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Christian Palestinians in Israel: a threatened identity?

Procession HaifaHOLY LAND – March 2014. The Assembly of the Catholic Ordinaries has approved a document published by the Justice and Peace Commission about the Knesset law project which is about to introduce a distinction between Christian and Muslim Palestinians, stating that Christian Palestinians are Christians and not Palestinians. One of the consequence of this campaign will be to draft Christian Palestinians into the Israeli military.

Israeli policy makers are increasingly insisting that Christian Palestinians are not Arabs and not part of the Palestinian people. This has been expressed in the campaign to draft Christian Palestinians into the Israeli military and most recently in a law proposed by Member of Knesset Yariv Levin, which introduces a distinction between Christian and Muslim Palestinians and states that Christian Palestinians are Christians and not Palestinians.

We, the heads of the Catholic Church in Israel, would like to clarify that it is not the right or the duty of the Israeli civil authorities to tell us who we are. In fact, most of our faithful in Israel are Palestinian Arabs. They are obviously Christians too. They are also citizens of the State of Israel. We do not see any contradiction in this definition of identity: Christian Palestinian Arabs who are citizens of the State of Israel.

We address our words to all Christian Palestinians, whether in Israel or in Palestine and wherever they are in the world. They are, all, wherever they are, Palestinians and Christians and citizens.

Indeed, there are some Christians in Israel, a small, marginal minority, who are supporting this campaign to redefine our identity. Whether they do so out of self-interest, fear, dreams of having full equality, we cannot say. However we must point out that they cannot pretend to be the spokespeople of the Christian Palestinians in Israel.

The people of this land, Jews, Christians, Muslims and Druzes, have lived here for centuries and have known successive governments. Christians and Muslims and Druzes together (and some Jews too who always lived  in the land) insist that their shared common identity, which has developed over centuries, is Palestinian.

This campaign clearly has as its aim to divide Christians from their Muslim compatriots.  However, it is equally dangerous because it will divide Christians among themselves even further.

If the Knesset indeed seeks the good of the citizens of Israel, it should invest every effort to legislate laws that remove discrimination, whether it be against Jews or Arabs, Christians, Muslims or Druze. In creating a society that unites all citizens in equality and strives for justice and peace, there will remain no reason to fear for anybody and Israelis and Palestinians, Christians, Muslims and Druze, can live together in mutual respect and dignity, working together to build a better future.

Justice and Peace Commission, and the Assembly of the Catholic Ordinaries in the Holy Land