At the end of a recent unofficial pre-induction briefing for about 30 young men preparing to join the Israeli army, the participants stood and, led by Greek Orthodox Father Gabriel Nadaf, recited the Our Father in Arabic with hands outstretched.
- Catholic News Service
They finished by making the sign of the cross. 'You are not going to shoot,' said Fr Nadaf, the spiritual leader of the year-and-a-half-old Israeli Christian Recruitment Forum, and whose 18-year-old son, Jubran, was among the new recruits. Fr Nadaf reminded them of the fate of Syrian Christians, some of whom have been kidnapped and killed.
'You are going to protect. You do not go to attack but to defend. The Messiah said not to kill, he did not say don't defend. We have to defend our Holy Land,' the priest said.
The young men represent an increasing number of young Israeli Christians who are deciding to join the Israeli military voluntarily, explained Captain Shadi Haloul, 38, the forum's spokesman, a Maronite Catholic and reservist in the Israeli Defense Forces.
Forum officials said about 84 Christians joined the army in the last half of 2013, the same number that joined in the prior 18 months. Although they are a small part of the 120,000 Christians who live in northern Israel, IDF officials called the forum's impact 'astounding.'
While Jewish men and women and Druze men from the age of 18 are required to serve in the military, Christians and Muslims have been exempt. Historically, Christian Arabs have viewed themselves as part of the Palestinian people and considered service in the army as unthinkable, although individual Christians have volunteered to serve on their own.
The forum was established to help Christians better integrate into Israeli society and to seek equal treatment and opportunities in a country where army service is key to accessing certain jobs and promotions, better mortgage terms and educational opportunities.
But also, as neighbouring Arab countries remain in a quagmire of war and violence, some Israeli Christians say they want to help defend the only country in the region where they believe Christians have equal protection and freedom despite the occasional inequality.
FULL STORY Some Israeli Christians see army service as way to fit into society (CNS)