Depending who you talk to, Israel’s military recruitment efforts aimed at young Arab Christians has either been a dismal failure or a step in the right direction, albeit a slow one. A prime example would be the two very different takes on the same story as reported by the openly tilted “supporters of the Palestinian cause” left-of-center Middle East Monitor news portal on April 23, 2014, and also reported on the opposite end of the spectrum by the self-described “Jewish and Israel news for Jewish media” internet portal The Jewish and Israel News Service on April 22, 2014.
As cited by the Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics, there are slightly more than 160,000 Christians living in the Jewish State, comprising approximately 2 percent of the nation’s total population. The vast majority of Christians holding Israeli citizenship are ethnic Arabs who mainly adhere to the ancient Catholic Rite of the Melkites or one of the branches of Eastern Orthodoxy.
Unlike the Bedouin, Druze and Circassian Muslims who have been volunteering for decades their service into the Israeli armed forces (officially known as the Israeli Defence Forces/IDF) and have since, at their leaders behest, become subject to mandatory service upon reaching “the age of majority,” Arab Christians are exempt from mandatory service in the armed forces. However, the IDF is now making a concerted effort in gaining volunteers from the Christian community.
As noted, the number of Christian volunteers has reportedly tripled last year to almost 100 total. Additionally, IDF spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Amir Hai recently announced the military’s initiative to appeal to the religious minority:
We intend to appeal to the Christian population of conscription age and will send them call-up notices to volunteer for service.
Yet the other side of the coin, things aren’t exactly that rosy of a picture. An unnamed IDF Army officer reportedly told Israel’s Haaretz newspaper “In fact, we do not see long queues in front of recruitment offices.” It was also reported that one of the reasons for the slow but steady increase in the numbers of Christians in the ranks could be due to service in the IDF may contribute to a “greater integration into Israeli society” as well as a vehicle used for upward social mobility.