Monday, November 17, 2014


"Aramaic" has been approved by the Israeli Ministry of the Interior as a new official designation for people in Israeli society, alongside Jew, Arab and Druse   In fact there are only a few thousand people of the Maronite Christian faith in Israel who use the Aramaic language in their liturgy.  This is somewhat surprising considering that Aramaic was the common language of the region during the time of Christ, and many Christian groups as well as Jews at the time spoke Aramaic.  But, the Muslim conquests wiped out most other languages and replaced them with Arabic, just as they wiped out most of the Jews and Christians and converted them to Islam or killed them.
I like to point out differences between Israel and the Arabs, and in this respect the contrast could not be sharper.  In central Syria and Iraq, the Christian sects are being wiped out by the Islamic State organization.  Towns where Aramaic, Chaldean and Syriac, all minority Semitic languages and religions are still surviving, are being literally wiped out by the IS fighters.  Perhaps the last Aramaic speaking town it the world was Maloula in Syria, that was recently taken over by Islamist fighters. Such minority Christians are being beheaded and massacred at the same time that Israel is recognizing their right to be considered a separate ethnic group.  This persecution is not a new process, some 350,000 Chaldean Christians were massacred in central Iraq during the 1920's and recently there has been a wave of anti-Christian violence from Egypt to Iraq.
The reasons for the current recognition in Israel are mainly two-fold, first there is a growing movement of Christians in Israel to separate themselves from the Muslim Arab majority.  Although many Christian Arabs (ca. 12% of all Arabs in Israel) still identify as Arab and support the Palestinians, nevertheless more of them, seeing the persecution of Arab Christians throughout the Muslim Arab world and their freedom to worship in Israel, are identifying more as Israelis and are volunteering (their service is not compulsory) to serve in the IDF.  In fact there is a movement centred in Nazareth run by a Christian Arab priest that is supporting the recruitment of Christian Arabs into the IDF.   
It is against this backdrop that the Aramaic Christians have come forward to be designated separate from the Arabs.  Also behind this new designation of Aramaic is increased support for Israel and a counter movement by the Palestinian Arabs to retain the support of the Christian Arabs.  However, the move is going towards support of Israel, since the Christians are free in Israel to identify themselves and worship as they want and they see and feel the continuing oppression by the Muslim Arabs against Christians throughout the Middle East.  


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