Christian Arabs: Historical myth

My intention – for once – is not get anyone’s ideological back up. I just want to talk about history, and it’s relationship to a new phenomenon among the so-called “Christian Arabs”, specifically those Arabs that are called “Palestinian”. I’m sorry to cloud the issue with the facts, but here’s the fact: you can’t be – by definition – a Christian Arab or, more specifically, a Christian Palestinian.

 Christian Tragedy in the Muslim World
Christian Tragedy in the Muslim World

The Christians predate the Muslim invasion by some 600 years. Christianity, as we know, started with a group of people surrounding Jesus of Nazareth, who lived from approximately 4 BCE to 32 CE. These Jesus followers, who initially were all Jewish, grew into the worldwide “Christian” religion, which now numbers 2-3 billion people. The initial group was divided among people who saw Jesus as the long awaited Jewish Messiah, and people who saw him as a divine figure, a kind of God incarnate. The first group basically disappeared when the Roman emperor, Constantine, adopted the latter view in the 4th century.

Some 300 years later, in the first half of the 7th century, a group of Arabs from the area of Mecca in modern Saudi Arabia, declared Muhammad to be the ultimate prophet of Allah i.e., God. These “Muslims”, as they came to be known, first conquered Arabia and then fanned out, creating an empire that stretched from the borders of China and the Indian subcontinent, across Central Asia, the Middle East, North Africa, Sicily, and the Iberian Peninsula, to the Pyrenees. In the course of building their empire, in 638 C.E., under Caliph Umar, the Islamic armies conquered the Holy Land i.e., modern Israel.

So the bedrock historical fact is that Christianity and Islam – Christians and Arabs – came face to face for the first time in the Holy Land/Palestine/Israel only in the 7th century. The incontrovertible historical fact is that the Arabs from Arabia came to the area of modern day Israel as conquerors. The Jews and the Christians, who were indigenous to the land, were the conquered. The Arabs were all Muslims. The Jews and the Christians were not, and are not, Arabs. It can’t get any simpler.

What happened next? Many Jews and Christians were butchered, some were tolerated and still others were converted to the new religion. Despite the myth of Islamic tolerance of Jews and Christians, the fact is that by Islamic law, Jews and Christians are to be tolerated but not accorded equal status to Muslims. By definition, according to Islamic law, no Arab can convert to Judaism or Christianity. Islam will not allow it. It regards any conversion out of Islam as an act of apostasy, punishable by death. In September of last year, Nazir Ahmad Hanafi, Afghan Parliament Member, stated that any Afghani citizen who converts to Christianity should be executed. So even if, 1,300 years ago, some Arab converted to Christianity, he could not have broadcast this fact, nor set up a community of Christian “Palestinians” or “Arabs”. Put simply, every community of “Christian Arabs” is by definition not Arab.

This fact is easy to ascertain. All you have to do is enter any store selling Christian trinkets in the old city of Jerusalem and ask the Christian owner: “are you an Arab?” To be politically correct, after a moment’s hesitation, he might answer “yes”. But if you press the matter, and say “I don’t mean culturally. I don’t mean do you like Hummus and do you listen to Arabic music. I simply mean; did your ancestors arrive in Israel with the conquering Arabs in the 7th century?” The answer will always be: “No. We were here before.” What this means is that the so-called “Christian Arabs” of the Palestinian community are actually descendants of Aramians, Canaanites and – yes – Jews! Even DNA confirms this ethnic link.

The trouble has been that Jewish Israelis have not realized that the Christians living among the Palestinians are actually kinfolk. They have literally driven their Christian kinsmen into the Palestinian ideological camp. For their part, some of the local Christians tried to become more Palestinian than the Palestinians, founding and joining various anti-Israel terrorist groups. But pay careful attention; these groups are never “Islamic” groups. The most radical Christians among the Palestinians have expressed their “Arab nationalism”, by creating and joining non-Islamic, non-nationalist groups. Put simply, show me a Communist Palestinian terror group, and I’ll show you a so-called “Christian Arab” group. For example, the Palestine Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PLFP), was founded by Dr. George Habash, a Christian, and the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP) was founded by Nayef Hawatmeh, also a Christian. In other words, the Christians among the Palestinians tried to reinvent themselves as Communist Palestinians.

The irony is that, as hard as these Christians tried to earn their Palestinian Arab credentials, they could not. Why? Because, as I wrote at the outset, they’re not Arabs. They know it. Their neighbors know it. More than this, everywhere in the Arab world Christians are persecuted. For example, Egypt’s natives i.e., the Copts, are Christian. How are they treated? They have been systematically discriminated against, raped and murdered.

Gunmen Kill Coptic Christian Outside Cairo Church; 4 Dead, Including 8-Year-Old And 12-Year-Old Girls
Gunmen Kill Coptic Christian Outside Cairo Church; 4 Dead, Including 8-Year-Old And 12-Year-Old Girls

For their part, the so-called Palestinian Christians have been driven out of Bethlehem and any other town under Palestinian jurisdiction where they were the traditional majority.

But is this historical assessment relevant today? More than ever. As I write this, a new phenomenon is unfolding. The so-called Christian Arabs are coming out of the Jewish/Aramian closet, and declaring themselves as non-Arabs. The most dramatic example of this is Gabriel Nadaf, a Greek orthodox priest from Nazareth, who has become the symbol of the new phenomenon. Father Nadaf is the spiritual leader of a group of Christians living in Israel who are now reclaiming their Aramian Jewish past and fighting on the side of Israel against Islamic persecution of Christians in the Middle East. Most dramatically, Father Nadaf has called on Israeli Christian youth to serve in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). He and his associates, such as Res. Captain (IDF) Shahdi Halul, have been responsible for a 300% rise in Christian enlistment in the IDF in the past year.

Father Nadaf recently stated on Israeli state television (Channel 1) that he is seeking full integration of Israel’s 130,000 Christians into Israeli society. He’s doing this, he said, because of his people’s history, and “in light of what we see happening to Christians in Arab countries; how they are slaughtered and persecuted on a daily basis – killed and raped just because they are Christians. Does this happen in the State of Israel? No, it doesn’t!”

This new Israeli-Christian phenomenon is something that should be embraced by all people who value ethnic survival and democracy. Some of the surviving Israeli-Christian communities still speak the language of the Gospels and the Talmud i.e., Aramaic. These people are preserving rituals that date back 2,000 years to the very dawn of Christianity, before it became a Roman religion.

The sad thing is that no one is going to embrace their cause any time soon. When the Pope comes to Israel in May, he is not going to visit the Israeli Christians in the IDF. That would be politically incorrect. Given that Mahmud Abbas, the leader of the Palestinian Authority, has now retroactively made Jesus a “Palestinian”, the Pope is not going to challenge Abbas. Rather, the Pope is going to celebrate Mass in Bethlehem, before an audience of Muslim Arabs pretending to be Christians for CNN cameras. The rest of the Christian world will also ignore the Christians of Israel. After all, these people are committed to serving in a Jewish army, as opposed to wanting to blow themselves up in Jerusalem pizzerias in the name of Islam. Unfortunately, Western liberals like the latter more than the former.

But spin doctors aside, we should all celebrate the fact that Aramian Christians have survived in the Holy Land and are now rejoining their Jewish brethren. For 1,400 years, Jews and Christians were “dhimmis” i.e., second-class citizens under Islamic rule. Now, they are joining forces in a democratic Israel.

About the Author
Simcha Jacobovici is a Canadian-Israeli filmmaker and journalist. He is a three-time Emmy winner for “Outstanding Investigative Journalism” and a New York Times best selling author. He’s also an adjunct professor in the Department of Religion at Huntington University, Ontario.