While Christians throughout the Middle East are being slaughtered and expelled in their thousands, I know only one place where I can live my faith in peace: the State of Israel · Father Gabriel Nadaf, Spiritual Father to the Aramean Community and a head of the Israel Christians Recruitment Forum, in an important and special Christmas column. (Photo: Flash90)
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 wih 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-run areas, Christians are also leaving, and in Hamas-run 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 on the margins, without rights, with their property stolen, their honor trampled, their children sacrificed and the slaughter ongoing.
A safe haven in Israel
Within this chaos, only one island of sanity can be found where the 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.