Students at the Hebrew University Mount Scopus campus faced off against one another Wednesday afternoon in a protest and counter-demonstration over the issue of Christian Arab enlistment in the IDF.
The protest was the latest in a series of rallies at the university led by Arab students against a recent increase in the rate of Christian Arab enlistment, as well as demanding recognition for the “Nakba,” the Palestinian term for the War of Independence which views the events as a national catastrophe.
As many as 100 mainly Arab students attended the protest, staged on campus with university authorization, bearing signs with various slogans and with some students waving Palestinian flags.
Several dozen Jewish students staged a counter-demonstration, organized by the nationalist Im Tirtzu organization along with the association of Bayit Yehudi students on campus, and the two sides traded verbal blows and chants.
Signs held aloft at the Arab students’ rally included slogans such as “We will not serve in the Israeli army” and “We will not give up on the right of return,” in reference to Palestinian refugees from 1948.
Students at the counter-demonstration cried back: “You support terrorists,” “We’re not leaving here,” and “Go and study in Ramallah.”
Amier Kardosh, a 24-year-old student, and secretary of the Hadash student association at Hebrew University, said recent efforts by the IDF to increase Christian enlistment were part of a plan by the government to divide the Arab community.
“This is a policy of divide and conquer. They want to make Palestinians living in the state into Israelis, in order that they will forget their roots in the Palestinian people,” Kardosh told The Jerusalem Post.
Last month, the IDF announced that, in cooperation with Christian Arab activists, it was initiating a new policy whereby it would send non-mandatory enlistment notices to Christians informing them of their enlistment options, a policy which was condemned by Arab MKs.
Back in February, a law was also passed in the Knesset that provides legal recognition for Christian Arabs as a separate minority in and of itself, distinguishable from the Muslim Arab community.
“I am against an army that conquers my people and I’m against anyone who enlists to this army, and against a government which tries to draft them,” continued Kardosh, who was born to a nominally Christian family but is himself secular.
Kardosh also said the protesters were demonstrating because of the actions of the university security services and the police at two other recent rallies at the university which were forcibly dispersed.
At one of these rallies at the end of April, three Arab students were detained.
Matan Peleg, 32, the CEO of Im Tirtzu and a master’s student at Hebrew University, who took part in the reciprocal sloganeering over loud speakers at Wednesday’s rally, said that it was hypocritical for Arab students to protest with Palestinian symbols and slogans.
“We’re at the heart of the Hebrew University, where Arab, Jew, Christian, Druse and other students all study together, respect one another, even copy each other’s tests, and here they are protesting against the existence of the State of Israel. We see this as great hypocrisy and an embarrassment,” Peleg told the Post.
“They’re protesting against the enlistment of minorities and integration, and for recognition of the Nakba, which implies destruction and catastrophe. We know what this means. It is racism.”
He denied that the counterprotest inflamed campus tensions, saying that “as a Zionist organization, we have to expose this hypocrisy, to stand up against them, to show that the Jewish people lives, to fly the flag, and we cannot allow this event to pass off without a response.”
Bayit Yehudi MK Ayelet Shaked arrived at the campus as the rallies were breaking up and voiced support for Christian enlistment.
“We want to encourage moderate elements in the Christian community who want to integrate into Israeli society and the IDF, and we’re here with Bayit Yehudi, Likud and Im Tirzu students to support and help students who want to enlist,” she told the media.
“The state needs to fight extremist elements in Arab society that refuse to participate in enlistment in the IDF. The Bayit Yehudi association of students is here to support the Forum for Christian Enlistment to the IDF, and I’m in constant contact with Father Gabriel Nadaf,” she continued, in reference to the Christian activist who has been one of the central figures promoting Christian enlistment.
“We need to help him so that his voice should be heard in Christian society, and not just that of [Balad MKs Haneen] Zoabi and [Basel] Ghattas, who oppose enlistment and speak with a great deal of extremism.”