At a time when most Arab Christians look at themselves as part of the Palestinian people and consider any service in the Israeli army as taboo, the Israeli government’s orientation on the issue is causing a state of division within the community.
This trend has raised an emotional debate about identity among Christians in Israel, who constitute a small minority within the Arab community. Although the number of Arab Christians who have been enlisted so far is negligible, a wave of anger has erupted and each side has begun to accuse the other of using tactics of intimidation and incitement.
The US television network Fox News quoted Father Gabriel Naddaf, an Eastern Orthodox priest who leads the campaign in support of Christian Arabs’ enlistment in the Israeli army, telling a conference in Jerusalem that: “We want to be fully integrated into Israeli society…This land is holy to us too, and we are partners in it. We live under its protection and we should protect it along with its [other] citizens.”
He also suggested that Israel is the region’s only safe haven for Christians, so long as the Israelis are living in comfort.
Another speaker at the same conference, Lieutenant Shaadi Khalloul, pointed to the operations that are targeting Christians in Syria, Iraq and other Arab countries, claiming that Islamist militias “burn churches, slaughter Christians, and rape girls.”
Khalloul had earlier testified to a Knesset committee that, “We are held hostage to that community.”
On the other hand, there are Arab Christians in Israel who oppose Christians’ enlistment in the IDF on the grounds that the real goal behind such a campaign is to divide and weaken Israel’s 1.7 million Arabs who include Muslims, Christians, and Druze. “It is an old Zionist scheme. Christians are an integral part of the Arab community and they won’t let that happen,” said Bassil Ghattas, an Arab member of the Israeli parliament, or Knesset.
Azmi Hakim, who heads the Greek Orthodox council in Nazareth and opposes the call for Christians’ enlistment in the IDF, said that the majority of Arab Christians are against IDF service. However, he expressed concerns that the recruitment campaign could succeed because it has the army’s backing.
Furthermore, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has sent a message of support to Father Naddaf and his followers, promising them that he will bring to justice any person who tries to prevent them from enlisting in the IDF. Source: Samanews