The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) expects to shatter records this coming year, with Christian enlistment set to reach an all-time high, reported Israel National News. With numbers growing steadily in recent years, the IDF anticipates some 200 new recruits signing up for next year.
Israel’s Christian population sits at over 130,000, with some 1,400 eligible youth reaching recruitment age each year. Until recently, however, only a few dozen chose to sign up annually. This trend began to change three years ago, as groups actively began promoting Christian enlistment, and numbers climbed over 100.
One of the main reasons for the rising numbers is a pre-military seminar opened recently for Christian youth. Col. (res.) Pini Gonen, an initiator and leader of the Gadna youth battalion project for Arab Christian youth at the Defense Ministry, told Walla! the seminar had 48 participants, including two women. It is a four-week program which includes military preparation and leadership training alongside trips to churches and tours of Jerusalem and northern Israel.
According to Gonen, Christian recruits “arrive with very high motivation for military service. Just last week Jennifer, an Arab Christian soldier, was selected for exceptional performance in a course operating Iron Dome. She also finished basic training with exceptional ratings.”
“I believe that the number of recruits will rise,” added Gonen. “Already today you can see (Arab Christian) officers at the rank of major in the teleprocessing branch, navy and other units. Even more senior rankings are just a matter of time.”
One seminar participant, 20-year-old Tawfiq, explained why he joined. He told the paper that his two grandfathers were in the police “and they told me before they died to select the right path.
“My mother was against me enlisting to a combat unit and sent me to study in Italy. I came back and decided to enlist in a combat unit,” said Tawfiq. “I’m in favor of the state and want to raise it as high as possible. I will enlist in my own name and in the name of the entire (Arab Christian) community, and I hope to be one of the best commanders.
“I tell all the communities in Israel, you don’t have to enlist but don’t attack those who chose to contribute,” added Tawfiq. “This is my country.”
One of the leaders of the movement to involve Israeli Christians further in society is Father Gabriel Naddaf of Nazareth, head of the Christian Empowerment Council and spiritual leader of the Israeli Christian Recruitment Forum.
Despite opposition from his own Greek Orthodox church, which has banned him from the Basilica of the Annunciation in Nazareth for his pro-Israel position, Naddaf encourages his followers to identify with the state of Israel. Naddaf’s own son enlisted in the army, and both have suffered personal attacks and violence for their support of the state. Naddaf insists, however, that he represents a sizeable portion of the Israeli Christian community.