The IDF will begin to send enlistment notices to Christian Arab youths of military age, informing them of the possibility of joining the military, Army Radio reported on Tuesday. Their service, however, will remain strictly voluntary.
In the coming days Christian Arab youths, both male and female, who are nearing the age of 17 will begin to receive enlistment notices, as do Jewish youths of the same age. The notices will inform them of the possibility of a preliminary meeting at the closest IDF enlistment office.
Until now, people from the country’s Christian sector wishing to volunteer for service have had to do this entirely at their own initiative.
According to Army Radio, the IDF believes this new approach to Christian Arab enlistment will generate a significant boost in recruits from the sector.
Enlistment from the Christian population has been on the rise in the past year, with 84 new recruits volunteering for service between June and December 2013, whereas the average enlistment figures in recent years have been around 50 people.
One army source told The Jerusalem Post back in December that there were approximately 140 Christians serving in the IDF, with another 400 in the reserves.
Fr. Gabriel Nadaf from Nazareth, one of the most active advocates of Christian- Arab enlistment, welcomed the step and said he was certain it would help increase the numbers of Christian youth volunteering for service.
“This is a change in what has been the status quo until now, and is a crucial step in improving the ability of the Christian community to integrate into Israeli society, with the rights and obligations that come with such a process,” Nadaf, who established the Forum for Christian Enlistment to the IDF, told the Post.
He said the enlistment letters would help open up the “broad options” available to Christian youths and help them choose for themselves if and how to serve the country.
Nadaf added that his organization provided advice to the IDF as to how to go about increasing Christian enlistment after the army became interested following his successful efforts in independently increasing the numbers.
“Certain elements have sought to prevent the integration of Christians ever since the foundation of the state, and we have suffered from this,” the cleric said.
“But this is not the Christian path and works against the spirit of Christianity. A large proportion of the Christian community is now inclined to free itself from these old restrictions and the new generation wants to integrate into Israeli society.”
He said there was a “large majority” in the country’s Christian community wanting “freedom” despite the “complete opposition of the Arab sector,” implying a possible rejection of Arab identity for Christians in Israel.
“The old way has caused us great damage, but this path has come to its end,” he said. “Other people will not speak for us any longer, and no one will force their identity on us. Together with our Jewish brothers we have a joint fate in this land because whatever happens to the Jews here will happen to us. We therefore need to contribute to the defense of this country along with the Jews.”
Despite Nadaf’s upbeat comments, MK Basel Ghattas (Balad), a Christian, charged during an Army Radio interview on Tuesday that the decision to send the voluntary conscription notices to all Christian Arabs was an attempt to divide the country’s Arab population.
“Within a year we will see them trying to enlist everyone,” Ghattas said. “We are obviously against it. I called to all the young men in the sector to send back the enlistment orders or to burn them at a protest.”