Orthodox Archbishop Atallah Hanna and former Latin Patriarch Michel Sabbah, on Friday, April 25th, called upon Christian youth to resist enlisting in the Israeli military and to disregard any ‘propaganda’ encouraging them to do so.The statement came after a Friday meeting between the two religious figures, following reports that Israeli authorities would distribute enlistment papers to Palestinian Christian youth who retain citizenship with Israel in order to encourage them to volunteer for military service.
According to Ma’an News Agency, the leaders called upon Christian youth who have received the enrollment papers to ‘tear them up and throw them away and not to engage with them in any way’.
The leaders also stressed a firm national position of Christians in refusal to join a military which exercises violence against the rights of the Palestinian people.
The forms resemble the mandatory enlistment forms distributed to both Jewish and Druze Israelis, and the army hopes that by sending these papers more young people will voluntarily enlist.
Although Christian Palestinian citizens of Israel are currently exempt from military service, along with Muslims, a government decision made this past February to re-classify Christians as a distinct ethnicity separate from ‘Arab’ raised suspicions that mandatory enrollment would soon follow, as it did for Palestinians of the Druze community in the 1950s.
About 10 percent of Palestinian citizens of Israel, also called ‘Arab-Israelis,’ are also Christians, while the majority of the remaining are Muslims and Druze.
Although the majority of Palestinians were expelled from their homes during the 1948 conflict, which led to the creation of the state of Israel, some managed to remain and their descendants, today, make up around 20 percent of Israel’s population, Ma’an further reports.
18-year-old Druze community member Omar Saad was just sentenced to prison, for the seventh time, for his refusal to join the Israeli army. Omar was sentenced to 40 days of imprisonment for his refusal, to be served in the military prison No. 4 near Sarafand (Zrifin).
In his refusal deceleration Omar wrote:
‘I refuse because I am pacifist, and I hate any kind of violence, and I believe that the army institution is the height of physical and psychological violence, and since I received your order for making the checking procedures my life changed completely. I became very nervous and my thoughts were dispersed. I remembered thousands of hard images, and I could not imagine myself wearing a military uniform and participating in suppressing my Palestinian people, and fighting my Arab brothers. I reject enlisting to the Israeli army or to any other army, because of national and moral reasons. I hate oppression, and I reject occupation.’
His full declaration, with pertaining links, can be found at the Alternative Information Center.
Conscientious objection, protest and outright desertion of Israeli military service has become a rising movement among people of all faiths in both the Levant and international settings.
Several Israeli-based organizations, this past Wednesday, condemned a new campaign to recruit Palestinian Christian citizens of the country to serve in the military.
In a joint statement, more than 15 Palestinian youth movements and community organizations said that the Israeli move was an effort to divide Palestinian citizens of Israel from their own people.
Furthermore, according to a recent reports by Haaretz and the Middle East Monitor, the Israeli army detains nearly 22,000 deserters and ‘undisciplined soldiers’ annually.
The paper quoted data from the military police, revealing that around 400 escape attempts, rebellions and acts of violence occur inside army prisons each year. At least 13,452 were detained in 2013, with a staggering 76 per cent of these soldiers being charged with evading military service, while 18 per cent were classified as ‘undisciplined’ and a mere 6 per cent as having committed criminal offenses.
In America, just this past March, tens of thousands of Orthdoox Jews flocked to the streets of Manhattan in public protest over Israeli proposals to draft its religious citizens into the army.
On June 9th 2013, an estimated 100,000 Hasidim blocked Broadway, from Canal street all the way down town, in a similar protest.
Israeli conscientious objector Uriel Ferera, scheduled for draft this week, on April 27, gives his statement.
Chris Carlson is a student of religion at Mount Mercy University, United States, and has been a regular volunteer with the IMEMC since 2013. He assisted in providing extensive coverage of the 2014 Israeli military offensive on the Gaza Strip and continues, into the present day, with the issues at hand. He can be reached via email at c h r i s @ i m e m c . o r g.