Today’s Israel Hayom has an important article about an Israeli Greek Orthodox priest that every Christian in the West should read. Father Gabriel Nadaf and his family are suffering harassment and even death threats from their fellow Arabs for arguing that Israeli Arab Christians should serve in the Israel Defense Forces. On Tuesday, he was even summoned to a disciplinary hearing by the local Greek Orthodox patriarch, Theophilus III, which ended with Theophilus keeping Nadaf in office but asking him to lower his profile. The account of the hearing given by one of Nadaf’s close associates, Shady Halul, is revealing:
“The patriarch told Father Nadaf that he is not an opponent of the state of Israel,” he said. “On the contrary, he is very appreciative of the security enjoyed by Christians in Israel. He did ask Nadaf to tone down his statements concerning his work with the forum so as to ensure the safety of Christians in the Palestinian Authority and the Arab states.”
It has become a truism among some Christian groups that Israel is primarily to blame for the suffering of Middle East Christians. In 2010, for instance, a synod of Catholic bishops from the Middle East blamed the Christian exodus from the region on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Thus it’s worth listening to what these Israeli Christians have to say: that Israel is actually the one place in the region where Arab Christians enjoy security; elsewhere, they are oppressed by their fellow Arab Muslims.
Even more noteworthy, however, is that since the Arab Spring erupted, the “forum” to which Halul referred in the above quote-the Forum for the Enlistment of the Christian Community, founded by a group of Christian IDF veterans-has seen a marked increase in the number of Christians seeking to enlist, though they still represent a minority of the Arab Christian community. Previously, many Arab Christians bought into pan-Arab ideology, and thus believed their interests lay with their fellow Arabs. But the Arab Spring shattered this ideology: In country after country, Arab Islamists have turned on fellow Arabs who fail to toe their religious line, and this, naturally, includes Christians. By comparison, Israel is a haven.
“We feel secure in the state of Israel,” Nadaf explained, “and we see ourselves as citizens of the state with all the attendant rights as well as obligations.”
Indeed, the shift is so marked that the forum even lobbied (successfully) to get Arab Christians integrated into Jewish units rather than into Bedouin units (Bedouin are the only Muslims who serve in the IDF in significant numbers), thereby opting to forgo the comfort of serving with other Arabic-speakers.
As I’ve written before, a similar sea change is occurring among the Druze of the Golan Heights: Since the Syrian civil war erupted, the number seeking Israeli citizenship has soared by hundreds of percent, after decades in which most preferred to retain Syrian citizenship. As one explained, “People see murdered children and refugees fleeing to Jordan and Turkey, lacking everything, and ask themselves: Where do I want to raise my children. The answer is clear-in Israel and not Syria.”
All this leaves only one question: When are those western Christian groups that reflexively view Israel as the root of all evil going to reach the same realization that Nadaf and his followers have?