Israeli Security Ministry sponsored a meeting with Palestinian Christians religious figures and youth groups aimed to discuss recruiting Palestinian Christians (state citizens) into the Israeli Army. The initiative was set forth by Ehab Shlayan, and Arab soldier who serves as “advisor for Christian issues” in the Ministry. The Mayor of Nazareth Illit, a member in Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu party, who attended and addressed the audience.
The meeting took place in Nazareth Illit, a city which neighbors Nazareth, on October 16th, and was opened with the “Our Father” prayer by one of the clergymen (the meeting’s agenda is attached in Hebrew with an image of the proceedings). It included attendees of well-known Palestinian Christian religious and community figures as well as youth groups. Roughly ten Christian figures from Yaffa (near Nazareth), Nazareth, and al-Maghar have spoken at the stage.
This meeting is extremely dangerous for many reasons. Firstly, it concerns military service, and secondly because it concerns one sect. More danger lurks below the surface: recruitment plans; the targeting of Christians; this number of prominent figures who ventured to attend the meeting without shame; and the sectarian repercussions that such a meeting can generate.
This meeting is dangerously alerting for many reasons: first, it involves service into a military which is responsible for the persecution and repression of Palestinian people. Second, the initiative targets only one sect of the Palestinian community. Third, the open (not secretive) attendance of some Christian leaders, and Lastly this could open the door for future sectarian repercussions within the Palestinian community. (The meeting’s Agenda in Hebrew exposing names of Palestinian participants, and a picture leaked from the meeting are attached)
Since its establishment, Israel has implemented a policy of “divide and conquer” towards the Palestinians, who belong to Druze, Bedouin, Christian, and Muslim communities in order to suppress their collective national identity. Since its inception, Israel has been able to get close to Druze leaders, which led to the imposition of military service on the Druze youth (worth stating that this has been challenged by researchers lately indicating that Israel forced the service without the consent of Druze leaders). Similarly, the State of Israel has succeeded in attracting a large portion of the Arab Bedouin population into serving in the Israeli military, but has thus far been unsuccessful in its attempt to recruit Christian and Muslim Palestinians, wherein the number of Christians and Muslims who serve in the Israeli Army doesn’t exceed a few hundred. However, that hasn’t stopped Israel from trying.
In all, the recruitment policy has been able to isolated Druze from their Arab (Palestinian) roots, but even in this case Israel hasn’t succeeded completely; there is a large number of Druze who refuses to serve in the Israeli military. Only a few days ago, Omar Saad, a Palestinian-Druze and young musician, published a public letter announcing his refusal to serve for conscience and national reasons. Research has shown that more than two-thirds of the Druze would refuse conscription in the Israeli military if given the chance.
The state has thus far failed in its long attempt to separate us from our Palestinian identity and Arab roots. This attempt to destroy our identity and subjugating us, has been highlighted by policies that push for mandatory conscription into the Israeli military and/or the Israeli civil service as an alternative. The initiative to recruit Palestinian Christians into the military is not new. It is not the first attempt nor will it be the last to cut off Christian community from their Palestinian identity and belonging.
As it tried to divide and conquer through stirring up sectarian strife or strengthening it in many places (especially those places that are completely vulnerable or which have land fertile for sectarian struggles). And while Palestinian Christians who are “a minority” among Palestinians internally, their proportion doesn’t exceed ten percent, then it’s easy to hunt them from this approach. Israel always uses the phrase “minority within a minority” to reinforce insecurities among Christians and surround the so-called minority with threatening feelings, through provoking sectarian crises wherever possible. After all, we often heard from Christian youth who enlisted in the Israeli Army or were thinking about doing so: “I want to protect myself.”
However, it is important that we do not place the full responsibility on the occupation, colonization, and related Israeli policies. We have to bear some of the responsibility, our society is not free of sectarianism and racism and we should refrain from pitting full blame on those who persecute us. To put it bluntly we have enough internal conflicts, be it tribal, familial, or sectarian. If we constantly hid behind “state policy” we will never be able to confront these problems and combat them.
The most disturbing question in my opinion, is how did we arrive to the point where such Palestinian community leaders and religious figures find it acceptable to attend such a meeting? All of the people who attended the meeting are well known. How has participating in such a meeting become legitimate for them? How are they not ashamed of this participation? It is incumbent upon us to answer this question so we can understand how we arrived at this point.
First, we should not defame those who attended the meeting or identify them as collaborators, not yet ((and here of course I exempt the initiatives, Ehab Shuleian, because he pledged allegiance to them a while back). We need to engage in a serious dialogue with leaders and young people in an effort to persuade them to refrain from cooperating with such projects. And in case they don’t deviate from cooperating with the authority, their names should be entered into a list of shame.
Second, we must work to silence all voices of sectarianism that rose following the exposure of the meeting. Sectarianism plays into the favor of our collective oppressors and enhances the policies of the state. If we isolate the people who attended the meeting we run the risk of throwing them into the Zionist project’s lap.
Third, we must organize awareness campaigns for the youth targeted by this project.
Fourth, there must be a long term solution for the issue and not just for the short term. This issue does not only affect Palestinian Christians in Israel, but the Palestinian community as a whole. Palestinian youth live in a political vacuum due to the decline of political parties and national institutions and an absence of educational and awareness frameworks for the youth. For this reason, our national parties must to look down upon their disagreements and unite in constructing a strategy in cooperation with civil society in order to protect our youth and our society from this old yet resurgent scheme.
Since the exposure, loads of angry responses were shared and circulated. However, we should be aware that the meeting is an attempt to intriguer us preoccupy us. We should refrain from impulsive and responsive acts, rather strategic and responsible ones.
The Zionist project to destroy Palestinian identity in the land of historic Palestine has so far failed, but we must be vigilant in our effort to ensure its continued failure.
This post is translated from Arabic thanks to @abusnuffy and @IntifadaDude