Israeli bill distinguishes Christians from 1948 Palestinians

A Greek orthodox priest guards a chapel built inside the Orthodox Christian monastery of the Temptation near the West Bank city of Jericho, on February 22, 2014. (Photo: AFP- Thomas Coex)

By: Yazan al-Saadi

Published Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Israel’s legislative branch, known as the Knesset, passed a controversial bill into law that defines 1948 Christians Palestinians as “non-Arabs”, Israeli media reported.

The new law – passed on Monday with a vote of 31 in favor and 6 against – for the first time differentiates Christian Palestinians from the rest of the Palestinian community, who had survived the 1947-48 ethnic cleansing by Zionist forces, and remained within the 1948 territories.

"This is a historic law. It's the first time there is separate representation for Christians," Likud Beytenu coalition chairman Yariv Levin, who proposed the bill, was quoted by the Israeli press prior to the the vote.

"Soon we'll expand on this and give [Christians] all the separate representation they deserve," he added.

Previously, Levin justified the bill as “an important, historic step that could introduce balance to the State of Israel, and connect us [Jews] with the Christians, I am careful not to refer to them as Arabs, because they are not Arabs.”

“We and the Christians have a lot in common. They’re our natural allies, a counterweight to the Muslims that want to destroy the country from within... We will use an iron hand and demonstrate zero tolerance of Arabs who tend to identify with the terror of the Palestinian state,” he added.

According to reports, the law will enforce a separate representation on the Advisory Committee for Equal Opportunity within the Employment Commission, by extending the number of panel members to ten, adding specific seats for the ultra-Orthodox, Druze, Christian, Circassian populations, and others.

‘Palestinian Christians are Arabs’

CIA statistics put the Arab Christian population living in Occupied Palestine at around 123,000. These people will be directly affected by the new law.

Arab members of the Knesset unanimously condemned the bill as a “racist” act and a “divide-and-conquer” tactic.

"Colonialists try to separate groups of natives. The prime example of this is South Africa," MK Hanin Zoabi of the Arab political party, Balad, reportedly said to the media after the vote.

"We are the natives here and we have a clear identity, [we] are Palestinians, part of the Arab nation, and your law will fail. Part of the Zionist project is to oppress our identity, but I have the right to speak in the name of Palestinians."

Khalid Musmar, an official for the Palestinian National Council, told Al-Akhbar,“The Palestinian Christian community will rebuke this before anyone else. The Palestinian Christians are Arab despite the wishes of anyone in the Knesset or otherwise.”

“They have always said they were Arabs and have fought side-by-side with their Muslim brethren, from the times of the Crusades to today. The Palestinian community, in all it’s colors and creeds, is a unified Arab community confronting occupation. They are struggling for a Palestinian nation with Jerusalem as it’s capital. This will not change by the acts of Knesset or anyone else,” the official said.

“The community in 1948 will not remain quiet. This is a major move by the forces of occupation and colonization, and there will be mobilizations just like how we saw the creation and continuation of Land Day protests within 1948 lands. We will see protests in the future.”

“If [Israel] wants to do right to the Palestinians in general and Christians in particular,” said Jumana, from the Galilee region of northern occupied Palestine, during a separate conversation with Al-Akhbar, “let them approve the return of the refugees and internally displaced Palestinians from the two Christian villages of Ekrith and Birem, who already have a court ruling allowing them to return to their destroyed villages.”

She added that this law comes at a time when “the government is attempting to make the drafting to the Israeli Army obligatory to Palestinian Christians, [and] this is completely not acceptable, since this is their way of dividing the Palestinian minority and fragmenting the community as a whole.”

In a similar vein, a 1948 Palestinian Christian from Nazareth, who requested anonymity due to the sensitivity of the matter, told Al-Akhbar, “I think [Levin’s comments] are outrageous and untrue. It is part of Israel’s broader attempt to segment and fragmentize the Palestinian community from one another inside Israel. Other examples of this are with the Bedouins and the Druze, and this is part of [Israel’s] attempt to break up what is a cohesive community. It won’t work.”

“I see myself as an Arab and so do other Palestinian Christians. [Levin’s] logic only reaffirms the agenda to separate and break-up minorities within minorities,” she added.

“There should be more representation of Palestinians in Israel in general. Christian Palestinians are just as repressed as Muslims.”

Comments

This is clearly a serious domestic issue for Israelis and Palestinians - some may see it as Israel trying to alienate the Muslim Palestinian community others may see it as giving Christian Palestinians the right to be represented democratically. I personally reckon it's six of one and half a dozen of the other.

However, let's just get our facts right for a second: "They have always said they were Arabs and have fought side-by-side with their Muslim brethren, from the times of the Crusades to today."

Let's not just make up historical fact here. Muslims and Christians tore each other apart in equal measure during the crusades - both fighting for Jerusalem and the religious right to rule the land. They murdered, raped and pillaged each other's communities in the name of the "Holy Land". If you're going to claim credibility, re-writing history to suit yourselves isn't the way to go. The difference is the fighters have changed and the war is now between Israeli and Palestinians as opposed to European Christians and Arab Muslims.

This is so great. Now all the Christians will be able to represent themselves instead of having the Arab Muslims high jack the microphone. It is about time. All my Christian friends who live here in Israel are so excited about this new law. The Christians don't have to fear for their lives any more from the threats of the Muslim community.

Good job Israel, keep up the fight for freedom.

I wondered about the attempt to recruit them into the army. This is akin to the Christian community commiting suicide. It is crazy, irrational and dam obvious what the Zionists are up to. How can you support the state that destroyed you?

As a christian Palestinian, both me and my family stand firmly with our Palestinian brothers and sisters, no matter their colour, religion or political views. We are all Palestinian and arabian, and we have always been.

Good try knesset, but this just won't work.

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