Leading Israeli Christians gathered at a Jerusalem conference to declare their own identity apart from Arab Muslims, and their support for Israel.
“We are not Arabs,” the group declared. “We are Christians who speak Arabic.”
Participants at the conference—titled “Israeli Christians: Breaking Free? The advent of an independent Christian voice in Israel”—said their history, culture, and heritage have been hijacked by Muslim Arabs in the region. They said they feel a closer affinity to Israel and the Jewish people, which their culture and religion originally derived from.
“The Christian public wants to integrate into Israeli society, against the wishes of its old leadership. There are those who keep pushing us to the margins, keeping us the victims nationalism that is not our own, and of a conflict that has nothing to do with us,” said Father Gabriel Nadaf, a Greek Orthodox Priest and advocate for Christian enlistment in the Israel Defense Forces through the Israeli Christian Recruitment Forum, Israel Hayom reported.
Another theme at the conference was a reassertion of Christian identity in the region. Speakers blamed the Arab Invasions of the 7th century for gradually erasing their identity. A former Israeli Christian paratrooper, Lt. (ret) Shaadi Khalloul, said he has lobbied the Israeli government to recognize his community as Aramaic Christians, referring to the majority language spoken by Christians and Jews prior to the 7th century Arab invasion. Aramaic is still spoken by isolated communities today. Khalloul calls his group “B’nei Keyama,” which means “allies” in Aramaic.
“The typical Christian student thinks that he belongs to the Arab people and the Islamic nation, instead of speaking to the people with whom he truly shares his roots—the Jewish people, whose origins are in the Land of Israel,” Khalloul said.
Israel has one of the few growing Middle East Christian communities. According to the country’s Central Bureau of Statistics, there were 158,000 Christians living in Israel in 2012, constituting 2 percent of the population, up from 154,000 in 2011.