PALESTINIANS in Israel are preparing to resist a law passed
recently by the Knesset (parliament) which establishes, for the
first time, a legislative distinction between the indigenous
Palestinian Arab Christians and Palestinian Arab Muslims who are
Israeli citizens. This would identify Palestinian Christian
Israelis as "non-Arabs".
One of the right-wing sponsors of the legislation, the Likud MP
Yariv Levin, said that Jews and Christians "have a lot in common.
[Christians] are our natural allies - a counterweight to the
Muslims who want to destroy the country from within."
When Israel was created in 1948, hundreds of thousands of
Palestinians fled, or were forced to move to neighbouring states,
in the belief that they would soon be allowed to return. The vast
majority remain in exile, but about 150,000 remained on the land,
and became citizens of the new state, without relinquishing their
political or cultural attachments.
Today, the Arab community in Israel numbers about 1.4 million,
and accounts for some 20 per cent of the total population. The
concern of right-wing Israelis is that the fast-increasing Arab
population constitutes a security threat. They also fear that a day
could come when Muslim and Christian Arabs would outnumber Jews in
the Jewish state.
There is, thus far, little indication of how the new law will
affect the daily lives of Arab Christians, but the Anglican
Archdeacon for Israel and Palestine, the Ven. Samuel Barhoum, said
that Palestinians, as a whole, rejected the measure. "We certainly
didn't ask for this, or for anyone to put us in a category that
separates us from our nation or our people. Israel is trying to
divide the Arab people."
Archdeacon Barhoum, who lives in Nazareth, said that
Palestinians should "start to educate the new generation about
nationality and their roots in their land, so that they understand
what is going on here. No one can choose my nationality for me. I
don't want to be separated from my Muslim brothers. We are both
facing severe hardship, and I don't want them saying, 'He has more
than me because he is a Christian.' We must face it together. I am
Christian, Arab, and Palestinian, all three in one."
Canon Naim Ateek, of St George's Anglican Cathedral in
Jerusalem, who is the head of the Sabeel Ecumenical Theology
Center, said that he was certain that the Palestinian community in
Israel was mature enough not to fall into such a "despicable
religious trap", and would "reject this new legislation".
Palestinian "unity and solidarity", hand in hand with "our
determination to work for a just peace, inclusive democracy, and
human dignity for all the people of our land", would, he said,
undermine the new legislation.
The Israeli MP Ahmed al-Tibi has also strongly criticised the
new law. He said that its intention was to split Palestinians by
stating a preference for one part of the community over the other.
"The vast majority of Christians in Israel completely reject it,"
he said. A prominent Palestinian Christian politician, Hanan
Ashrawi, told Gulf News that "the law that splits Christians from
Muslims is a racist law meant to create a new reality on the
ground. If achieved, that reality will destroy the Palestinian
national and historic identity."
Unlike the Jewish population of Israel, Israeli Arabs are not
required to serve in the army. One Greek Orthodox priest, Fr
Gabriel Nadaf, also from Nazareth, has created controversy by
encouraging Arabs in Israel to sign up for military service. "We
all live in the same home, which we must defend."