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March 27, 2015 3:27 pm

It’s Hard to Be a Christian Arab in Israel, But Not Because of Prejudice

avatar by Gabriel Nadaf

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Christian arab pastor Gavriel Nadaf, IDF soldier son, Jubran. Photo: family.

Christian Arab pastor Gabriel Nadaf stands with his IDF soldier son, Jubran. Photo: family.

My name is Gabriel Nadaf and I have the privilege of being a Greek Orthodox priest from Nazareth in the Galilee. My people have mistakenly been called “Christian Arabs” but the reality is that we are Arameans, descendants of people who lived here in Israel since the time of the Bible.

Israel’s Interior Ministry has recently recognized us as the “Aramean nation,” following a lengthy public campaign. Partners in this effort were a number of Israeli Zionist organizations.

In the past three years I have become a controversial figure in Israel for the simple reason that I embrace Zionism, Jewish sovereignty in Israel, and the tolerance, respect and opportunity that has grown out of that sovereignty for all. I believe that our youth – Christian youth -should fully integrate into Israeli society. Part and parcel of that integration includes serving in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), Israel’s Army, or undertaking some other form of national service, which Israel routinely provides for teenagers.

In 2012 a few Christian IDF officers and I founded the I.C.R.F-the Israeli Christians Recruitment Forum. My efforts have had mixed results. On the positive side, hundreds of Arab or Aramean Christian youth have heeded my call and served their country with distinction. They have been embraced by their fellow soldiers, who regard them as comrades in arms and not as strangers in their midst.

On the downside, the blowback, as it were, from my efforts among rejectionist elements in the Christian and the Muslim Arab community has been intense. Christian soldiers have been harassed by their neighbors and, in many cases, by their own families. These soldiers are forced to change out of their IDF uniforms before returning to their home towns, for fear that they may be harassed on their way home.

Another example came in 2012 when a conference was held in Nazareth by supporters of Christian recruitment to the IDF.  A local leader, attorney Abir Kopty from the Mossawa Center, attacked the participants and accused them of Palestinian persecution. Attorney Kopty also suggested that integrating Christians into the Army was an attempt to divide Arab society in their national struggle against Israel.

Following the conference, a campaign of harassment began against the conference’s organizers. Students who participated were also threatened, isolated, and suffered humiliation via social networks and in the Arab media. An Israeli organization who supports us, Im Tirtzu, subsequently published a report detailing statements made against Christians who encouraged Christian enlistment in the IDF.

For me personally, my conviction and actions have led to numerous death threats against me, my excommunication by the Orthodox Church Council and the prevention of my entrance to the Church of Annunciation.

None of this has anything to do with the Israeli government or the Jewish community. The assertion of Israel as a so-called apartheid state is complete nonsense. My successes and challenges speak loudly as to where the real problems lie for my fellow Christians.

It pains me to say this, but it must be said. The incitement against me, my campaign, and all those Christians who have sought to integrate into Israeli society has been led by Arab leaders from Israel and abroad, and even by some Arab members of the Israeli parliament, the Knesset.

MK Hanin Zoabi wrote to me on official Knesset letterhead and accused me of “helping the enemy of the Palestinian people,” “collaboration with occupying forces” and pressured me “to fight against the loyalists of the regime.” Of course, all this creates an atmosphere of incitement against me and anyone who is interested in integrating the Christian minority into the national service frameworks in Israel.

But these people have had help. Under the guise of human rights protection, organizations such as Mossawa – which is funded by the New Israel Fund – have joined the incitement campaign and have accused the leaders of the Christian-Arab community in Israel, who support integration, of collaboration with the IDF (often dubbing the IDF “the Zionist Occupation”).

A blacklist of priests and Christian leaders that support integration and cooperation with the State of Israel has been compiled. Pictures of leaders and youth who participated in IDF events have made their way into the Arab press, endangering their lives and encouraging violence.

Mossawa is not alone in trying to deny Christian Arabs the right to integrate into Israeli society. A massive campaign against enlistment of Israeli-Arabs to the IDF was led by other organizations as well.

This campaign included massive pressure on the Israeli and Arab press, including a set of articles published on the +972 website in 2012 denouncing Arab enrollment in the military or national service; school activities that are intended to educate children not to serve the country; or the efforts of Baladna, an NGO that has worked for many years among the Arab youth in Israel, teaching them about the “threats” implicit in serving in national service or the IDF. Adalah is working to prevent military veterans from receiving housing benefits in Arab cities.

Organizations that are participating in the campaign to stop the Aramean community from integrating into Israeli society via Army/national service include Adalah, Mossawa, Baladna, +972 and others.  They are Israeli non-profit organizations – some are composed of Israeli Arabs and others are on the extreme left and are anti-Zionist. These NGOs reject Israel as the national home of the Jewish people. They would like to cancel the law of return and remove the Jewish character of Israel.

They would reject the special status of the Hebrew language, modify the national flag and the national anthem and make Israel a bi-national state. These organizations call on the Arabs of Judea and Samaria and the Arabs living in Israel to come together to fight against Zionism.  Because of that, the idea that one group has separated itself from this struggle by identifying itself as Aramean is, for them, an anathema.

All of these organizations claim that they are fighting for the weak, for the minorities who cannot stand up for themselves and demand and fight for their own rights. But ultimately, the actions of these NGOs beg the question of what rights they are really fighting for, whose interests they are protecting, and what their real agenda is.

Clearly these NGOs have no interest in seeing Christian Arabs become part of Israeli society. Much like the Arab countries that have used Palestinians in various refugee camps as pawns in fighting the State of Israel, these NGOs are content to reduce my community to cannon fodder in their efforts to de-legitimize Israel.

So my community is effectively being told to fight for their continued marginalization by Israeli society, even though it is the Israeli government’s goal to bring them more fully into the mainstream. Doesn’t the Christian community deserve the right to follow our own will and integrate, if it so chooses, into Israeli society? Not according to most of the NGOs that say they are assisting our community.

As a priest, I am distressed by this unwillingness to promote the welfare of individuals in the name of a monolithic group identity, whose goals and objectives can be set by those who might have very little in common with the community they supposedly represent.

As Christians in Israel survey the situation of our brethren in the wider Middle East, we are appalled by the persecution that so many have experienced in Egypt, Syria and Iraq, among others. Truly, it has only been in Israel where Christians can fully practice our faith and be productive members of society.

We are not interested in misguided policies that would only bring harm and dislocation to us. Instead we see and appreciate the opportunities to live full Christian lives in the Jewish State.

It is important that Christians around the world understand that Jewish Israel has been a responsible steward for its Christians. We should be supported and not demonized for our efforts to more fully join this benevolent society.

Father Gabriel Nadaf is the spiritual leader and one of the founders of the Forum recruiting Arabic-speaking Christians to the Israel Defense Forces. He is the Spiritual leader of the I.C.R.F and the Christian Empowerment Council.

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  • Reeve

    I am upset that the headline says it is not because of prejudice. It IS TOTALLY because of prejudice. Why is everyone so worried about calling the Arab political doctrine one of racism! Every issue seems to boil down to them not being able to live with others not of their own kind. When will the world just call a spade a spade!
    Not only do they speak from bigotry but they act upon it violently. However, just because some Palestinians are (kept) downtrodden they are given a free pass….
    I wish the Arameans nothing but the best, they are peaceful people living in an unforgiving and hostile environment. The Israeli Jews are the only trustworthy group that can protect them.

  • Ness Pessah

    HACHEM (blessed HE) knows what He is doing . We are the sinners . Unless we unite in believing that HE is ONE , no matter what religion or denomination we are, with open heart and love and respect for each other. We are all equal under ONE GOD.
    Love you Father Nadaf
    Ness Pessah

  • Simone Miller

    May G-d bless you Father.

  • Angelico

    Father Nadaf is a hero. God bless him and keep him safe. The distrust of Christians by Jews is understandable but it’s time to get over it and stand united in the face of the common threat – murderous jihadism.

    • kenny

      I only wish he could have left a link or email address and told us who we can contact in support of he and his people. Jerusalem United Forever for Jews.

  • eng-haw

    I am thankful that you are leading the change in the lives in Yisrael in accordance with our Bible.

    Do tell me how I can help (from Malaysia)

  • Dr Claude Salama

    Kol hakavod Father Gabriel. You are a wonderful
    and courageous man. And your son Joubran too.
    Good luck for you and the Aramean christian people
    of Israel. Dr Claude Salama, (Jewish )

  • Anschel

    Thank you, Father Nadaf, for your honest and insightful article. I wish G-d’s blessings for you and the Aramean community.


    Regretfully many other christians in Israel do not agree with Father Gabriel Nadaf(Ayman Oudeh , Bassel Ghattas etc etc )and they are often more vocal and more extremists in their rejection of the state of Israel than the arab moslems !

  • Father Gabriel Nadaf, I am honored by your spirit and courage. I wish you all the best in passing on the message for Christians and Israel.

  • Once again, the challenge is Arabs and unless the Arabs accept and embrace Israel, Israel will have to continue their struggle until they finally one day will succeed. And SUCCEED they will.

  • Helena

    Wonderful man. May God protect him from evil.
    The Arabs have never been interested in giving a better life to their people. All they are interested in (like all dictators), is the pursuit of their ideology. The welfare of the people are not an issue. Through the manipulation of their people, they pursue the ideology. It is time the people finally realize that and stop being lied to and manipulated.
    The worst ideology of all is Islam, which pretends to be a religion.

  • dr. kurt HENGL

    Dear Father Nadaf,
    As Christian, devoted
    friend of Israel as well as supporter of the advancement of its arab speaking minority and its
    integration into the Israeli society with equal rights,I have been following your peaceful efforts in the Galilee.The alarming picture you give of the prevailing atmosphere of mistrust and lack of understanding shows that the local Arab population, since 1948, is still lacking farsighted leadership. Let us hope that the new “united” Arab force in the Knesset will act with responsibility for the sake of your community. Sincerely K.H.

  • Lammie

    May G-d bless Father Gabriel Nadaf.

  • ilya

    Dear Father Nadaf,

    Please consider writing an open letter to WS Journal, NY Times or other major news organizations.
    Best wishes


  • I support Father Gabriel Nadaf.

  • Stan Weitzman

    Excellent article. Thanks for the reference to the Israel Fund and others. They need to be unmasked. They really serve no on but themselves.

  • Stan Weitzman

    Excellent article.I will share this widely.

  • art

    Spoke like a true,honest American. For generations the idea in America was for divergent groups to come together, integrate into society and, if they want, preserve their heritage. The old melting pot idea. I thank Father Nadaf