As the number of Christian Israeli Arabs enlisting in the Israel Defense Force rises, so does the risk of violent attacks against the soldiers by their Muslim neighbors, who see their desire to serve the Jewish State as traitorous to the Arab cause, the Jerusalem Post reported.
Israel’s total Christian Arab population is estimated at 127,300. Generally prosperous and well-educated, the community has thrived in Israel while it is heavily oppressed in many neighboring Arab states. But recently, Israeli Arab Christians have begun to fear an increasingly radicalized Muslim population. Many, intimidated by Arab threats and accusations of treachery, will not openly support the state.
However, there is a small but significant number of proudly pro-Israel Christian Arabs who are choosing to participate in national life, including one of its most significant institutions – the Israeli army.
“The Christians see themselves, rightfully so, as part of the Israeli society, and as such, they share equal rights and obligations, and in the enlistment of the youth to the IDF, they see a statement to themselves and to Israeli society that he’s just like you in this country,” explained Eyal Paltek, a reserve colonel and attorney representing Christian soldiers.
These soldiers do so at their own risk. Most are afraid to return to their homes in uniform, lest their Muslim neighbors see them. And more and more report violent incidents and threats against their lives and their families.
“Their neighbors in the cities in which they live are Muslims who do not agree with the growing phenomenon of the enlistment of Christian youth in the IDF and their integration into Israeli society, and the employment opportunities that they have after their release,” said Paltek.
When they return home, he continued, “These youth and their families find themselves threatened, cursed at and subject to physical attacks.”
Paltek has himself been threatened because of his work. “From the moment that I began to act, the threats on my life began. After I was interviewed in the media about helping Christian soldiers, my family was forced to leave our home for a week,” he said.
“My picture was spread on the Internet with clear statements. I received threatening messages and they sent me a picture of my home and the town where I live with a red circle around my house. They threatened to kill me.”
A police investigation into the matter revealed that Hamas operatives from Bethlehem were behind the threats.
According to Amir Shalian, a founder of the Forum for Christian Enlistment to the IDF, “Real danger is posed to their lives and their families.”
He said that he, and soldiers like him, often “hear threats like, ‘you traitor,’ ‘we’ll murder you and your family,’ ‘we’ll rape your sisters and your mom,’ spitting on us in the street, curses, physical violence, stabbings, rocks thrown at homes, and more.
“These are the threats of people who want to murder. Today, a Christian who serves the country, whether it be in the IDF or the Border Police or any other security force, is exposed to serious threats.”
He told the story of Sgt. Majd, a soldier in the Kfir Brigade from the city of Nazareth. After he was decorated and recognized as an outstanding soldier by the prime minister, Majd returned home on furlough and encountered a group of masked assailants who attacked him with knives.
When he went back to the army after his leave, he told his commanders that Muslims in his city were trying to kill him. Several months later, rioting Muslims attacked his family’s home during a party, throwing rocks at the windows. Though the family called the police, the rioters weren’t caught, and Majd took action on his own.
“Majd, out of desperation, took the law into his own hands,” said Shalian. “He brought from the army stun grenades, he had a launcher and he shot at them. In the end, instead of helping him, [the Israeli police] put him in jail. There you have it, the rioters won.”
The sergeant was sentenced to three months in jail after a military investigation, despite his commander’s testimony that the army had ignored his distress though it was aware of the problem.
“Unfortunately, to this day, nobody sees how serious the problem is,” Shalian said.
Another story of a soldier identified as Cpl. M, a Christian soldier in the Golani Brigade, illustrated the dangerous taboo against IDF service in Arab communities.
People “threatened to murder me if I enlisted and to burn my house down”, he said of receiving his draft notices. In his unit, he said, “I am treated like a king, but when I go home, I change clothes in the bathroom of the train station. I requested permission to carry a civilian bag rather than a military one so that they won’t know I’m a soldier.”