Leader of the Aramean Christian community Father Gabriel Nadaf explains why a Jewish and democratic Israel is crucial for Middle Eastern Christians
The following article was published prior to Christmas in 2014. As the world continues to see the heart breaking pictures from Aleppo, Iraq, and other war torn areas throughout the region, it is without a doubt that the message of this article is as applicable as ever.
Right now, while Christians the world over are celebrating Christmas, entire communities of the followers of Christ cannot rejoice. The Middle East and parts of Africa continue to drown in rivers of blood, with various minorities being targeted by radical Islamic organizations such as ISIS, Hamas, Jabhat al-Nusra, Boko Haram, al-Qaeda, Hezbollah and others.
The Christians there are stuck in the middle of a maelstrom of genocide and ethnic cleansing occurring on a daily basis through horrific acts of rape, crucifixion, theft, expulsion, destruction, burning of churches, forced conversions, abduction of nuns and the murder of priests, children, women and the elderly. Sometimes the murderers slaughter whole families, sometimes they murder some in front of the rest and then let the others live with the nightmare. People who can flee to the west, and those who can't leave or who wish to remain must live with the danger.
The Middle East is effectively being cleansed of Christians. In the beginning of the 20th century, Christians constituted some 20% of the population in the region. Today, it's 4% and falling. 77% of Iraq's Christians have fled since 2000, in addition to the thousands who were murdered or forcibly expelled. 450,000 Christians have fled Syria since the civil war began in 2011, for fear they would share the same fate.
Bethlehem, the birthplace of Christ, had a clear Christian majority. Since 1995, when Israel handed the city to the Palestinian Authority, Christians have been leaving in droves. Today, Christians are only 15% of the population, some say it's even less. Elsewhere in Palestinian controlled areas, Christians are also leaving, and in Hamas controlled Gaza, the situation is even worse.
Middle Eastern Christians are not just targets for abuse and murder, but are also regularly treated as second class citizens and coping with racism and religious, economic and social discrimination. All because they adhere to Christianity, which espouses peace and goodwill to all mankind.
This bears repeating again and again: Christians in Arab countries live as second class citizens, without rights, with their property stolen, their honor trampled, their children sacrificed and the slaughter ongoing.
A safe haven in Israel
Amid the chaos of the Middle East, only one island of sanity can be found where Christians are not persecuted, where they enjoy freedom of religion and ritual, freedom of expression, and where they can live in peace without fear of genocide. That island is the State of Israel. The state in which I and my Christian brothers were born allows Christians complete freedom. Jews and Christians live in Israel in peace and as good neighbors. This is not just because Jesus was born in Jewish Bethlehem and was born a Jew, but because Christians and Jews share a common heritage and a shared hope for a peaceful coexistence.
Israeli Christians are an inseparable part of the population's fabric, and as its citizens they may elect and be elected to its parliament and local municipalities, rights they use regularly. As a demographic group, they are the most educated community in Israel, are integrated in the legal system as lawyers and judges, serve as officers in the police and the IDF, and occupy various positions in government offices and institutions. You can find many of them as students and faculty in universities, in the health system, on sports teams, in culture, and throughout the private sector. The churches, monasteries, and Christian sites are preserved and run by the various churches entirely freely.
Middle Eastern Christians were always taught that the Arab nation is as one, made up of Muslims and Christians: "We are brothers with a common enemy – the State of Israel," so they told us. But in recent years, Christians have woken up from the lie which accompanied them for decades, encountering instead a reality of discrimination, persecution and death. This reality has brought Christians in the State of Israel to search for our true identity and return to our authentic roots, before the Arabs and Islam came to the region.
We, the Christians of the State of Israel and the Middle East, are not Arabs, but Arameans in our heart and soul. Jesus Christ spoke Aramaic, one can find Aramaic Holy Books in Middle Eastern churches and before the Muslims invaded, most of the Middle Eastern Christians spoke Aramaic.
This year, the State of Israel recognized the Aramean nation in the population registrar, and is in fact the first state in modern history to recognize this nation, thus allowing Christians to return to their historic identity which was blurred in the Middle East with a nation not their own over the centuries. Unfortunately, the world is not aware of this fact and does not thank the State of Israel which protects Christians and allows them a life of freedom. To the contrary, many in the international community have chosen through ignorance, anti-semitism and incorrect information to criticize Israel with the clear intent of harming and weakening it.
And the world is silent
A few months ago, I held a number of meetings with senior officials from the European Parliament and at the European Commission in Brussels. When I told them about the freedom of Christians in Israel, I was shocked to learn that some of them knew nothing about this, and some even admitted that this was the first time that they had received such information on Christians in Israel. The reason for this is that the information that does reach the European Commission on a regular basis is partial and distorted, portraying Israel as a persecutor of Christians.
To me, this is a double crime. Those who choose to lie and distort information passed on to the media, the political establishment or the authorities while hiding the truth and with the sole purpose of hurting the State of Israel for political motives, thus gives aid to extreme elements which strive to destroy the Jews, Christians, Druze, Yezidis and other minorities. Through this illegitimate method, the international community contributes to the worsening of the already difficult humanitarian situation in the Middle East and also bears the responsibility for the situation which forces Christians from their homes. It is time that the world woke up, looked reality in the eye and understood the evil which strives to destroy the Jewish and democratic State of Israel.
The world is trying to weaken Israel and make it easy prey for terrorism. By doing so, they pass a death sentence on Christians in the Middle East and the Holy Land, where Jesus Christ our Lord was born. NGOs and pseudo-Christian organizations, which have not yet freed themselves of the old anti-semitism, who are not familiar with the history of the Holy Land and who disgrace Christianity, act in Israel and the Palestinian Authority and receive millions of Euros from EU countries and institutions.
These organizations adopt a clear anti-Israel policy, sometimes under the cover of "social" and "human rights" activity but with the clear political aim of harming the State of Israel. The results of this activity both directly and indirectly harm the rights of Israeli Christians, who wish to integrate into Israeli society, and harming the delicate fabric of relationships between communities in the State.
Just a few days ago, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) published a report on human rights in Israel in 2014. The report is slanted, manipulative and dangerous. This report, which contains chapters on "Arab minority rights", "Freedom of Expression" and "Harming of Freedom of Expression During Protective Edge" completely ignores the issue of Christians striving for full integration and which represent true coexistence. The report does not refer once to the Arab incitement, persecution and violence, the attempts to silence us, the intolerance and attempts to harm our freedom of religion and ritual. These have been a regular occurrence over the past two years, including explicit calls for my murder and the murder of my friends from the Israeli Christians Recruitment Forum.
The only mention of Christians in this manipulative report is the investigation of a citizen, who as part of an ongoing campaign of incitement published a picture of Recruitment Forum members on his facebook page along with a veiled threat. This is tagged by the report authors as an example of "policing" the internet and harming free speech. This report, which completely ignores our situation, exposes the bias of the ACRI towards anything which doesn't fit their political agenda. It is a good example of how EU-funded organizations actually harm the rights of Jews and non-Jews in the State of Israel.
The international community must understand that if the Reaper's scythe reaches the Land of Israel, then no Christians will remain in the birthplace of Christianity. There will no longer be a living basis for the Faith of Christ. Only by standing alongside Israel and understanding that ensuring its Jewish identity will ensure its democratic regime will ensure the continuing flowering of the Christian community here, which looks fated to be the last remnant of Christianity in the Middle East.
Father Gabriel Nadaf is the spiritual father of the Aramean Christian community and the Israeli Christians Recruitment Forum.
English translation by Avi Woolf.