NCCOP issues document on Christians and the Israeli Army
Attempts to mobilize Christians into the Israeli military: The case of Christian Arab citizens of Israel
According to Israeli law, all permanent residents of Israel, male and female, are eligible to be called up to serve in the Israeli military.1 In fact, after 1948, two populations were not mobilized: ultra-Orthodox Jews and Arabs. Ultra-Orthodox Jews were not mobilized because of agreements reached between the rabbinical leaders of the community who opposed their young people being drafted because they would be exposed to modern, non-religious society and would not pursue lives of Torah study. In practice, young men enrolled in Torah study were not drafted. This situation was formalized in the Tal Law in 2002. Arabs were not drafted because they were seen as identified with “the enemy” and unlikely to be loyal.
Recent talk of drafting ultra-Orthodox and Arabs has been the result of the ruling (2012) that determined that the Tal Law was not in accord with the Basic Laws and the ensuing popular movement among Israeli citizens that all should serve in the army.
In 1956, Israeli reached an agreement with the Druze religious leadership by which young non-religious Druze (the juhhal being those ignorant of religious teaching) would be drafted whereas the religious youth (the uqqal being those initiated into religious teaching) would be exempt, under a similar understanding as that with the ultra-Orthodox community. In return, the Israeli authorities recognized the Druze religious leadership as totally independent from Muslim leadership and instituted a separate religious court system. Circassian Muslims were drafted in 1958. Various Bedouin tribes from the Galilee and from the Naqab also agreed to the mobilization of their young men although no general conscription of Bedouin exists.
As early as the 1950s, some Israeli officials promoted the mobilization of all Arabs. Others focused on the Christian Arabs. Draft orders were in fact served to the young Christians in Jish (a village with a large Maronite population). The draft orders were not followed up, probably because the Arab Christians were still seen as a security threat, being part of the general Arab population and enjoying a high level of education.
[1 This includes Jerusalem Arab residents. The past months have seen a rise in the attempts to draft some Jerusalem Christians into the military. Here we deal only with Arab citizens of Israel.]