Arab Christian residents of Nazareth who proudly serve in the Israeli army and encourage their children to do the same are coming under increasing attack, and Israel is starting to take notice and come to their aid.
For a number of years now, a group of Nazareth Christians who are officers in the Israeli army have been actively recruiting young local Arabs to follow in their footsteps and serve the Jewish state.
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Though not an officer himself, one of the main figures in this movement is Greek Orthodox cleric Father Gabriel Nadaf. Late last month, the Greek Orthodox patriarch in Jerusalem, acting on demands from Muslim Arab members of Israel's Knesset, threated to fire Nadaf.
Israeli Justice Minister Tzipi Livni and Interior Minister Gideon Saar immediately called the priest to convey their support and offer their assistance.
On Wednesday, Israel's Attorney General's Office announced that it had opened an investigation into the activities of the Muslim Knesset members who pushed for Nadaf's dismissal.
"It’s unacceptable that Arab MKs should think that they can be Trojan horses in the Knesset and send letters of incitement against a Christian priest who encourages young Christians to enlist in the IDF," said Likud MK Miri Regev during a Knesset Interior Committee hearing on the matter.
Many Arab politicians vehemently oppose Arab participation in Israeli national service for fear it will legitimize the existence of the Jewish state (which pays their paychecks).
Meanwhile, the pro-Israel Arab Christians of Nazareth are becoming increasingly bold in their stance, and even dared to hold a public gathering late last month to toast the achievements of their new forum whose goal is convincing more young Arabs to join the army, as reported by Israel's Ma'ariv newspaper.
"We chose to hold the conference to demonstrate that nothing will deter us," forum spokesman Moran Khaloul told the newspaper. "We don’t live in Syria, where Christians are not allowed to speak...or in Iraq, where churches are bombed. We live in a Jewish state, which is democratic and free. As Israeli Christians we see ourselves as part of this state and not as part of those who oppose it."
Khaloul said that until now, many in the community had been too afraid to speak out, but that was going to change. Many are now even referring to themselves openly as "Israeli Christians."
Ali, an organizer for the forum, noted that local Arabs see what is happening across the Middle East and realize that Israel is the only place in the region where Christians can feel safe and belong. "That’s why more and more of us are realizing that there is no other country here that is worth fighting for," he added.
Some went even deeper in their reasoning for joining the army of the Jewish state.
Henry Zahav, a 12th grader who intends to join the IDF gave this moving answer when asked by Ma'ariv why he made that decision: "Ultimately, from a religious point of view, we are one. Jesus was a Jew, his mother was a Jew, and his 12 disciples were Jews."