A new pro-Israeli movement among Arab-speaking Christians marks the demise of pan-Arabism as an identity. This revolutionary development may have profound implications even outside the Middle East.
NAZARETH/ISRAEL. When Father Gabriel Naddaf hears that the new Swedish archbishop is a woman, he and two fellow priests from the Greek Orthodox Christian community in Nazareth can hardly stop laughing.
But laughter quickly turns to grief when Dispatch Internationals reporters tell these local Christians what Archbishop Antje Jackelén has chosen as her motto: Allahu akbar God is greater the thousand-year-old battle cry of Muslims intent on pillage and conquest.
The devil has taken possession of her, says Father Gabriel without the slightest hesitation or reservation.
We are in the company of Christian believers who take their faith and the Bible seriously and not as a platform for interfaith dialogue with the followers of Muhammed or a departure point for merging Christianity with Islam.
To Father Gabriel and his Arab-speaking Christian followers here in the midst of the town where the Virgin Mary was told that she would give birth to the Messiah there is no doubt that Christians pray to the one true God, whereas Muslims follow an evil ideology that wishes nothing but ill on non-Muslims Christian or otherwise.
That was not what Gabriel Naddaf, born in Nazareth in 1973, nor other Palestinian Christians were brought up to believe.
We were told that Muslims were our brothers. The Christian leaders told us lies. Muslims are killing Christians all over the place. And they are the only ones who are doing so, says Father Gabriel and points to what is happening throughout the Muslim world that surrounds Israel.
Just look at what is happening right now in Syria. Two Christian bishops and twelve nuns have been kidnapped, churches are burnt down, Christians are being raped and killed and Christian communities are being driven from their lands or forced to convert.
We are being treated like the Jews that were driven out of the Muslim countries. And Christians in the West are doing nothing to help us. The only place in the Middle East where Christians can live in peace and count on the protection of the state is Israel, yet we see Christians demonstrating against Israel and supporting the movement to boycott our country. Even Arab-speaking Christians in Israel turn their backs on our country. It hurts me to see that, says Father Gabriel.
The pope ought to come to Nazareth and Jerusalem to see for himself what is going on.
He seriously doubts that will happen. In fact he doesnt think that Western Christian leaders are really Christians. If they were, they would not permit their countries to be inundated by waves of Muslim immigrants.
Where were the Western Christians, when Christians in this part of the world were robbed, oppressed and killed? Why didnt they raise their voices to defend us? Didnt they know there were Christians in Israel?
But perhaps the Christian world is finally starting to wake up. Father Gabriel hopes so and he is doing his best to make the Israeli Christians realize that their Muslim oppressors are not their brothers and that they dont share any identity with them.
Concretely, in 2011 Father Gabriel and Shadi Khalloul, a Maronite activist and reserve captain in the Israeli paratroopers, started the Christian Recruitment Forum to convince Arab-speaking Christians to volunteer for the IDF, the Israeli Defence Forces, and in 2012 360 Christian boys and girls heeded the call up from next to nothing two years before. The aim is complete integration into the Israeli state and total dedication to its survival. Other non-Jewish groups in Israel e.g., the Bedouins and the Druze have long served in the Israeli Army. Some of them have even advanced to become senior officers. It is about time that the Arab-speaking Christians do their bit.
As everywhere else where people have stood up to the threat of Islam, Father Gabriel now lives under a death threat from Muslims who want to turn Israel into a Muslim country like the other failed states in the area. What the Muslims cannot forgive Father Gabriel and his followers is that they that have broken the barriers between the Christians and the Jews.
From the creation of the Jewish state in 1948, the Muslims have assumed command over the Arab-speaking Christians to prevent them from siding with Israel. The result is that Israels Christians live in a state of war. But now the fear is beginning to loosen its grip.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has reacted to the Muslim threats against Father Gabriel by guaranteeing that neither Israel nor Netanyahu personally will tolerate persecutions of the countrys Christians.
The Arab-speaking Christians are not foreigners to the country that is now Israel. They have been here since Jesus first started preaching his message and the fact that they use Arabic language (the Muslim masters forced the Christians to speak Arabic instead of the Aramaic language also spoken by Jesus) does not mean that they necessarily consider themselves Arabs. As Father Gabriel emphasizes, Arab is not a nationality.
If you dont have a past, you wont have a future, says Father Gabriel. He is determined to recreate the history of Christians in the Holy Land going back to the first followers of Jesus 2000 years ago and he hopes that the Western Christian world will not turn away from the worlds very first Christian community.
After more than a thousand years of Muslim persecution there are only between 100,000 and 200,000 Arab-speaking Christians left in what is now Israel.
All the more reason for them to remain true to their history and to give them a new future as loyal citizens of Israel.
It may take some time before the largely pro-Islamic and pro-Palestinian Western Christians realize that Father Gabriel and his followers represent a truly unique historical development and a break with 1400 years of Christian subservience to their Muslim masters. Among some Israeli observers, however, this realization is already creeping in.
Writing in Jerusalem Post January 4, 2014, lecturer in Middle East studies Mordechai Nissan notes that the pro-Israeli movement among Arab-speaking Christians is a cultural and political game-changer with revolutionary significance for Israel, the Middle East and the global scene.
We are now witnessing one of the most dramatic developments in the historic configuration of relations among Jews, Christians and Muslims. Christians in Israels Galilee [whose main town is Nazareth, ed.] are courageously promoting their pre-Islamic non-Arab identity as an old-new collective Aramean/Aramaic-speaking Oriental narrative.
The mixed Muslim-Christian villages and towns in Israel, like Turan and Ibelin, Eilaboun and Nazareth, were traditionally portrayed as bastions of Arab brotherhood and solidarity, despite the religious cleavage defining marriage and customs. But now the Christian Forum has issued a sharp and urgent message that shatters the Arab house of unity.
According to Mordechai Nissan, the emergence of Father Gabriels movement and its success in convincing young Arab-speaking Christians to join the IDF, marks a fundamental break with that debilitating mental complex of fear and inferiority, termed dhimmitude, by the historian Bat Yeor, which scarred the souls of generations of Eastern Jews, as also Eastern Christians.
Mordechai Nissan believes that this development may also have a profound impact in Europe: The Christian Forum in Israel, while only a local development, offers nonetheless a compelling precedent and proud innovation for the West to promote Jewish-Christian cooperation against extremist Muslim forces, as in Europe. As Islam basically destroyed the large historic Christian centers in the Middle East, so it threatens the cultural character and political independence of Christian Europe.
As noted by Israeli commentator Caroline Glick in Jerusalem Post, January 10, 2014, < http://www.frontpagemag.com/2014/caroline-glick/israel-and-the-death-of-pan-arabism/> Father Gabriel and his followers are harbingers of an even more profound development: the fall of pan-Arabism as an identity: Pan-Arabism lies in ruins from North Africa to the Arabian Peninsula. The people of the region have gone back to identifying themselves by tribe, religion, ethnicity, and in the case of the Kurds and the Berbers, non-Arab national identity. In this new era, Christians find themselves imperiled, with few if any protectors or allies to be found.
Writes Caroline Glick: From Egypt to Tunisia to Iraq to Syria, Israels neighbors are fighting each other as Sunnis, Shiites and Salafists, or as members of clans and tribes, without a thought for the alleged primacy of their Arab identity. What Israels Palestinian-state-obsessed Left has failed to realize is that many of Israels neighbors do not share the pan-Arab scapegoating of the Jewish state. So bribing the now largely irrelevant Arabs nationalists with another Arab state may do little more than create the newest victim of the Arab revolutions.
It is because they see what is happening to their co-religionists in the post-pan-Arab Middle East that more and more Israeli Christians realize they will lead safer, more prosperous and more fulfilling lives as Christian citizens in the Middle Easts only democracy than as pan-Arabs battling the Zionist menace.
But according to Caroline Glick, even the Israeli government has failed to recognize the implications of the death of pan-Arabism. In maintaining their slavish devotion to the two-state formula, and viewing the Arabs in the Galilee, Judea, Samaria, Jerusalem and surrounding states as an impenetrable bloc, they are placing Israels future in the hands of actors who have already disappeared or will soon disappear. Instead of building alliances with non-Jewish citizens of Israel, such as Druse and Christians, who are more than happy to defend Israel against Islamists and other regional fanatics, the Netanyahu government insists on placing the states future in the hands of pan-Arabs whose grip on power is slipping and who would never willingly coexist with Israel anyway.
The post-pan-Arab Middle East, writes Caroline Glick, exposes the truth that has been obscured for a century. The Jews and their Jewish state are a natural component of our diverse neighborhood, just like the Kurds, the Christians, the Druse, the various Muslim sects, and the Arabs. The demise of pan-Arabism is our great opportunity, at home and regionally, to build the alliances we need to survive and prosper. But so long as our leaders insist on clinging to the now irrelevant dream of appeasing the defunct pan-Arabists, we will lose these opportunities and convince our allies that we are treacherous, disloyal and temporary.
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