The Untold War Story

A week into the current shooting war with Hizbullah, little attention had been paid to the Arab communities of northern Israel.

untold 88 298 (photo credit: Lena Kachinski/ICEJ)
untold 88 298
(photo credit: Lena Kachinski/ICEJ)
A week into the current shooting war with Hizbullah, little attention had been paid to the Arab communities of northern Israel. They make up half of the one million residents of the Galilee and Haifa areas forced to flee or hunker down in bomb shelters under the barrage of Katyusha rockets. But few outside Israel knew they were also being targeted that is, until a rocket struck Nazareth and killed two young brothers from an Arab Orthodox family, aged seven and three.

"The missiles have been hitting Arab villages too," Dr. Hani Shehadeh told The Christian Edition from his home just four miles south of the Lebanese border.

Shehadeh, pastor of an Evangelical congregation, sent an open letter to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, calling him "a man of peace" and assuring him that Arab Christians in the Galilee are praying for Israel's leaders in this crisis.

"I am writing while my home and church building are being shaken by rockets, yet we are not afraid, for we believe in the protecting hand of the Lord of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob," he wrote. "We are aware of the difficulties that you are facing, mostly caused by the Islamic extremists."

"This war is not about politics as much as spiritual warfare," he told The Christian Edition.

Like so many other Galilee Arabs, he has relatives in Lebanon that he worries about. "My granny is Lebanese, and we all have family there. Of course we pray they're all safe."

In Haifa, the Hebrew-speaking congregation at Beit Eliyahu has been taking in Arab children from villages without bomb shelters. Some of the youngsters pounced on the crayons and coloring books brought in by a team from the Christian Embassy in Jerusalem.

Shmuel Aweida, the congregation's Arab pastor, notes the rare agreement across the country on the necessity of this war. "We can't remember the last time there was such a consensus in the Israeli society and leadership on a war. Hizbullah is like a deadly tumor that has to be removed."

Not all Galilee Arabs are as patriotic. Many complain that there are no shelters or air raid sirens in Arab villages, and no materials in Arabic instructing them on what to do in emergencies.

"Sakhnin has no bomb shelters, and I think this is the case for 98% of the Arab villages in the north," Sakhnin resident Laithi G'naim told The Jerusalem Post.

There are also reports that some local Arabs have been seen on rooftops quietly cheering when Katyushas land in nearby communities.

Also forgotten in this war are the over 2,000 South Lebanese refugees still living in the Galilee who fled their homes six years ago. As they weather Hizbullah attacks on northern Israel, friends and family back home face Israel's counter-attacks.

"Part of me lives in Israel. Let's say it's my second country," said ex-SLA officer Nabih Abou Raseh from his home in Ma'alot along the border. "The other lives in Lebanon. I hurt on both sides."

It hasn't been easy watching an army ravage his homeland, but he still wants the IDF to press ahead. "It hurts me when I see my country falling apart but the price that we're paying in northern Israel and in southern Lebanon is less than the price if we don't do anything and Hizbullah continues to strengthen itself," he said.

Some South Lebanese refugees are also living in shelters provided by Evangelical congregations like Beit Yedidya in Nahariya. Relatives calling from south Lebanon say Hizbullah militiamen are taking over Christian homes to hide rockets and fire them at Israel.

Also active in the north is the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, which has been using the money in its emergency fund to provide assistance. The fellowship's new Israel security campaign is raising money for people in range of Hizbullah rockets, supplying everything from televisions and tables to baby food and diapers.

(From the August 2006 edition)