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Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Response of the Justice and Peace Commission: Attempts to mobilize Christians into the Israeli Military

The following is a response drafted by the Justice and Peace Commission June 18, 2013, in response to Israeli military plans to recruit Palestinian Christians holding Israeli passports.

The case of Christian Arab citizens of Israel

- Introduction

According to Israeli law, all permanent residents of Israel, male and female, are eligible to be called up to serve in the Israeli military.[1] In fact, after 1948, two populations were not mobilized: ultra-Orthodox Jews and Arabs. Ultra-Orthodox Jews were not mobilized because of agreements reached between the rabbinical leaders of the community who opposed their young people being drafted because they would be exposed to modern, non-religious society and would not pursue lives of Torah study. In practice, young men enrolled in Torah study were not drafted. This situation was formalized in the Tal Law in 2002. Arabs were not drafted because they were seen as identified with “the enemy” and unlikely to be loyal.

Recent talk of drafting ultra-Orthodox and Arabs has been the result of the ruling (2012) that determined that the Tal Law was not in accord with the Basic Laws and the ensuing popular movement among Israeli citizens that all should serve in the army. 

In 1956, Israeli reached an agreement with the Druze religious leadership by which young non-religious Druze (the juhhal being those ignorant of religious teaching) would be drafted whereas the religious youth (the uqqal being those initiated into religious teaching) would be exempt, under a similar understanding as that with the ultra-Orthodox community. In return, the Israeli authorities recognized the Druze religious leadership as totally independent from Muslim leadership and instituted a separate religious court system. Circassian Muslims were drafted in 1958. Various Bedouin tribes from the Galilee and from the Naqab also agreed to the mobilization of their young men although no general conscription of Bedouin exists.

As early as the 1950s, some Israeli officials promoted the mobilization of all Arabs. Others focused on the Christian Arabs. Draft orders were in fact served to the young Christians in Jish (a village with a large Maronite population). The draft orders were not followed up, probably because the Arab Christians were still seen as a security threat, being part of the general Arab population and enjoying a high level of education.  

- Why does Israel seek to mobilize the Christians today?

Israel does not need more soldiers in an age of technological warfare however the military is seen as an institution that promotes social cohesion – a very important melting pot in the Israeli reality of diversity. The army is seen as a principal place of forming “national (Israeli-Zionist)” consciousness and participating in the nation building project as conceived by the authorities, i.e. promoting Israel as a Jewish national state. Army service is seen as a tool to promote the Israelization of the Arab minority. Identification with Israel rather than with Palestinian Arab society is clearly an important goal.

The mobilization of minorities is undoubtedly also motivated by the will “to divide and rule” the Arab minority. By drafting some segments of the population, the authorities succeed in dividing the society. This was clearly the case with the mobilization of Druze, Bedouin and Circassian minorities who were defined by government offices as “non-Arab”. Talk about drafting the Christian Arabs rather than the Arabs in general (Muslims and Christians) is clearly an attempt to drive a wedge between Christian and Muslim Arabs in Israel.

- Why do some Christians serve in the Israeli army?

Non-Arab Christians are regularly drafted into the military. Since 1996, with the increase of non-Arab Russian speaking Christians being drafted, Christian soldiers were even allowed to swear the oath of loyalty on a copy of the New Testament. Christian soldiers can ask for leave on Christian holidays. It is also true though that extensive pressure is exerted on non-Jewish soldiers (particularly those integrated into the Hebrew speaking, Jewish population) by the rabbinate within the military to convert to Judaism and extensive conversion courses are offered.

Some Christian Arabs do volunteer for army service as do some Muslim Arabs. Their motivations are usually either economic (the army provides well paid employment to professional soldiers) or professional (the belief that educational, occupational and other social opportunities, otherwise off limits to Arabs, will open up after army service). There is also a belief among some who serve in the army that if Arabs fulfill this duty they will receive equal rights to those of the Jewish population. This will be strengthened if the parliament passes proposed legislation now being debated that offers certain privileges to those who serve in the army (particularly employment in the bureaucracy of the state). 

It is important to note that the drive towards volunteering for army service among Christian Arabs is particularly strong after manifestations of confessional (Christian-Druze or Christian-Muslim) tension. This can be seen in the relatively higher number of Christians being drafted in certain areas like Kafr Yassif (bordering on the Druze village of Julis, where the residents are Druze who serve in the military) or in Maghar (where tensions within the village between Druze and Christians have erupted in violence in recent years).

- What should be the position of the Church?

Clearly the Church teaches that Christians should be good citizens and participate actively in society to promote the common good. The Church is committed to raise consciousness about issues of justice, reconciliation, love of enemies and non-violence as well as the ethical problems of war.

In her promotion of awareness of justice issues, the Church should point out that the Israeli army is used as an instrument promoting the interests of only one part of the population, the Jews, to the detriment of the Palestinians. The army is used as a means of imposing and maintaining the occupation of Palestinian lands and thus preventing the Palestinians from achieving dignity and independence. The army is primarily an army of aggression rather than an army of defense as is clear in its patrolling of the Palestinian areas and its defense of the settlers[2]. 

Furthermore, in promoting an awareness of the rights to equality, the Church can point out that Israel discriminates against her Arab citizens. The case of the Druze and Bedouin is a particularly powerful testimony to the fact that army service does not bring equality. The Druze and many Bedouin have been serving for decades in the Israeli army and yet their villages are still grossly underdeveloped when compared with neighboring Jewish areas.[3] In fact, as Druze became better educated, so did their resistance to the draft grow and since 1972 the Druze Initiative Committee has been actively promoting refusal to serve in the army, assisting Druze youngsters who are imprisoned for this refusal.

The Church promotes good neighborly relations within the Arab minority: among Christians, Muslims, Druze and all others. The use of army service to divide the Arab population against itself is detrimental to the interests of the Arabs as a community. The promotion of army service among the less educated and more impoverished must be countered with the promotion of better education, improved social conditions, more cohesion within the Arab minority in Israel and a concerted struggle for equality in the State of Israel.

Furthermore, the Church is also aware that many of the Arab youth in Israel are losing their national, cultural and religious identity and many no longer identify themselves as Arabs. In some places like the mixed cities (Jaffa, Ramleh, Haifa, Lydda, etc) many young Christian Arabs try their best to assimilate into the Jewish majority and identify with it. The Church sees her task as one of educating our young people to accept themselves as they are, giving them a balanced human, national and Christian education and an awareness of their history, their rootedness in the land and a sense of identity that integrates the different elements (Palestinian Arab, Christian and citizen of Israel) rather than repressing any one of these elements. The bishops and priests must help the faithful in the midst of this “crisis of identity”.

- What about proposals regarding civil rather than military service?

Faced with the understandable reticence of some Arabs to take up arms against their brothers and sisters, the Israeli authorities have been proposing some kind of civil service for Arab residents. What needs to be made clear is:

-         Civil service in the format proposed is equivalent to military service and therefore equally problematic along the lines underlined above.

-         The military authorities are those initiating the option to do civil service with the same goals: legitimizing the status quo and promoting a “national” consciousness that is opposed to the aspirations of the Palestinian Arab people.

-         Despite the benign appearance of the forms of civil service proposed, the underlying principle is the defense and legitimation of the so-called “Jewish” state.

The members of the Commission of Justice and Peace of the Assembly of Catholic Ordinaries in the Holy Land ask that the Catholic Ordinaries address the many issues that face the faithful in their day to day lives, including the complex socio-political issues in the state of Israel.

[1] This includes Jerusalem Arab residents. The past months have seen a rise in the attempts 
to draft some Jerusalem Christians into the military. Here we deal only with Arab citizens of Israel.
[2] The term settlers here is used to refer to those who participate in the illegal colonization 
of territories beyond the internationally recognized borders of Israel, in the West Bank, 
including East Jerusalem, and the Golan Heights.
[3] In fact, despite military service, Bedouin villages are being destroyed and others struggle 
for recognition in order to receive the most basic services in the state.

Justice and Peace Commission

Founded on April 20, 1971, the Commission for Justice and Peace functions under the auspices of the Assembly of Catholic Ordinaries of the Holy Land as a Catholic resource, liaison, and animation center to further the social mission of the Church. 
Address:   Notre Dame of Jerusalem Center
P.O.B. 20531
91204 Jerusalem
Tel. : (02)628 85 54
Fax : (02) 628 85 55
E-mail: ms@latinpat.org
President: H.B.Patriach Michel  Sabbah
Members: Rt. Rev. David Nehaus,S.J.
Rev. Franz Brouwen  M.A.
Rev. Nikodemus, O.S.B
Sr.Frida Nasser,  S.J.A
Mrs Rania Abu Murra
Mrs  Sawsan  Bitar
Mr. Yousef  Daher
Mr. Sami  El -Yousef
Mr. Raoul  Rofa
Mr. Francis  Tams

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