Israeli army looks to recruit Palestinian Christians

Palestinians scuffle with Israeli soldiers in the center of the West Bank city of Hebron, on February 21, 2014. (Photo: AFP- Thomas Coex)

By: Maral Quteina

Published Friday, February 28, 2014
Occupied Jerusalem– Compulsory military service was imposed on the Druze community in Israel in 1956 and on the Circassian community in 1958. Druze and Circassian girls and religious Druze however are exempt from service in the army. The percentage of Druze who serve in the Israeli army is about 83 percent according to Israeli army statistics and the Israeli media. There are also 1,100 Bedouins who are voluntarily serving in the Israeli occupation army in addition to hundreds of Palestinian Muslims and Christians.
In 1961, the Israeli authorities established the National Civil Service as an alternative to compulsory military service for religiously observant Jewish girls. This service has become a way out for girls who face social constraints and can not serve in the army.

The National Civil Service has also served as a loophole to attract young Palestinian men and women to serve the Jewish state. At the end of their service, they receive a special card just like a discharged soldier and they become subject to the orders of the region commander in the occupation army who can call them up for service if the state is exposed to a terrorist attack. That is tantamount to being available for reserve duty which applies to discharged soldiers. In other words, it is a kind of conscription.

Young Palestinian men and women fall for the trap of benefits and privileges granted after serving, oblivious to the fact that the occupation is always racist and the Israeli authorities could not care less about their agents’ services and they often abandon them.
When the Israeli authorities passed a law to recruit Arab youth into the occupation army, they knew what they were doing. Israel not only tried to impose its control on the entire Palestinian land and its people with its occupation and create minorities with its racist policies. Thinking long-term, Israel has always sought to wipe out the Palestinian identity among 1948 Palestinians and to indoctrinate them with a Zionist Israeli consciousness to the point where Arabs of all sects come to see themselves as Israeli.
The Israeli authorities were able to get the signature of about 16 figures that they decided were the representatives of the Druze community in order to force young Druze men to serve in the Israeli army. They created a battalion for them called the Sword Battalion and deployed Druze soldiers in all of the occupied Palestinian territories in order to reinforce its policy of divide and rule, whereby it creates a stereotypical image of the assimilated Druze in the Israeli security establishment.
The main goal of the Israeli state was to separate the Druze community from its Palestinian roots. Some members of the Druze community learned to de-emphasize their Arab Palestinian identity and emphasize instead their Israeli Druze identity. But the integration of the Druze community in Israeli politics and their representation in Zionist political parties did not put a stop to a persistent opposition to mandatory conscription in the occupation army from the day it began. The numbers of young Druze men who refuse to serve has increased lately. Despite their alleged integration, what happened with the Druze community is proof that the policy of rights in return for duties is deceptive and illusory. Close to 80 percent of Druze-owned lands were confiscated and thousands of homes are threatened with demolition.
Yaman Zidane is a lawyer, human rights activist, and one of the founders of the movement Refuse, which opposes the mandatory conscription imposed on the Druze community of Palestine and all other kinds of conscription.
He says: “There is a contradiction between what is said by political bodies and military information on one hand and the data provided at the national security conference held annually in the settlement of Herzliya on the other. The Israeli political media and the army-owned media claim that more than 80 percent of young Druze men serve in the army. According to their claims, it is a higher percentage than that of Jewish conscripts. However, every year, dozens of young Druze men are jailed because they refuse military service either for nationalist reasons or simply because they see no benefit in this service. According to the conference, 50.4 percent of young Druze men dodge compulsory military service or do not finish their service. The percentage of loyalty to Israel among Druze youth declined from 4.4 percent in 2002 to 2.3 percent in 2012.”
About 500 young Muslim men and women serve in the Israeli occupation army and the National Civil Service at a time when the Israeli occupation accuses Muslims of extremism and terrorism.
Lately, some groups have emerged calling for the recruitment of male and female Palestinian Christians into the occupation army. It is more dangerous than a simple phenomenon. It has turned into an actual practice as a growing number of Christians have joined the military in 2013. The number of Christians recruited into the ranks of the occupation army and the National Civil Service is almost 650 men and women according to statistics conducted by Dr. Yusri Khaizaran. This number sets off alarm bells for all those involved in and are active within the 1948 Palestinian community.
Father Gabriel Nadaf, a former Orthodox Christian priest in Nazareth, launched a forum to recruit young Christians into the Israeli army several years ago and managed to register it as an association in 2012.
He received support from extreme right-wing Israeli associations like Im Tirzu (If You Will It), an organization that seeks to spread Zionist ideas not only within Jewish Israeli society but also among non-Jews as well. This group calls for expelling Palestinians out of the country.

Dr. Azmi Hakim, leader of the Greek Orthodox community council in Nazareth, said: “Unfortunately, the government project to recruit Palestinian Christians is not a new one. In 1956 there was a desperate attempt spearheaded by a Catholic bishop, called Bishop Hakim, which failed when Arab leaders stood united against his factional scheme. Since the Israeli authorities want to divide us into sects and confessions, they do not deal with political parties as representatives of the Arab masses. Instead they want sectarian, tribal and familial leadership. To implement this project, they attempted to recruit clerics to their side. After a short search they found what they were looking for in Nadaf who answered their call without hesitation.”

This is a Zionist authoritarian project planned meticulously in the offices of the Defense Ministry, the Shabak – the Israeli security agency – and the office of the prime minister. Nadaf is a mere puppet in the hands of this elite, and the authority which mobilized support for him and his partners among some racist Zionist organizations, Hakim added.
Targeting Christians did not come out of thin air. It is the result of an apartheid policy that Israel has adopted towards Palestinians since it occupied their land. The Druze, Bedouins, and Circassians were the first victims and now the tragedy is being replayed by targeting Christians. Focusing on their recruitment into the army is an attempt to isolate Christians within sectarian boudaries as happened with the Druze. They invented a so-called Druze nationalism with the help of some governmental studies that claim that Druze are originally not Arab. Similar claims are now being regurgitated by some who claim that Christians are originally not Arab and promote the idea of military service.
Nadim al-Nashef, founder and director of Baladna, also known as the association for Arab youth, in Haifa said: “Recruiting Christian youth into the Israeli army is based on three notions. The first is that Christians are not Arab. They are Aramaic and not part of the region. The second is protecting Christians in the occupation state in light of the changes in the Arab world. Christians were the first to pay the price for the war in Iraq, Egypt and Syria with the rise of groups like al-Nusra Front and the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. The third is exploiting the fertile environment left in the wake of familial and political differences in some cities and villages to scare Christians if they don’t take up arms.”
The crisis in Nazareth between Islamist movements and secular movements created a fertile ground for Nadaf and his aids to emerge and try to control the scene, exploiting the general environment to launch a catastrophic initiative that makes the occupation seem like a refuge, opening its arms to Christians in this Islamist and extremist Arab world.
“It is surprising and shocking that this Orthodox Christian man would call on Christians to join the soldiers of the occupation state. The history of the Orthodox sect throughout the ages bears clear witness to its members affiliation with nationalist and patriotic causes. They are the pioneers of leftist, Marxist and secular movements,” said Dr. Yusri Khaizaran.

Asked if this was the emergence of a new Antoine Lahad (the leader of the South Lebanese Army militia that collaborated with Israel during Lebanon’s civil war), Dr. Hakim replied: “I can not compare Lahad and Nadaf because of differences in geography, place and time. Lahad presided over an armed militia to protect Israel but the priest involved in military recruitment in this case can not be the head of a militia. He is simply peddling the idea that Christians serving in the army will protect Christians who are under threat from their Muslim brethren, even though we have called for international protection from Israeli apartheid policies that we all suffer from, Muslims, Christians and Druze.”

Is Israel trying to form an alternative to the South Lebanon Army? “I don’t think so because the Israeli occupation army does not allow armed gangs or militias to exist within its state. The issue is nothing more than a scheme to plant the seeds of strife between members of the same population and to divide them into sects and denominations. The occupation army does not need Christian recruits to protect it but it can use them in military intelligence because of their mastery of the Arabic language, even though they might deny their Arab identity,” said Dr. Hakim.
For Yaman Zidane, “We have to stand up to this conspiracy by raising collective awareness and prevent them from fragmenting the Palestinian social fabric even more by emphasizing that we are one people, our concerns are the same and we share the same destiny. In addition, we need to create real alternatives such as developing non-curricular frameworks as an alternative to curricular educational frameworks and developing institutions within Arab Palestinian society. This creates work opportunities and support and contributes to our economic independence which has a positive impact on intellectual independence.”
Some Arab youth have lost their cultural, national and historical identity and assimilated into Israeli society thinking that they might enjoy equality and better work opportunities by abandoning their Palestinian identity. What is worse is their lack of a real understanding of the National Civil Service and the new trap that has been set for them. But the most dangerous part is that the people behind these schemes have come out in public with no sense of shame. They have gained fame and money for marketing the occupation and its army.
This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.
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