Israel's Embattled Pro-Israel Priest
There’s a movement afoot to encourage Israeli Christian Arabs to serve in the Israeli army. The movement is led by a group called The Forum for Drafting the Christian Community. It includes Christian army officers, soldiers, and businessmen.
At the helm of this forum stands Father Gabriel Nadaf, a Greek Orthodox priest in the town of Yafia near Nazareth. For his efforts, though, Father Nadaf is under fierce fire from elements of Israel’s Christian Arab community and its Arab community in general.
Arabs are exempt from army service in Israel except for the small, non-Muslim, Arabic-speaking Druze and Circassian communities. Some Bedouin Muslims also volunteer to serve. Israel’s Christian Arab community numbers about 130,000, or about 10 percent of the larger Arab community that is mostly Muslim. For decades, Israel’s Christian Arabs more or less subscribed to the Muslim Arabs’ ambivalent-to-hostile attitude toward Israel as a state.
But those were the days of pan-Arabism, an ideology that sought to unite the Middle East’s diverse Arab communities under a common, secular, Arabic-speaking banner. Eventually pan-Arabism succumbed to today’s Islamic trend — and one result has been severe persecution of Christians throughout the Middle East and their massive flight from Muslim-majority countries.
That leaves Israel’s Christian Arab community as the only one in the region that is actually growing. Father Nadaf, in recent statements to Israeli media (see reports here and here), shows an appreciation of the reality:
We want young Christians to become totally integrated into Israeli society, which also entails shouldering their fair share of the burden of national service. Our future as a Christian minority is intertwined with that of the State of Israel.… We feel secure in Israel…. Most of the young Christians here view Israel as their country.