Israel’s first attempt to recruit Christian Palestinian citizens to voluntary service in the army is meeting stiff resistance from the community and a violent backlash from Hebrew University and Israeli authorities.
The Israeli military recently began to send enlistment papers to the homes of Palestinian Christian citizens of the state, sparking confrontation between the government and the Palestinian community in present-day Israel.
Except for small groups such as the Druze, the nearly 1.7 million Palestinian citizens of Israel, comprising approximately 20 percent of the state’s population, are not required to perform army service.
Yet a growing number of young people from the Druze community are refusing compulsory service orders and organizing in activist youth groups. Omar Saad is currently serving a seventh consecutive sentence for refusing to serve; he has spent more than 150 days in prison since early December.
Druze activists have long criticized Israel’s record of divide and rule tactics, including efforts to “brainwash” members of the community that they are not Arabs and are not connected to the rest of the Palestinian population.
Druze community leaders stated that they wished to avoid confrontation with demonstrators planning to protest Peres’ participation. The growing hostility between the Druze community and the state follows the conviction in April of 16 Druze notables from the occupied Golan heights for visiting relatives in Syria between 2007 and 2010; Druze spiritual leader Sheikh Muwaffak Tareef’s call on Peres to pardon the notables has gone unanswered.
“Eight hundred [recruitment] papers were sent; what a waste of paper. I wouldn’t waste the stamp to mail it back to the recruitment administration,” said Ghassan Monayer, a political activist and representative of the Balad party in the municipality of Lydd, a Palestinian town in the center of present-day Israel.
The Balad party represents Palestinian citizens of Israel and has three members in Israel’s parliament, the Knesset.
Monayer was put under house arrest for five days last week, and his computer, telephone and iPad seized, because he wrote a Facebook status against recruitment of Arabs in the army.
As the Israeli daily Haaretz reported:
“[Monayer] shared photographs on his Facebook page of Father [Jibril] Nadaf, a Greek Orthodox priest and one of the heads of the forum to promote the enlistment of members of the Christian Arab community, showing Nadaf meeting with Finance Minister Yair Lapid. Munir also published a list of the names of the Christian Arabs who participated in the meeting with Lapid. Along with the photographs and list, he wrote, ‘For freedom of expressions and transparency, those whose ‘esteemed’ pictures and names appear in the following pictures are those who want to draft your sons against the sons of your people — be on guard and remember.’”
During his interrogation at a police station, Monayer was asked about his views on drafting Christian Palestinians into the Israeli army and was told he was being arrested for making threats against Lapid and Nadaf, Haaretz added.
“If you ask my 14-year-old son Christian about it, he would prefer to be jailed over serving in the IDF [the Israeli army],” Monayer told The Electronic Intifada.
“Lydd’s Palestinian population were evicted from their homes and displaced, became refugees. Our lands in Lydd were confiscated. Massacres took place. It is not logical to serve in this army, how could we ever do it?” Monayer exclaimed.
“Even when 66 years have passed,” he added, referring to the 1948 ethnic cleansing of Palestine. “Today the Jews are still demanding from the Germans [restoration of] the slightest belongings such as photos. Where would I even begin my demands after they took not a photo but a whole land? How dare they ask me and my son to serve in the military?”
Many in the Palestinian community in Israel would agree with Monayer that the voluntary recruitment papers are just a step away from the compulsory army conscription that has been imposed on the Druze since 1956.
“We have to uproot this tree before it grows. They are asking us to fight against our Palestinian Christian brothers. My brother lives in Ramallah; should my son carry a gun against his own cousin? Should he stand in the checkpoints and suppress his own Palestinian people?” Monayer said.
“I am fighting for my son and for my neighbor’s son. We Christians always tried to live in peace and to avoid confrontation. But this is a red line.” he added.
Dozens of students demonstrated against enlistment efforts at Hebrew University in Jerusalem last Tuesday, defying the school administration’s ban on protests.
University security called on police forces to prevent the peaceful demonstration from taking place and the assembly was forcibly dispersed.
Human rights and international law masters student Farah Bayadsy was hit and arrested, along with two other students.
“The [university] security forces started asking for our ID cards,” Bayadsy recalled. “Five security men gathered and surrounded one student and asked him questions. They were trying to scare us, until they decided it was time to call the police to arrest us because they can’t arrest students, but the police can. It was a peaceful and organized demonstration. We held signs against military [service] for Arabs.”
Undercover police dressed as students
Video from the demonstration shows Israeli police arresting students Majd Hamdan, Khalil Gharra and then Bayadsy:
Another video from the protests shows a chaotic scene of what appears to be students arguing with other students. However, the reality is that undercover agents presenting themselves as students joined agents identified by their hats as security in pushing students and dragging Hamdan on the ground:
Regarding the undercover police, Bayadsy said: “We stopped recognizing security men from other students.” Using the Hebrew term for Israeli undercover agents dressed as Arab civilians, who are used to commit arrest and extrajudicial killing operations in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip, she said: “They acted exactly like mistaravim. It was scary.”
Additional video from the protest seen by The Electronic Intifada show police dressed as students working with the police to arrest the students.
Bayadsy and the two other arrested students, Hamdan and Gharra, received restraining orders banning them from entering the university for ten days. In response, the students sent the dean a letter opposing this order and holding the university responsible for violence against Hamdan and Gharra, who were subjected to police violence on campus grounds.
Freedom of expression
Meanwhile the Balad party, which had initiated the protest that included broad participation from multiple parties, was sent letter a banning them from any activities at the university until further notice. The civil society group I’lam Media Center received a similar letter because some of its members participated in the demonstration.
If intended to prevent further protest, the university’s repressive measures are only generating more opposition.
More than 120 protesters demonstrated against the university’s actions on 8 May. Haneen Zoabi and Muhammad Barakeh, both members of the Knesset, joined Hebrew University students and faculty calling for freedom of expression for Palestinian students at Israeli universities.
During the protest Zoabi said that what bothered the university is the content of the protest. A Balad party press release quoted her as stating: “The university has now confirmed that its approach to the protest of opposing military service to the Arabs is the same as the state’s approach, a challenge and a threat. What the university did is disguise itself as a police officer over the students’ opinion and thoughts, in order to protect ideology loyal to Zionism and loyal to the racist oppressive policies.”
Majd Hamdan, a computer science major and secretary of the Balad party at Hebrew University, was unable to participate in the demonstration because of the restraining order.
Hamdan told The Electronic Intifada: “In a democracy, freedom of expression is granted in open space outside in the street, but here we don’t even have it inside the universities.”
Editor’s note: the description of the undercover police dressed as students has been amended since original publication.
Sawsan Khalife’ is a political activist and journalist from Shefa Amr in the Galilee region of Palestine.