Another inconvenient reality for the Israel haters out there:
In the municipal sports hall with an army officer to his side, Father Gabriel Nadaf, a Greek Orthodox Arab priest in full regalia, briefs Arab Christian twelfth-graders on the merits of serving in the Israel Defence Forces (IDF). “It’s only natural that the country which protects us deserves that we contribute to its defence,” he tells them.
A Christian teenager calls on the officer to reckon on the Christian conscripts’ cultural needs. The officer’s proclamation is unassuming: “The IDF is a melting pot.”
One in five Israelis is an Arab of Palestinian descent. Muslims constitute the overwhelming majority of this sizeable minority.
The 130,000-strong Arab Christian community is a tiny minority within the minority. They’re the original Christians of the Holy Land, the living stones on which the bi-millennial faith was built.
Encouraged by Nadaf to take advantage of Sunday rest, some 250 youth have preferred to show up at an event organised by the IDF Social Branch than to attend mass.
Entitled ‘In the fighters’ footsteps’, the week-long event brings twelfth-graders from around the country to the nearby Ahmadiyah training ground where, in order to boost their motivation before conscription, military prowess is demonstrated in front of them with the pyrotechnics of live ammunition exercises.
“Deep in the heart a Jewish soul…” the lyrics of the HaTiqva national anthem might have sounded awkwardly discordant to Arab Christians’ ears, yet these boy and girls throw in their lot wholeheartedly in this country.
Anan Nitanes is determined to join those who must join the army. “Israel gives me a lot. So I must give her back,” he tells IPS.
Father Nadaf’s endeavour is beginning to bear fruit – according to the IDF, some 100 Arab Christians are currently serving in the army, up from 35 in 2012, whilst an additional 500 are performing civil service, up from 200 during the same period.
Last year, as he was officiating in the Church of the Annunciation, Nadaf was called up by Bishara Shlayan, a boat captain who resides in Nazareth – Israel’s largest Arab city once dominated by Christian churches, now two-third Muslim.
Shlayan required the priest’s religious imprimatur to his local Forum for the Enlistment of Christian Youth.