Israel to recruit Palestinian Christian citizens to army
Published Tuesday 22/04/2014 (updated) 23/04/2014 22:32
Christians take part in a Palm Sunday procession in Jerusalem.
JERUSALEM (AFP) -- Israel is to start sending call-up papers to all Christian Palestinian-Israelis of military service age, army radio reported Tuesday, angering Palestinian MKs who accused the government of seeking to divide Christians from Muslims.
Military service will remain voluntary for Israel's 130,000 Palestinian-Israeli Christians as it is for its more than 1.3 million Palestinian-Israeli Muslims.
But commanders hope that the routine sending out of call-up papers will help boost the numbers volunteering from around 100 a year at present to 1,000, the radio reported.
"Under these new arrangements, they will no longer have to submit their own enlistment request and expose themselves to potential pressure from their Christian coreligionists or from Muslims, who are overwhelmingly hostile to conscription," the radio said.
An army spokesman had no immediate comment when contacted by AFP.
The reported move came just two months after parliament approved a law giving Muslim and Christian Palestinians separate representation on a national employment commission and drew fire from Palestinian MKs.
"The measure was to be expected following the campaign by the Israel right to divide Christians from their own people by encouraging them to think that they are not Arabs," said Bassel Ghattas, a member of parliament for the communist Hadash party.
He urged Christians who received call-up papers to "send them back or publicly burn them, because the next step could be compulsory military or community service."
Father Gabriel Nadaf, a Greek Orthodox priest from the northern city of Nazareth, welcomed the move by the military.
"Young people in the Christian community need to understand the importance of serving and getting involved in the country in which they live and which protects them, and in which we are full citizens," he said.
Israel's Palestinian community, which makes up some 20 percent of the population, are the descendants of the 160,000 Palestinians who remained on their land after the majority of the Palestinian population was forcibly displaced by Jewish militias during the creation of Israel in 1948.
They complain of routine discrimination, particularly in housing, land access and employment.
Ma'an staff contributed to this report