(Fox News) Dozens of Israeli soldiers respectfully rose from their seats as the Israeli national anthem began playing. The tinny recording of “Hatikva,” an ode to the Jewish yearning for the Land of Israel, wrapped up a ceremony, held in Hebrew, during which speakers thanked the troops and handed out awards.

It looked like a typical motivational gathering for soldiers of the Jewish state — except that nearly all those in uniform weren’t Jews and Hebrew wasn’t their first language. They were Christian Arabs, a minority that has historically viewed itself as part of the Palestinian people and considered service in the army as taboo.

The gathering — a pre-Christmas nod to Christian soldiers, who nibbled on cookies and chocolate Santas — was part of a new push by Israel’s government and a Greek Orthodox priest to persuade more Christians to enlist.

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