Source: The Middle East Monitor
It is common knowledge by this point that the Israelis have long been making a sincere effort to make the enlistment of Palestinian Arabs of various Christian denominations mandatory, especially those living within the 1948 borders.
The forum on the task force within the Israeli army recently sent commands to recruit Palestinian Christians living within the 1948 borders under the misguided pretext of volunteering for or in the army. This is the first time that the Israeli army has sent young soldiers to recruit Palestinian Christians living within the 1948 borders. Will Israel succeed in its goals or are they doomed to failure?
Displacement and Ousters:
I will begin by pointing out that Israel's policies (in the occupation) have been geared towards the entire Palestinian people and that this has been the case since the creation of Israel at the expense of and on the ruins of a Palestinian national entity. These policies affected both Muslims and Christians alike and did not exempt either group from suffering. Yet, the occupation's policies have led to a significant displacement in Palestinian Christians and propelled them to life in the diaspora. As such, the number of Palestinian Christians living in Palestine has steadily declined.
It is also important to emphasise that the Christian presence in Jerusalem has also significantly declined. Israeli occupation forces aim to remove Palestinian citizens, both Muslim and Christians alike. Israel's goal is to gain control of all of historic Palestine's territories including the areas that were occupied in 1948 and 1967, in addition to Jerusalem despite the fact that Jews constituted five per cent of the city's population and 17 per cent of historic Palestine's population prior to the establishment of the Zionist entity.
The initiative to recruit Palestinian Christians into the Israeli army began with the establishment of the Forum for the Recruitment of Christians to Military Service. The initiative began on August 12, 2012, and the first official meeting was held in the city of Otailat, south of Haifa, on October 16, 2012. The forum led by the city's mayor and member of the right-wing Likud Party, Shimon Jaspo, and approximately 90 people attended including prominent Orthodox leader and Priest Gabriel Nadaf one of the supporters calling on young Palestinian Christians to enlist in the Israeli army. It was at this point where this issue began its downward spiral and young patriotic Palestinian Christians began to protest and verbally attack the masterminds behind this initiative.
The Israeli army's efforts reached a major point of tension when it began to call on Palestinian Christians to enlist and participate in the army, which later led to an outcry among the members of the Palestinian community who refused to serve and participate in the siege on Gaza and attacks in the West Bank and Jerusalem. Many Palestinian Christians have stated that they refuse to provide the Israeli army with more human capital and manpower because they refuse to participate in subjugating their own people.
Israel's main goal behind forcing Palestinian Christians to enlist in the Israeli army is to serve several purposes by hitting two birds with one stone. The first of these goals is to make serving in the Israeli army a mandatory requirement for Palestinian Christians living inside Israel or the 1948 territories so that a wedge can be driven between two groups of the same people. Aside from causing more fragmentation in Palestine's already fragmented community, Israel also seeks to apply the age-old philosophy of "divide and conquer" by dissolving any semblance of Arab unity within Palestine and cause an internal conflict among Palestinian citizens of Israel.
Secondly, the gradual conscription of Palestinian Christians into the Israeli army will soon become a commonplace thing in the lives of the Palestinian people at large. After the implementation of recruitment process' initial stages, it will soon become compulsory for all Palestinian Citizens of Israel to enlist in the army, both Christians and Muslims alike.
Thirdly, the recruitment initiative also aims to cause a rift among the members of the Christian community themselves especially in light of the rather controversial comments made by some Christian leaders such as Gabriel Nadaf, who was recently seen on Fox News saying, "I believe in a common destiny for both the Christian community and the Jewish state".
Fourthly, forcing Palestinian Christians to enlist in the Israeli army furthers Israel's Judaisation/Israelification goals, which failed for decades following the Nakba. Israel has high hopes that they will be able to create "unified and singular Jewish and Zionist national awareness" among its citizens. Moreover, Israel hopes to change the way Palestinian Christians perceive themselves, that is, to affiliate with Israel as opposed to their Palestinian Arab society.
Despite all of Israel's attempts to recruit Christians into the army, the Palestinian Christian response to Israel's offers has been a categorical rejection. Palestinian Christians consider themselves an organic and authentic part of the Palestinian people and they consider serving in the Israeli army not only a taboo, but also a complete dishonour. Moreover, they have condemned the behaviour of Father Gabriel Nadaf of Nazareth for his cooperation with Israeli officials. In fact, on May 8, 2014, Father Issa Musleh, a spokesman for the Orthodox Church in Palestine, announced that, "The Holy Synod and court of the Orthodox Christian Church in Palestine have stripped Father Gabriel Nadaf of his authority in the church and his pastoral duties."
Accordingly, the Palestinian Christian community living in Israel also declared their categorical rejection to serve as members of the Israeli army, which threatens Palestinian land and livelihood and oppresses the Palestinian people. The initiatives committee for Kairos Palestine, a Christian organisation that felt there was not a sufficient outcry against Israel's initiative, recently declared that Christians enlisting in the Israeli army is, "detrimental to Christian churches and landmarks and jeopardises the Christian position within the [Palestinian] national cause".
The organisation also called upon, "all those who enlisted in the army. We call upon them to return to their senses and repent for this serious mistake that offends all Christians. These individuals do not represent Palestinian Christians and do not represent the church, nor do they speak on our behalf."
Arab Christian lawmaker, Bassel Ghattas, went even further by calling on the recipients of these enlistment orders to "burn them openly" as they not only threaten the Palestinian cause but all Arab communities at large. Ghattas also called on "Arabs living in Israel to form a Palestinian national movement in order to counter this project and thwart its progress by using extraordinary means. This needs to be done in order to be prepared for what could later be considered as civil disobedience."
The national project
It must be pointed out that Palestinian Christians have long played a leading role in in the Palestinian national project, alongside their Muslim brethren. Palestinian Christian leaders have demonstrated their commitment to the cause and many have left their mark on the course of the Palestinian struggle and the more contemporary Palestinian revolution. Among the prominent examples of such influential figures is Dr George Habash, known as the founder of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. Other leading figures were Edward Said and Dr Wadih Haddad, known for being the leader of he Popular Front of the Liberation of Palestine's foreign operations branch and the vice-president of the Palestinian National Council during the Palestinian Liberation Organisation's earlier years.
We cannot forget that many of the cause's leaders were among the Palestinian Christians living in the 1948 territories during the early years following the Nakba. Many of them led battles to defend their right to stay inside Israel and contributed to Palestinian resistance and were very persistent in making changes on the ground.
One must also mention other prominent Palestinian Christians such as Tawfiq Toby from Haifa, famous writer Emile Habibi and historian Emile Toba. There are also figures like Shehadeh Shehadeh, who is known for his work as the head of the Committee for Land Defence, lawyer Hanna Naqara, writer and poet Hanna Ibrahim, thinker Elias Choufani and the leaders of the Land Movement, which started in the Galilee in the 60s as a way to confront the occupation and its oppressive policies. Among the members of the Land movement were: Mansour Kardoush, Boulus Farah and Habib Qawaji among others.