The end of dhimmitude
This 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 Israel’s Galilee are courageously promoting their pre-Islamic non-Arab identity as an old-new collective Aramean/Aramaic-speaking Oriental narrative. This is a cultural and political game-changer with revolutionary significance, for Israel, the Middle East and the global scene.
Under the leadership of Father Gabriel Nadaf, an Orthodox priest from Yafia near Nazareth, and Shadi Khalloul, a Maronite activist and army reserve officer from Gush Halav, the Christian Recruitment Forum has been established. While all non-Jews in Israel, excepting the Druse and Circassians, are exempt from the military draft, a new promotional effort has been undertaken to further encourage Christian youth to voluntarily enlist. This initiative expresses both a desire to serve the state and integrate into Israeli society, conveying that Christians are committed to the security and welfare of the Jewish state of Israel.
The rationale behind this Christian campaign and its momentous meaning are profound. From the early days of the Arab war against Zionism, and continuing until today with the Palestinian rejection of a Jewish state, the mainstream Christian community as fellow Arabs in the country allied with the Muslims.
The Arab nationalist political parties, from the Communist forerunner to Balad, were led and represented by Christians and Muslims alike.
Indeed, the broad modern Arab national revival and movement across the Middle East was inspired by some stalwart Christian ideologues and politicians, like Michel Aflaq and Constantine Zuraiq, cementing an alliance pitting the cross and the crescent against the Star of David.
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.
The religious and legal structure that emerged with and under Islam established Muslim rule over Jews and Christians, who were defined and demoted as tolerated but inferior dhimmi denizens. While maintaining their communal faith and integrity, the dhimmi communities were subjected to the rapacity of excessive and humiliating taxation and to a precarious dependence on the whims of Muslim caliphs, sultans, emirs and walis.
Instances of massacre and forced conversions were part of the tapestry of victimology over the many centuries of Muslim supremacy that struck Jews in Yemen, Morocco, Libya and Iraq; and likewise Christians in what had been, prior to early Arab conquests, the majority Christian populations in Egypt and Syria.
THE ZIONIST movement and State of Israel represent in modern times the Jewish national liberation movement against Muslim colonialism in Palestine and Arab imperialism in the Middle East. The triumph of Israel symbolizes successful Jewish resistance in the Hebrew homeland.
As such, it signifies the demise of that debilitating mental complex of fear and inferiority, termed “dhimmitude” by the historian Bat Ye’or, which scarred the souls of generations of Eastern Jews, as also Eastern Christians.
From the villages of Yafia and Gush Halav the clarion call for freedom has now been sounded. A new self-consciousness radiates from among the 160,000 Christians in Israel; they represent only two percent of Israel’s population, but their numbers are on the increase in stark contrast to the murder of Christians and their tragic mass flight from Iran, Iraq, Syria and Egypt. Christians were historically massacred by Muslims in Turkey and Sudan. In Israel they are respected citizens and live secure and prosperous lives, as enjoying this situation imposes a moral obligation to be discharged.
No one can doubt that were there to be an Arab Palestine in place of a Jewish Israel, the Christians of Mei’liya and Fassuta would be chased, in the best of circumstances, across the borders. Even now, and predictably so, Arabs are intimidating the nascent Christian shift in alliances in Israel.
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.
A shadow of dhimmitude has spread over Europe, but the heroic stand taken by some Christians in the Galilee offers direction to cultivate an authentic global Jewish-Christian symbiosis by breaking the old Muslim-Christian pact that was born of Islam’s universal aspirations and appetite to rule. This is a moment of truth and reconciliation in Israel, with Christians identifying the Jews as the sovereign power and brothers-in-arms.
The author is a lecturer in Middle East studies.