Israeli Vice Prime Minister Shaul Mofaz last month declared that a "new spirit" had taken hold in the Israeli Arab Christian community after meeting with a group of young Arabic-speaking Christians determined to be a part of and to serve the Jewish state.
"Civil courage is a very important thing," Mofaz told Israel's Channel 2 News. For decades Israel's Christian community were too cowed by their Muslim neighbors to openly stand with Israel. "The Christian population is very special," and it is great to see them opening up like this, Mofaz continued.
The minister and leader of the Kadima Party made his remarks following a personal visit to the home of Nazareth-area priest Gabriel Nadaf, who has been actively encouraging young local Christians to join the Israeli army and fully integrate with Israeli society.
During the visit, Mofaz met Regda Jerisi, a young Christian woman who has become outspoken in her intention to voluntarily defend the Jewish state, and has even publicly taken to task hostile Arab Knesset members who dare to speak in her name.
"I am proud of this position, because I feel that I am a part of the nation, I am Israeli, and with God's help, after I marry, my children will also join the IDF," Jerisi said in an interview with an Arabic newspaper.
Taking aim at Israeli Arab Knesset members who constantly attack the Jewish state, Jerisi said, "I do not understand these extremists who receive everything from the state, but can still betray her."
One Arab MK in particular, Hanan Zoabi, has been on a mission to silence Father Nadaf and put an end to his movement to bring Jews and Christians closer together.
Jerisi responded to Zoabi in an open letter that made waves in the Israeli media:
"Shalom MK Zoabi,
"My name is Regda Jerisi. I am a Christian who speaks Arabic, but not an Arab. I request with all due respect that you not state in the name of the Christians that we are 'Palestinians.'
"Listen well - we are not Palestinians. We are Israeli Christians, and our hearts and spirits are covered in blue and white [the national colors of Israel]."
In his interview, Mofaz said he was "very impressed by the character of Father Gabriel and the young people with him," in particular young Regda.
"Regda and the rest of these young people represent a new spirit in the Christian population," said Mofaz. "Regda and the young Christians are making themselves heard on this matter, and we bless them for it."
That recognition and hope of support from Mofaz and other Israeli officials is exactly what Father Nadaf had been pressing for. The priest warned that if Israel itself did not support this "new spirit," antagonists like Zoabi would ultimately be successful in squashing the movement.