On the morning of Thursday June 23rd, we set out to the Galil in order to visit members of the Hashomer Hachadash. Hashomer Hachadash was founded by former Israeli Navy Seal Yoel Zilberman, with the goal to protect farms from theft and vandalism. While in the middle of his army service, Zilberman began to guard his father’s farm at night, and forfeit his precious sleep schedule due to constant occurrences of vandalism perpetrated by local Bedouins. Hashomer Hachadash currently operates all over of the county and has volunteers who guard and work farms from the Golan in the north, to the Negev in the south.
Later on, we made our way to Nazareth, where we had the privilege to speak with Father Gabriel Naddaf, leader of the Christian community in Nazareth. Amidst great controversy, the Christian community in Israel has reached an ideological and political split. On one side of the spectrum, Christian Arabs embrace Zionism and a Jewish state that grants them religious freedom. The other side of the divide consists of mostly Palestinian Christians who oppose a Jewish state, even though they face persecution from their own governing bodies. One such figure that embraces Zionism is Father Gabriel Naddaf, an Israeli priest of the Greek Orthodox Church, a judge in the community’s religious courts, and a spokesman for the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem.
In a Jerusalem Post article written by Father Naddaf, the priest discusses the relation Christianity and Zionism stating, “I have become a controversial figure in Israel for the simple reason that I embrace Zionism…and the tolerance, respect, and opportunity that has grown out of that sovereignty for all. I believe that our youths—Christian youths—should fully integrate into Israeli society.”Father Naddaf has not only been excommunicated by the Orthodox Church Council and unable to enter the Church of Annunciation, but he has also received ‘numerous’ death threats because he promotes integration into the Israeli society.
Naddaf continues by describing the persecution of other Arabs who adhere to the New Testament in the Middle East, “Truly, it has only been in Israel where Christians can fully practice our faith and can be productive members of society.” Regarding the relation of the New Testament and Christians to Israel, Father Naddaf concludes, “It is important that Christians around the world understand that a 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.”
Furthermore, Naddaf is influential in encouraging Christian Arabs to serve in the Israel Defense Force, as well National Service. Naddaf describes the radical Islam in the region as a “barbarous movement” that does not differentiate between Jews and Christians. As such, he believes that Christians have the same obligation to defend their home, Israel, and the democracy reside in. Prior to Naddaf’s involvement in 2012, approximately 50 Christians would draft to the IDF annually. Currently, around 150-250 Christians draft to the IDF annually, mostly in combat positions.