Thursday, May 15, 2014

Israel introduces next step to "Druze like" status for Arab Christians

Over the last year it became pretty clear that the Israeli government aims to give the Arab-Christian population a Druze like status - i.e. mandatory conscription and a legal seperation from the Arab population, which would then be only Muslim. The efforts reached have to introduce mandatory conscription have reached a preliminary peak with the sending of volutary draft notices to yound Christian Arabs.

IDF to send 'voluntary draft notices' to Christian Arabs 
by Gili Cohen, Haaretz
The Israel Defense Forces will send draft notices to Christian Arab teenagers over the next several weeks in an attempt to increase voluntary enlistment within the community. 

Christian Arab citizens of Israel are not subject to compulsory military service. They can volunteer, but few do. According to an Army Radio report on the new policy, every year about 2,000 Christian Arabs reach the age of conscription. The IDF says about 150 Christian Arabs currently serve in the army, with some 50 new recruits signing up each year. 

By reaching out to draft-age Christian Arabs with "voluntary draft notices" summoning them to the induction center, rather than waiting for them to come forward, the army hopes to encourage more of them to join. Army officials say the primary purpose of the policy is to inform young Christian Arabs about the available enlistment tracks and the enlistment process. At first, only young men, numbering about 800, will receive the notices. 

A high-ranking officer in the Personnel Directorate predicted the policy will lead to an immediate increase in enlistment by Arab Christians. Personnel Directorate officials expect that by June, more than 100 members of the community will volunteer. Last year, 40 Arab-speaking Christian teenagers enlisted, according to army officials.
The low numbers of Christian soldiers (out of a Christian-Arab population of roughly 130.000) indicate that the numerical effects of this cmpaign might be limited in the nearer future. However, The Jerusalem Post uses higher numbers:

by Jeremy Sharon, The Jerusalem Post
Enlistment from the Christian population has been on the rise in the past year, with 84 new recruits volunteering for service between June and December 2013, whereas the average enlistment figures in recent years have been around 50 people.
One army source told The Jerusalem Post back in December that there were approximately 140 Christians serving in the IDF, with another 400 in the reserves.
He said there was a “large majority” in the country’s Christian community wanting “freedom” despite the “complete opposition of the Arab sector,” implying a possible rejection of Arab identity for Christians in Israel.
On the Christian side Gabriel Nadaf, a Greek-Orthodox priest, is leading the pro-conscription movement:
“The old way has caused us great damage, but this path has come to its end,” he said. “Other people will not speak for us any longer, and no one will force their identity on us. Together with our Jewish brothers we have a joint fate in this land because whatever happens to the Jews here will happen to us. We therefore need to contribute to the defense of this country along with the Jews.”
The Arab parties in Israel of course strongly oppose conscription:
Despite Nadaf’s upbeat comments, MK Basel Ghattas (Balad), a Christian, charged during an Army Radio interview on Tuesday that the decision to send the voluntary conscription notices to all Christian Arabs was an attempt to divide the country’s Arab population.
“Within a year we will see them trying to enlist everyone,” Ghattas said. “We are obviously against it. I called to all the young men in the sector to send back the enlistment orders or to burn them at a protest.”
The authorities are highly sensitive regarding any opposition, lately detaining an activist over an anti-conscription status on Facebook.

Jonathan Cook examines for MERIP the recent efforts of the government in detail and provides some wider background, including the rise of Maronite-Aramaic nationalism, sectarian tensions in Nazareth and many more:

Onward, Christian Soldiers by Jonathan Cook,  MERIP

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