Israel is to start inviting Arab Christians to enrol in the army “on a voluntary non-binding basis”, the Israeli army recruitment department said yesterday.
Over the last three years the army launched an intense campaign to attract thousands of young Christians to serve in its ranks by supporting a small group led by a former priest in Nazareth. The pastor was forced out of his Greek Orthodox community and prevented from entering the church to advocate for the project.
Israel’s Haaretz newspaper quoted army officials as saying that only 86 recruits, aged 18-24, volunteered to serve in the army while nearly 18,000 young men and women refused.
An army official told the paper: “In fact, we do not see long queues in front of recruitment offices.”
The chairman of the High Follow-up Committee for Arab Citizens of Israel, Shawki Khatib, said: “We are counting on the young Arab Christians’ national and political consciousness to reject the move and fight it.”
Khatib said a national conference to fight recruiting Arabs of all sects including Christians, Muslims and Druze will take place in the near future.
Arab member of the Knesset Mohammed Baraka said: “This shows the failure of the programme to recruit young Arab Christians and did not benefit the military or provide a way through which decay can be spread in society.”
Baraka said the Israeli army aims to divide the Arab society into sects and tribes saying “the army has resumed the pace to recruit young Bedouin Arabs which has fallen in recent years”.
Baraka said: “We are proud of the high level of national consciousness among young people of all backgrounds which reflect their real adherence to their identity. They will block this scheme and they will cause it to fail like they did before.”