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Palestinian priest sacked for backing service in Israel army

May 9, 2014 11:25 A.M. (Updated: May 11, 2014 10:19 A.M.)
JERUSALEM (AFP) -- The Greek Orthodox church in the Holy Land has dismissed a Palestinian priest who publicly voiced support for Christians serving in Israel's army, a church spokesman said Thursday.

Spokesman Issa Musleh said that ecclesiastical authorities decided Tuesday to fire Father Gabriel Nadaf from his post in Nazareth, but were only now making their decision public.

"We warned him before to keep to his priestly duties and not to interfere in matters of the army," Musleh said.

"When he did not heed our warning, we held a meeting of the church court which decided to sack him."

He said no written notification had been given to Nadaf. "We announce this now," he said.

Nadaf said he had received no official notification of the sacking and dismissed reports that he had been fired as media speculation.

"The procedure for sacking anyone as a priest is to invite him to the patriarch's office where he will be presented with a letter of dismissal by the patriarch's secretary," he said.

"I have not received any call or letter from the patriarch's office."

Last month, Israel said it would start sending enlistment papers to all Christian Arabs of military service age, angering Palestinian MKs who accused the government of seeking to divide Christians from Muslims.

Service would not be compulsory for the 130,000 Christian Palestinians who are Israeli citizens as it is for Jews, an army spokesman said.

At present, about 100 Christian Palestinians who are citizens volunteer for military service each year.

The more than 1.3 million Muslim Palestinians who are citizens would not be sent papers at all, the spokesman added.

Nadaf welcomed the move by the military.

"Young people in the Christian community need to understand the importance of serving and getting involved in the country in which they live and which protects them, and in which we are full citizens," he said last month.

He was also pictured in Israeli media sharing a stage with an army officer and Deputy Defense Minister Danny Danon, a hawkish member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud party, during a recruiting drive.

Bassel Ghattas, a member of the Israeli parliament for the communist Hadash party, urged Christians who received call-up papers to "send them back or publicly burn them, because the next step could be compulsory military or community service."

Israel's Palestinian minority, which makes up some 20 percent of the population, are the descendants of the 160,000 Palestinians who remained on their land when Israel was founded in 1948.

They complain of routine discrimination, particularly in housing, land access and employment.
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