Israeli Arabs appear annoyed by what they regard as government efforts to “divide and conquer” their community, after Interior Minister Gideon Saar determined that the population registry would recognize a separate Aramean identity for Arab Christians.
Christians who identify with the ancient people can now register as Arameans instead of as Arabs.
MK Hanna Swaid (Hadash) told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday that it was astonishing that the Interior Ministry has rejected appeals by Israelis of various religions to be identified on their identity cards as Israelis instead of by their religion, but it accepts Arabs who want to be identified as Arameans.
“It is really ridiculous,” said Swaid, who is an Arab Christian.
“Tomorrow everyone who is registered as an Aramaen will start asking for special rights, education and budgets and so on. Most of them [Christians] are against this, as it is only a project by a few people who have an agenda – it is a joke, and that is how Christians view it.”
Behind last week’s decision is an intention to divide the Arab population and to recruit more Christians to the army, said Swaid.
MK Yariv Levin (Likud), who has been arguing for allowing identification as Christian, told the Post that historically Israel treated all minorities as one group – as Arabs, and the Muslims ruled over all of the minorities within the society.
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Things are changing, and the Christians in Israel want change and see what is happening to their brethren throughout the Middle East, how they are being persecuted, said Levin.
“They want to be independent, not with [MK] Ahmed Tibi.”
Asked about Swaid’s comment that Arab Christians overwhelmingly reject such a designation, Levin responded that “MK Swaid, then, should be relaxed, since if Christians oppose it, he has nothing to worry about.”
In the past, Christians in the region tried to identify themselves as Arabs or were active in other nonreligious political parties so as to overcome the religious difference with the Muslims.
However, said Levin, “the Christians now understand that this will not help them, and many are joining the IDF.”
Levin explains that he has been trying to pass such a bill since the last Knesset.
“Christians came to me and said they wanted to be identified separately, and so we tried to establish separate education systems and other institutions,” he said.
Levin said that in the last government, when Shas MK Eli Yishai was interior minister, he tried to get Yishai to do what Sa’ar did this week, but Yishai thought it was too complicated to carry out.
This is a good decision, and “it does not force anyone to change their identity – whoever wants this can choose to be Aramean rather than Arab.”
Levin’s bill, proposed in February, would identify Christians as a minority group separate from Arabs, most of whom are Muslim, and give them their own, unique representation on the Advisory Committee for Equal Opportunity in Employment.
The bill called for more representatives on the committee for Christians, Druse and Circassians, as well as for haredim, new immigrants, reserve soldiers, senior citizens and women.
The decision by Sa’ar, however, just changes the person’s identity card, said Levin.
Efforts to legally differentiate between Christian and Muslim Arabs will not work, since Christian Arabs see themselves first as Arabs, then Christians, Ghazal Abu Raya, the spokesman of the Sakhnin Municipality and the director of the northern branch of Givat Haviva, which is located in the city, told the Post.
“The decision is meant to separate them into many groups – Druse, Beduin, Muslim, Christian – as a strategy of “divide and conquer,” said Abu Raya.
Israel has the same strategy vis-a-vis the Arab world during the current upheavals in order to weaken it, “seeking three Syrias, Iraqs, and Lebanons,” he said.
“In Sakhnin, nobody can tell who is a Muslim or a Christian,” he said, adding that 6 percent of the city is Christian, which includes three churches. “Most Arab Christians are against this decision.”
Abu Raya went on to argue that Arab and Palestinian identities are stronger today than any religious one.sign up to our newsletter
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