Israel recruits its Christian citizens for war against ‘the barbarians’
The principal article by Jonathan Cook is followed by one from Israel Today, a nominally independent pro-government news agency/magazine and lastly by IMEMC on the response from Kairos Palestine.
By Jonathan Cook, The National
August 24, 2013
The Holy Land may be the cradle of Judaism, Christianity and Islam – the three Abrahamic faiths that share much in common – but Israel has preferred to draw on a tradition that imagines the region in terms of a clash of civilisations.
Theodor Herzl, the father of Israel’s national ideology, Zionism, averred that a Jewish state should act as “a rampart of Europe against Asia, an outpost of civilisation as opposed to barbarism”. On this view, Israel is on the fault line between a Judeo-Christian west and the barbarian horde of the Islamic east.
The idea of a clash has played out most obviously in Israel’s repeated wars against its Arab neighbours, its threatening posture towards Iran, and its interminable occupation of Palestinian territority – heavily subsidised both directly and indirectly by the United States and Europe.
But Israel also wanted to exploit this model inside its own territory, among its citizens. Decades of institutional and systematic discrimination and internal repression of its 1.5 million Palestinians who have citizenship have been justified to the Jewish majority in these terms.
This is the context for understanding the announcement this month by Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, of what is being called innocuously a “forum” between the government and Israel’s Christian Palestinians.
Its troubling goal is to end the exemption Christians in Israel have enjoyed from serving in the military.
On a practical level, Mr Netanyahu hopes that Christians can help enforce Israel’s illegal occupation of their kin in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza. But this move is not really about swelling the army’s ranks.
Both Christians and Muslims are excluded from Israel’s military service. Individuals can seek a waiver on this exclusion and each year a few do so: around two dozen among Christian Palestinians and small numbers of Muslims, mostly from the Bedouin community.
If Christians are made to serve, they will join Israel’s tiny Druze community, which has been conscripted since the 1950s. That will then leave only the largest section of Palestinian citizens – Muslims – excluded.
The role of the Druze is illustrative. They have few benefits to show for decades of army service, even though Israel has treated them as a national group separate from other Palestinian citizens. They even have their own school system to inculcate beliefs that the Druze and Jews are historic allies.
Keen to prove their loyalty to the state, the Druze are much feared in the occupied territories, where they are seen as even more brutal than their Jewish comrades.
If Mr Netanyahu succeeds, he will achieve an important task, reversing the long-term commitment of Christians and Muslims in Israel to unity. The two communities have set up joint political institutions and secular parties that cut across the sectarian divide.
In recent years their identity as Palestinians has strengthened – not least because Israel has defined the core Israeli identity in terms of belonging to the Jewish people.
Mr Netanyahu would rather turn the clock back to the 1950s when the native population were known simply as “the minorities”, and expected to identify as sectarian groups. The aim was to exploit these differences to keep each sect weak, isolated and, ideally, feuding.
Now Mr Netanyahu sees a chance to use military service as a vehicle for implementing a policy of divide and rule.
The idea has been brewing for decades, but was unrealisable because Israel could not find, as it did with the Druze, a Christian religious leader willing to cooperate. It now has one in the figure of a senior Nazareth cleric, Jibril Nadaf.
Mr Nadaf gave his blessing to a conference last year staged by the defence ministry to promote military service among the Christian scout movements. Community leaders who denounced him have been interrogated by the security services on suspicion of incitement.
Israel is trumpeting its success in tripling the number of Christian teenagers drafted over the past year. But the numbers are still small.
Israel has sought to capitalise on this moment by highlighting to Christians the supposed dangers posed by the Arab Spring. Israeli officials suggest that the growing power of Islamic movements is a warning that the region’s Christians need to ally with the Jewish state.
Mr Nadaf now speaks in similar terms. He recently said: “Our goal is to protect the Holy Land and the State of Israel.” Only Christians helping Israel, he added, were “following the path of Christianity”.
Israel’s fingerprints are not hard to spot on these developments. Last month a new political party was formed in Nazareth running on a joint Christian-Jewish ticket and advocating conscription for Christians. Its founder is the brother of the defence ministry’s adviser on Christian affairs, Ehab Shilyan.
This dangerous meddling in the delicate relations between Christians and Muslims inside Israel could easily lead to violence and bloodshed. But Israel is unlikely to care when the benefits are manifold.
Palestinian Christians have been key figures in the fight for equal rights inside Israel, a struggle that has deeply embarrassed Israel by threatening to expose the structural inequality required by a Jewish state.
Israel would prefer to weaken this kind of internal secular Palestinian politics, leaving the field to the Islamic extremists.
Christians in Israel have also been powerful advocates for international campaigns against Israel, using their connections to promote the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement building among overseas church groups – what Israel terms “de-legitimisation”.
Repositioning Palestinian Christians on Israel’s side would take the wind out of that campaign.
But perhaps most importantly, Israel would prefer that Christians reject the Palestinian variant of liberation theology and adopt the Christian Zionism that dominates in the US, Israel’s chief sponsor.
The Christian Zionists believe Jews and Christians are heading towards an apocalyptic showdown with Islam.
All of this is designed to corral Israel’s Muslim population into a corner, creating a much cleaner narrative for Israel in which Jews and Christians are brothers guarding the ramparts. But more likely Israel risks ensuring its clash of civilisations thesis becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy.
Ryan Jones, Israel Today
August 08, 2013
sraeli Vice Prime Minister Shaul Mofaz last month declared that a “new spirit” had taken hold in the Israeli Arab Christian community after meeting with a group of young Arabic-speaking Christians determined to be a part of and to serve the Jewish state.
“Civil courage is a very important thing,” Mofaz told Israel’s Channel 2 News. For decades Israel’s Christian community were too cowed by their Muslim neighbors to openly stand with Israel. “The Christian population is very special,” and it is great to see them opening up like this, Mofaz continued.
The minister and leader of the Kadima Party made his remarks following a personal visit to the home of Nazareth-area priest Gabriel Nadaf, who has been actively encouraging young local Christians to join the Israeli army and fully integrate with Israeli society.
During the visit, Mofaz met Regda Jerisi, a young Christian woman who has become outspoken in her intention to voluntarily defend the Jewish state, and has even publicly taken to task hostile Arab Knesset members who dare to speak in her name.
“I am proud of this position, because I feel that I am a part of the nation, I am Israeli, and with God’s help, after I marry, my children will also join the IDF,” Jerisi said in an interview with an Arabic newspaper.
Taking aim at Israeli Arab Knesset members who constantly attack the Jewish state, Jerisi said, “I do not understand these extremists who receive everything from the state, but can still betray her.”
One Arab MK in particular, Hanan Zoabi, has been on a mission to silence Father Nadaf and put an end to his movement to bring Jews and Christians closer together.
Jerisi responded to Zoabi in an open letter that made waves in the Israeli media:
“Shalom MK Zoabi,
“My name is Regda Jerisi. I am a Christian who speaks Arabic, but not an Arab. I request with all due respect that you not state in the name of the Christians that we are ‘Palestinians.’
“Listen well – we are not Palestinians. We are Israeli Christians, and our hearts and spirits are covered in blue and white [the national colors of Israel].”
In his interview, Mofaz said he was “very impressed by the character of Father Gabriel and the young people with him,” in particular young Regda.
“Regda and the rest of these young people represent a new spirit in the Christian population,” said Mofaz. “Regda and the young Christians are making themselves heard on this matter, and we bless them for it.”
That recognition and hope of support from Mofaz and other Israeli officials is exactly what Father Nadaf had been pressing for. The priest warned that if Israel itself did not support this “new spirit,” antagonists like Zoabi would ultimately be successful in squashing the movement.
By Saed Bannoura, IMEMC
August 08, 2013
The Palestinian Christian Initiative (Kairos Palestine) issued a statement strongly denouncing the Israel attempts to recruit Arab Palestinian Christians, in historic Palestine to the Israeli military that occupies their people.
The statement came in response to the Israeli decision to form a joint committee of Palestinian Christians, and the Israeli government of Benjamin Netanyahu, with the aim to encourage and act on recurring young Arab Christians in the Israeli army.
Kairos stated that the officials who are encouraging enlistment in the occupation army are conducting provocative actions that harm Christian Churches, national interests and the Christians themselves.
“Those who call for recruiting Christians to the occupation army do not represent us, do not represent our Churches, and do not represent the Christians”, Kairos said, “It seems that some of those who have been deceived chose a wrong path that does not serve our interests and faith as Arab Christians”.
It added that trying to recruit the Christians is immoral, and harms the Palestinian Christian identity in the Holy Land.
“We need to be united, we need to protect our national identity, only our Arab, Palestinian, identity will be able to protect us, and protect our interests”, Kairos said, “Our choice will not be sectarian, but will only be national unity between all Palestinians regardless of their beliefs and faith”.
The statement came after Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, ordered the formation of a committee to recruit Arab Palestinian Christians in the country to the Israeli military.
The decision was made after Netanyahu held a meeting on Monday with Father Jubrael Naddaf, known for his stances encouraging enlistment in the Israeli military despite massive objections the Palestinian Christian community in the country.
When Kairos Palestine was established in December of 2009, it published its mission statement calling for people, justice and equality, expressed it rejection to the Israeli occupation, all sorts of apartheid in the world, and called for justice and equality.
Netanyahu announces new forum to encourage Christian Arabs to serve in military Ha’aretz, August 6th.
Muslim Violence Targets Christians (Again), part of the campaign, Israel Today August 6th, 2013.
’60 Minutes’ profiles Palestinian Christians, Michael Oren falls on his face, Israel embarrassed by American documentary on its poor treatment of Christians, Mondoweiss, August 22nd, 2012