Israel's Christian Minority

News Image By Shadi Khalloul/Gatestone Institute March 21, 2016
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Last year, Israel recognized the existence of a group of Christians -- "Arameans" -- within its borders; an act that no Arab or Muslim nation from the Middle East has ever done or would ever do. Israel recognized a distinct religious and ethnic group: the indigenous people of the ancient Fertile Crescent.

Their language, Aramaic, was the language spoken by Jesus centuries before Islam came to the region.

Israel not only supports and gives Christians and other minorities -- Druze, Muslims, Baha'i, everyone -- full civil rights, freedom and legal rights to exist peacefully and practice their faith as they wish, but also to develop themselves as a minority with all the implications of differences in culture. 

Arabs, for instance, are welcomed into the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), but are not, as opposed to Jews, required to serve. Israel's founding Prime Minister, David Ben Gurion, humanely did not want Arabs to feel as if they were obliged fight their "brothers."

In Israel, members of the Christian and Muslim minorities fill all types of high positions -- just as any Jewish Israeli who wishes to have a successful career. There is the Maronite Christian Supreme Court Judge, Salim Jubran.

Contrary to propaganda, there is no "Apartheid" of any kind, and no roads on which only Jews may travel. Those roads are in Saudi Arabia, which has real Apartheid roads, since only Muslims may travel to Mecca.

Israel does this, moreover, in a neighborhood where most of its neighbors -- often the most brutal enemies of humanity -- wish Israel were wiped out and often do their utmost to make this wish come true. Sadly, many Europeans join in. Everyone has seen the recent vicious attempts by the European Union to snuff out Israel economically by labeling goods made in disputed territories. 

This requirement, made of no other country with a disputed border actually hinders any prospects for peace that working together is meant to bring about.

These Europeans are not fooling anyone. Their slyly sadistic, self-righteous "punishments" meant for Israel will only throw thousands of Palestinians out of well-paying, badly-needed work; these diktats also drive many newly out-of-work Palestinians to the employment bureau of last resort: Islamic extremism and terrorism. 

Ironically, these Europeans, to satisfy their wish to hurt Jews by pretending to help Palestinians, are actually seeding a new crop of terrorists who will later come to Europe and show them what they think of such hypocrites.

Widely discussed in the region is how the Europeans secretly want Israel wiped out, too, and are hoping that their new laws, combined with old Arab violence, will do the trick. That way, the Europeans can pretend to themselves that they had "nothing to do with it." These Europeans need to know they are not fooling anyone.

Israel, meanwhile, despite having to deal with the European and American fronts as well as often genocidal Muslim threats, continues actively to strengthen its minority communities through a variety of state-sponsored programs. Among them is a five-year plan to develop Israeli Arab and other minority communities adopted by the government on December 30, 2015, at cost of 15 billion shekels [roughly $4 billion]. Social Equality Minister Gila Gamliel, of the Likud Party is in charge of implementing the plan. 

Prime Minister Netanyahu, who is unjustly demonized, has for the last several years operated the "Authority for the Economic Development of the Arab, Druze and Circassian Sectors." It is headed by an Arab Muslim, Aiman Saif, who controls a sizeable budget of 7 billion shekels [roughly $1.8 billion], which has mostly gone to different Arab cities and villages to develop modern infrastructure, industrial zones, employment opportunities, education and other elements. The rest was allocated to helping Christian villages in the Galilee.

Arabs have their own section in the Ministry of Education, headed by an Arab Muslim, Abdalla Khateeb, who is also in charge of a sizeable budget of 900 million shekels [$230 million].

Christians, as well as all other minorities, understand today that serving in the Israeli military is essential for their integration in Israel. Many Christians and other minorities in Israel share the same fears: they increasingly understand that in this region, Israel is the only island of safety that allows them freedom and democratic rights. 

The Muslim Arab community in Israel, as well as the Christian and other Arabic-speaking communities, see the tragic destiny of their brothers in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon and other Arab countries. 

Muslims killing Muslims; fanatical Muslim groups killing Christians, uprooting them, slitting their throats, burning them alive, drowning them in cages and of course crucifying them, even little children. Israel's minorities are very aware of this. They also cannot understand why no one is demonizing those villains. They fear that this devastation will spread, first to the holy land of Israel, and then to Europe.

This fear is one of the reasons there have been increasing numbers of Christians applying to serve in the IDF: 30% recruitment on a voluntary basis; while in general Jewish society, the number stands for 57% on an obligatory basis. Today there are even more than 1000 Muslim Arabs serving in the IDF.

We all know the danger of these fanatic Islamic jihadist groups such as Hamas groups, and feel ever more committed to protect this lone pluralistic state.

The community to which this author belongs, Aramean Christians, is of Aramean-Phoenician ethnic roots and language, and was originally based in Syria, Lebanon and Iraq. Over the 1400 years following the Islamic conquest, Aramean Christians were forced to switch to speaking Arabic, and more recently to flee their homes in Syria and Iraq. 

They have no status in Arab and Islamic states, most ruled according to Islamic sharia law. Aramean Christians also have no status in the Palestinian Authority, which now rules Judea and Samaria.

We are aware of some Christian groups, such as Sabeel, Kairos Palestine and others under the thumb of the Palestinian Authority, who still feel the need to pay lip-service to the Muslim Arabian lords who have conquered them.

Jerusalem is open to everyone. But it has not always been, especially under the jurisdiction of Jordan, until 1967. Not only were Jews not allowed in, but 38,000 Jewish gravestones were taken from the Mount of Olives cemetery and used as building materials and flooring for Jordan's latrines.

Muslim Arab members of Israel's Knesset [parliament] reject the right of Christians to preserve their unique heritage. On February 5, 2014, Knesset member Haneen Zoabi of the United Arab List party threatened the Israeli Christian representatives who lobbied in the Knesset Employment Committee in favor of a law that would add Christian representatives to a committee on employment equality in the Economy Ministry. Zoabi rejected their declaration that they were a separate Aramean Christian ethnicity. 

She insisted on forcing upon them an Arab and Palestinian identity. This identification was of course, as false as if we Christians had insisted that Muslim Arabs call themselves Native Americans. The law passed despite the efforts of Zoabi and her colleagues, due to a coalition of Knesset members -- with vast majority of Jewish MKs voting in favor of it.

This incident illustrates how some of Israel's Muslim Arabs, while asking their Jewish neighbors for help in preserve their own Muslim-Arab heritage, prohibit other ethnic minorities these same rights.

Instead, they try to impose Arabization and Palestinization by threats and by force. In September 2014, for instance, an Aramean Christian woman, IDF Captain Areen Shaabi, was stalked by Arab Muslim activists in Nazareth. She was threatened with shouts of "Allahu Akbar" ["Allah is Greater!"], and at night her car tires were slashed.

IDF Major Ehab Shlayan, an Aramean Christian in Nazareth and the founder of the Christian Recruitment Forum, awoke on the morning of August 2015 to find that a Palestinian flag had been put in front of his door during the night. On Christmas Eve, December 24, 2014, thirty Muslims throwing stones and glass bottles attacked a Christian soldier, 19-year-old Majd Rawashdi, and his home.

All this is hypocrisy at the highest levels, mixed with racism.

In an official Christmas greeting to Israel's Christians on December 24, 2012, Prime Minister Netanyahu said:

"Israel's minorities, including over one million citizens who are Arabs, always have full civil rights. Israel's government will never tolerate discrimination against women. Israel's Christian population will always be free to practice their faith. This is the only place in the Middle East where Christians are fully free to practice their faith. They don't have to fear; they don't have to flee. At a time when Christians are under siege in so many places, in so many lands in the Middle East, I am proud that in Israel Christians are free to practice their faith, and that there is a thriving Christian community in Israel."

Christians and other minorities in Israel prosper and grow, while in other countries in the Middle East, including the Palestinian Authority, they suffer heavily from the Islamic movement and persecution -- until forced to disappear.

Originally published at Gatestone Institute.  Reposted with permission

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