Nazareth Fountain 521.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
We are now witnessing one of the most dramatic developments in the historic
configuration of relations among Jews, Christians and Muslims. Christians in
Israel’s Galilee are courageously promoting their pre-Islamic non-Arab identity
as an old-new collective Aramean/Aramaic-speaking Oriental narrative. This is a
cultural and political game-changer with revolutionary significance, for Israel,
the Middle East and the global scene.
Under the leadership of Father
Gabriel Nadaf, an Orthodox priest from Yafia near Nazareth, and Shadi Khalloul,
a Maronite activist and army reserve officer from Gush Halav, the Christian
Recruitment Forum has been established. While all non-Jews in Israel, excepting
the Druse and Circassians, are exempt from the military draft, a new promotional
effort has been undertaken to further encourage Christian youth to voluntarily
enlist. This initiative expresses both a desire to serve the state and integrate
into Israeli society, conveying that Christians are committed to the security
and welfare of the Jewish state of Israel.
The rationale behind this
Christian campaign and its momentous meaning are profound. From the early days
of the Arab war against Zionism, and continuing until today with the Palestinian
rejection of a Jewish state, the mainstream Christian community as fellow Arabs
in the country allied with the Muslims.
The Arab nationalist political
parties, from the Communist forerunner to Balad, were led and represented by
Christians and Muslims alike.
Indeed, the broad modern Arab national
revival and movement across the Middle East was inspired by some stalwart
Christian ideologues and politicians, like Michel Aflaq and Constantine Zuraiq,
cementing an alliance pitting the cross and the crescent against the Star of
The mixed Muslim-Christian villages and towns in Israel, like
Turan and Ibelin, Eilaboun and Nazareth, were traditionally portrayed as
bastions of Arab brotherhood and solidarity, despite the religious cleavage
defining marriage and customs. But now the Christian Forum has issued a sharp
and urgent message that shatters the Arab house of unity.
and legal structure that emerged with and under Islam established Muslim rule
over Jews and Christians, who were defined and demoted as tolerated but inferior
dhimmi denizens. While maintaining their communal faith and integrity, the
dhimmi communities were subjected to the rapacity of excessive and humiliating
taxation and to a precarious dependence on the whims of Muslim caliphs, sultans,
emirs and walis.
Instances of massacre and forced conversions were part
of the tapestry of victimology over the many centuries of Muslim supremacy that
struck Jews in Yemen, Morocco, Libya and Iraq; and likewise Christians in what
had been, prior to early Arab conquests, the majority Christian populations in
Egypt and Syria.
THE ZIONIST movement and State of Israel represent in
modern times the Jewish national liberation movement against Muslim colonialism
in Palestine and Arab imperialism in the Middle East. The triumph of Israel
symbolizes successful Jewish resistance in the Hebrew homeland.
it signifies the demise of that debilitating mental complex of fear and
inferiority, termed “dhimmitude” by the historian Bat Ye’or, which scarred the
souls of generations of Eastern Jews, as also Eastern Christians.
the villages of Yafia and Gush Halav the clarion call for freedom has now been
sounded. A new self-consciousness radiates from among the 160,000 Christians in
Israel; they represent only two percent of Israel’s population, but their
numbers are on the increase in stark contrast to the murder of Christians and
their tragic mass flight from Iran, Iraq, Syria and Egypt. Christians were
historically massacred by Muslims in Turkey and Sudan. In Israel they are
respected citizens and live secure and prosperous lives, as enjoying this
situation imposes a moral obligation to be discharged.
No one can doubt
that were there to be an Arab Palestine in place of a Jewish Israel, the
Christians of Mei’liya and Fassuta would be chased, in the best of
circumstances, across the borders. Even now, and predictably so, Arabs are
intimidating the nascent Christian shift in alliances in Israel.
Christian Forum in Israel, while only a local development, offers nonetheless a
compelling precedent and proud innovation for the West to promote
Jewish-Christian cooperation against extremist Muslim forces, as in Europe. As
Islam basically destroyed the large historic Christian centers in the Middle
East, so it threatens the cultural character and political independence of
A shadow of dhimmitude has spread over Europe, but the
heroic stand taken by some Christians in the Galilee offers direction to
cultivate an authentic global Jewish-Christian symbiosis by breaking the old
Muslim-Christian pact that was born of Islam’s universal aspirations and
appetite to rule. This is a moment of truth and reconciliation in Israel, with
Christians identifying the Jews as the sovereign power and
The author is a lecturer in Middle East studies.