zionist terrorist groups and the army in places such as Ramla, Kafr Qasim, Qabia and Balad Al-Sheikh, to name a few, as part of the ethnic cleansing process.

Later efforts by the Israeli government included attempts to sever links between Israeli Arabs and those in neighbouring countries as well as efforts to integrate them into Israeli society, albeit always on the margins. Arab intellectual Azmi Bishara has recorded the details in a number of his articles and studies.

Israeli institutions have worked hard to erase the Arab identity of the people and land. They have tried to categorise the Druze and Circassians as distinct ethnic groups and to differentiate between Muslim and Christian Arabs. The Christians have even been split in Israeli eyes between eastern and western groups, and the Muslims according to their doctrinal differences. Official statistics have used such classifications since 1950.

Green Line Christians

There are an estimated 1.4 million Arab/Palestinian Israelis; about 9 per cent of them are Christians. Moreover, 70 per cent of the Christian Arabs live in northern Palestine in places such as Al-Jash, Eilaboun, Kafr Yasif, Kafr Kanna, Ableen, Shafa ‘Amr, Haifa, Akka and Jaffa, as well as locations mainly populated by Druze which have a Christian minority, such as Harfish and Al-Maghar. Nazareth, which is considered the capital of Galilee, has the largest Arab Christian population, of about 140,000 people.

A number of studies also suggest that Arab Christians in Israel play a leading role in the establishment of Arab political parties, such as the Democratic Front Party and Balad Party. The most prominent political figures are Roman Catholic Bishop George Hakim, Tawfiq Touby, Emile Toma, Emile Habibi and the aforementioned Azmi Bishara, among others.

Researchers note the presence of major Christian denominations within Israel, including the Chalcedonian Orthodox Church, non-Chalcedonian Orthodox Churches, Latin Roman Catholic Churches, Eastern Churches and Protestants. Almost all, 98 per cent, of the Arab Christians in Israel live in urban centres. The majority are middle or upper middle class, making up the wealthiest of the Arab citizens of Israel; they have the lowest birth rates amongst the Arabs in the country, with an average of 3.4 children per family. Their economic status, social customs and traditions, and levels of education are also different.

More than 70 per cent of the Arab Christians, for example, have matriculation certificates, with 90 per cent achieving the entry requirements for university. Indeed, just below 70 per cent have university degrees. Arab Christian schools in Israel are regarded as amongst the best in Arab areas.

The inevitable failure of the draft

Despite the draft for young Arabs, Druze and Circassians, dozens refused to join-up or disobeyed military orders to supress the Palestinian people in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip during the uprisings of 1987 and 2000. Many were imprisoned for several years as a result of their refusal.

There is a growing rejection of the draft and military service amongst the Christian Arabs in Israel. Netanyahu’s proposal carries with it a dangerous political agenda, the least of which is the fragmentation of the Arab minority’s social and cultural community and its marginalisation economically and politically. This will become much clearer when the drafting process begins.

The author is a Palestinian writer. This is a translation of the Arabic text published by Al Jazeera net on 11 November 2013

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.