The head of the Greek Orthodox Church in the holy land has come out against the clergy's involvement in encouraging young people to volunteer for the Israel Defense Forces.
The statement late last week by Patriarch Theophilus followed a conference last month allegedly to encourage young Christians to join the IDF. The conference in Upper Nazareth, to which dozens of young people were invited, especially Christians from the Nazareth area, was attended by Defense Ministry officials and two priests, Greek Orthodox Father Jubrail Nadaf and Greek Catholic Father Masoud Abu Hatoum of Yafia.
Nadaf and the head of the Arab Orthodox Christian community council, Dr. Azmi Hakim, said they had filed police complaints over death threats that followed their involvement in the conference. Theophilus said the Church calls on its young people to be peacemakers, so serving in the army goes against its values.
The patriarch also took the unusual step of granting the request of the Orthodox Council in Nazareth, a secular body, to not allow Nadaf into Nazareth's Greek Orthodox Church of the Annunciation.
Theophilus said the step wasn't a ban but was meant to prevent friction until the matter was resolved.
Meanwhile, the police have asked the attorney general to investigate the threats against Hakim and Nadaf. The head of the Defense Ministry's society and youth department, Haim Ben-Ami, who organized the conference, asked the police to investigate threats against people who encouraged members of minorities to enlist.
The Nazareth police said they had asked the attorney general to determine whether remarks published after the conference constituted incitement and if a criminal investigation should be opened. "At this point, we are working to calm things down through talks with all parties," said the Nazareth police chief, Cmdr. Yossi Hamo.
Nadaf told Haaretz yesterday he respects the patriarch's decision and would wait until the matter was clarified. He reiterated his position that his participation in the conference was not meant to encourage or discourage enlistment; he attended only to discuss the Christian community in Israel, he said.
Abu Hatoum released a similar announcement. Archbishop Elias Shakur, head of the Greek Catholic Church in Israel, said in a statement that the priests who attended the conference did not represent the Church's position.
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