Arab-Israeli Christians divert from Arab status in Israel

Christian Arabs in Israel can now be recognized as Christian or “Aramean” as Christian community diverts from Muslim community

Gush Halav

Gush Halav in the Galilee region of Israel

Israel has begun recognizing a small group of Christian Arabs in the Galilee region as “Aramean” after the community has pressed to be recognized as Christian and not Arab. The small community of approximately 3,000 Christian Arab-Israeli citizens are members of the Maronite Church, which roots go as far back as the 5th century originating in Lebanon.

The community hails from Gush Halav, home to the Maronites. The community’s roots originate in Aram, the community spreading through the Middle East due to Arab persecution and pressure and force to convert to Islam.

The community has revived the Aramaic language, but has spoken dialects of the language of Christ for hundreds of years.

Many Maranotes reside in Cyprus and Lebanon, their religious texts in Aramaic, the ancient Biblical language spoken by community elders.

The community in Israel is both Zionist and disconnected from the general Arab community in Israel, majority of the community drafting to the IDF, a movement that has become popular in the past few years for Christian Arabs.

Out of the 9% of Israel’s Arab population (1.5 million), over 120,000 are Christian, majority identifying as Christian opposed to Arab. What seems to be a small change is growing in popularity, many Christian-Arabs expressing disconnect from the majority Muslim-Arab community, as result of Arab-Christian’s connection to Zionism and the State of Israel as well as evident in political shifts and demonstrations for a change in Christian-Arab status in Israel.

According to Israel’s laws, Arab-Israel citizens are exempt from Israel’s mandatory military service, however, many Arab-Israelis, majority Christian, have begun serving in the IDF or in alternative service to military conscription. Last year, there was an 11% increase in IDF conscription from Arab-Israelis.

The decision to recognize Arameans was made in October, the first Israeli-Christian children registered through the Interior Ministry as “Aramean” at the end of October.

Shadi Khalloul the head of the Aramaic Society in Israel explained that the movement is a religious and spiritual matter, as well as Zionist. He stated, “It’s a spiritual matter, to feel I am equal among equals, that I am no less than them – Jews, Arabs, Circassians, Druze, Italians, Greeks. My forefathers would be proud.”

Khalloul has been the pioneer in Israel for reviving the Aramaic language, pressing for recognition of the Aramean and bringing to light the Maronite people as Maronites, not Arabs.

Currently, any Israeli-Arab citizen who identifies and wishes to register as “Aramean” must be conversant in Aramaic and be a member of the Maronite Church, Syriac Catholic, Greek Orthodox, Greek Catholic or Orthodox Aramaic.

Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz stated on the deicison by the Interior Ministry, “Against the background of persecution and destruction of non-Muslim minorities in the region, including the ancient Aramaic people, the decision is infused with special, important significance, and highlights the unique character of the State of Israel.”