Should Palestinian Christians in Israel Serve in the Israeli Army?

Recently, the Wall Street Journal published an article titled "Israel's Christian Awakening" about a new small and a very controversial movement among Palestinian Christians in Israel who are seeking to join the Israeli army and collaborate more with the Israeli government.

The article exaggerates the impact of the movement, as the vast majority of Palestinians in Israel (Palestinian Christians included) are still against such a step. But the question remains, is this movement justified in its calling for Palestinian Christians in Israel to join the Israeli army?

The movement, though still small and insignificant, got the attention and support of Israeli leaders. The irony here is that it is rising in a time when Israel is insisting that Palestinian leaders recognize Israel exclusively as a Jewish state. Such an irony was revealed when Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu gave a speech this Christmas to congratulate Christians, and he praised those Christians who are willing to serve the state of Israel. As Haaretz reported, "the prime minister stopped himself in the nick of time from saying the word 'Jewish' and instead quickly said 'the state and our society'". (Watch here)

There is no denying that Christians in Israel are doing much better than Christians are doing in some neighboring Arab countries, where they are the victims of sever persecution and in some cases barbaric mascaras. Yet Israel should hold itself to higher standards, if it wants to continue to call itself  "the only democracy in the Middle East". The fact of the matter is that Israel today discriminates against its Arab Palestinian citizens - including Palestinian Christians. The discrimination is so blatant and can be seen in gap in the living standards between the majority of Jews and the minority of Arabs, and the amounts of money spent to develop their towns and villages. Even the Arabic speaking Druze community - who elected many years ago to serve in the Israeli army - suffer from this discrimination in the Israeli society.  Israel is indeed a more friendly place for Christians these days - but that does not mean that there is justice in the land. (See my article: Israel or Hamas?)

In addition, Christians are not always very welcomed in the Israeli society. Take the case of the elected mayor of Upper Nazareth, who publicly pledged to keep his town "Jewish" and fought for years against even having a Christmas tree in his town - despite the fact that there are Christians who live there, and despite the fact the Nazareth, where Jesus was raised, and were many Palestinian Christians live today, is just a five minutes drive. There are more and more attacks recently on Christian holy cites by Jewish extreme groups, and even that Vatican have called Israel out for failing to deal with these attacks.

Father Naddaf, the face of this movement, claimed in the report that Israel has "defended" Christians. He is of course implying that Israel has defended Christians from Muslims. Again, there is no denying that there are extreme Islamic voices among the Palestinian community in Israel, and these voices are raising by the day. Yet at the same time, no one can deny that overall, the relationship between Palestinian Christians and Muslims is and has always been very good. Moreover, and if Naddaf is right in his claims, the fact that Israel "defended" Christians is Israel's duty anyways - and not a favor towards Christians. Every state must defend its citizens and keep order. After all, Palestinian Christians have been living in this very land for thousands of years. They are the people of the land - not guests seeking protection.

Naddaf's comments, in fact, reveal the real motif behind this movement. These young people are not seeking to join the Israeli army because they love Israel - but because they are afraid of radical Islam. This fear is understandable, given the alarming rise in Islamic violence against Christians (and also against other Muslims) in neighboring Arabic countries. Many Christians in Israel and Palestine fear that this rise will one day reach this land, and mention Gaza as an example, where Hamas has been ruling for over six years, and they have not been very friendly towards Christians (and other Muslims!) Yet by and large, the Palestinian community in Israel and the occupied territories is still far from the levels of extreme that we witness today in neighboring Arabs countries.

Does this mean that Christians now must carry arms? Is the solution for the rise of Islamic extremism - that Christians join forces with a Jewish state, that has not always been friendly towards them? Do we really want to intensify religious sectarianism in this part of the world? In addition, would this be a Christian way of responding to violence and hate? Speaking as a Middle Eastern Christian, I agree with my friend Joseph Cumming, who stated that in the wake of the rise of radical Islam, the real struggle here is a struggle not between Muslims and Christians or between Islam and the West, but "a struggle within Christianity itself, a struggle for the soul of the Christian faith". The approach of Naddaf and co does not reflect a Christian attitude. It will only increase the violence and hatred towards Christians. It fails to present an authentic Christian witness in this part of the world, a witness that is based on the teachings of Jesus. Joining an army, and carrying weapons, in my humble understanding of Scripture, are against the teachings of Jesus.

In a time when Christians are struggling to stay in the Middle East, and when Palestinian Christians in Israel are struggling with the issue of identity and belonging - the church must think deep and seek a common Christian witness. Our identity and future are found in our calling to be a salt and a light; to be peacemakers. We must present an alternative way of living, rather than be "conforming to the pattern of the world" (Rom. 12:2).

Speaking from personal experience - some years ago I was stopped with my wife at an Israeli checkpoint outside of Bethlehem, and when the solder began to interrogate us, it became apparent that he was a Palestinian Christian from Israel, and he realized we were Christians. He tried to soften the awkwardness of the moment with a smile, and then allowed us to proceed in our way without any further hassle. I must admit, it hurt us so much. We are both Palestinians. We are both Christians. We are both the people of the land, and our ancestors have been living here for hundreds if not thousands of years. The conflict has put us of different sides of the fence.


Dear Isaac, it was a long time ago you wrote in your blog.

After I read the testimonies of Israeli soldiers published in Sweden makes me sad and angry how Palestinians are treated by the Israeli soldiers. "Breaking the silence" Bryt tystnaden
If were able to show that we do not support treating people in this unjust way would Palestinian Christians in Israel participating in the army to be a “salt in putrefaction”. But if they do not have the courage to stand up for hummanitet and justice. As “Speaking from your personal experience ” It just gets sad.
RTB said…
Mr. Isaac, bear with a long-suffering viewer of anti-israelic half-truths, demonizing and frankly unchristian behavior from oh so well-meaning pro-palestinian Swedes. If only the good wishes and hope for palestinian aspirations hadn't been at the cost of decency, honesty, and consideration for all people!

It would be nice if fervent foreign activists like the first commentator were the least little bit sad and angry about unacceptable proclamations, rasism, glorifying mass murderers, the so-called martyrs, rewarding terrorists, in never-ending actions and disgusting sentiments by some leaders of the Palestinian Authority as well. All this is well documented. But it seems to be of no concern. So what is such support worth?

Many of your supporters are decent people who see both sides of the conflict and the complications over time. Others again, are downright onesided, see Israel as a foreign body and Jews as not having any connection to the land. The effort to delegitimize the Jewish state and its history seems to trickle down from leaders like Erekat to the activists. This Christmas saw in Sweden a dispicable and racist politicizing of the gospel.

Swedish activists often describe the arab population in the region as "ursprungsfolk", original inhabitants, and Jews as inkräktare, invaders. Such has been the tone in the blogg yopur other commentator runs. I have a hard time respecting those who go to great length to depict Jews, who have had an unbroken connection to and presence in the area for thousands of years, as not being one of the peoples who belong there. I see the racism in such thoughts.

You have legitimate concerns and aspirations as a people. And they can be realized if your leaders choose peace. What is missing, in my view, is not only israeli actions and concessions, but Palestinian changes in policy. Very much needed for peace to move forward is of course a stop to all violence-and hatemongeriong AND a brave recognition of Israel as a Jewish state next to a Palestinian state, two states for two peoples. The Palestinian leadership refuses to consider the importance for this recognition for peace to advance. And the fervent activists follow their lead. Since war and terror acts have been wrought specifically against the Jewish state, Jews have been depicted as invaders and the state as illegitimate it seems this should a rational recognition.

Christians in Israel should be able to choose to serve their country Israel in the army without being questioned and condemned.

Any input from you would be appreciated. Thanks,

Ann-Katrin Roth
Anonymous said…
Why should not Palestinian Christians in Israel Serve in the Israeli Army?

As you say "The conflict has put us of different sides of the fence.", however it was chosen by this solder that interrogated you.
He was a Palestinian Christian from Israel, not from the occupied WB.

Why it hurt you so much that he was a Palestinian Christian from Israel?

You are both Palestinians. You are both Christians.
However times changed, now you are the people of the state of Israel and the new Palestinian state.

The conflict has put you in different sides of the state.

Christians in Israel should be able to choose to serve their country Israel in the army without being questioned and condemned.

Foreign activists like the first commentator whit his dubbel standard love to put an unacceptable proclamations, rasism, glorifying mass murderers, the so-called martyrs, rewarding terrorists, in never-ending actions and disgusting sentiments by some leaders of the Palestinian Authority as well.

What is such support worth from this kinde of foreign activists?

As a former katolic resident of Israel, I know that Christians have it better in the Jewish state then in many Muslim countries.
Probably that why this Christian Arabs become Israeli soldiers.