April 7 – 2010

Caspari Center Media Review – April 7, 2010

During the week covered by this review, we received 3 articles on the subjects of Christian tourism and Christians in Israel. Of these:
1 dealt with Christian tourism
2 dealt with Christians in Israel
This week’s Review focused on new and old Christians in Israel.
Christian Tourism
Haaretz, April 2, 6, 2010
According to this report, “Three Christian pilgrims – all U.S. citizens in their 30s born in Eritrea or Ethiopia – were expelled from Israel last Thursday, just hours after landing at Ben-Gurion International Airport. The individuals were reportedly denied entry into the country after one of them told Israeli officials she was acquainted with an African refugee, who authorities discovered had not been granted asylum in Israel.” A lawyer retained to represent the three stated that “an Interior Ministry official at the airport told her the pilgrims had been denied entry because ‘they had come to visit a refugee.’ The attorney insisted that these were not appropriate grounds for barring entry, but was told that there were other reasons for the authorities’ decision, which was reached after several hours of questioning. The Interior Ministry, says Ben-Natan, refused to consider the possibility of releasing the individuals on bail, maintaining that the decision could only be overturned by court order … the three individuals all work in the United States, and … as U.S. citizens who have lived there for nearly two decades would have no reason to relocate to or seek asylum in Israel. [The director of the African Refugee Development Center] also cast doubt over whether border control and ministry officials would have shown the pilgrims the same treatment had they been white … After being deported, Bayu said, the three U.S. citizens – who had planned to stay in Israel for about two weeks – were barred from entering the country for 10 years. His organization is considering filing a petition with an Israeli court over the ban … Haaretz asked the Interior Ministry several months ago for figures on the number of foreigners denied entry to Israel last year as compared to the year before – figures widely believed to be on the rise. The ministry has yet to respond to the request.”

Christians in Israel
Haaretz, April 2 (Hebrew and English editions), 2010

A similar story was heard from members of the Palestinian Christian community, who “against the background of the security arrangements” for Easter, “severely criticized Israel, claiming that it was imposing a closure on the Old City of Jerusalem and around the Church of the Holy Sepulcher and infringing the rights of freedom of worship. The [Palestinian] organizations stated that Israel was granting entrance permits to 3,000 Christians to the Christian sacred sites in Jerusalem – in contrast to Israel’s assertion that it had granted 10,000 permits. At the same time, the pilgrims noted that even those who had received permits are finding it difficult to get to the ceremonies and participate in them freely due to the closure policy.”
As part of an examination of the use of Aramaic in the region, Dorit Shilo looked at the history of the Maronite community in Israel and Lebanon: “The Maronites took root in the Fertile Crescent around 350 C.E. After the Arab conquest, they established an autonomous enclave on Mount Lebanon, which fought for its existence for 1,400 years and still struggles to keep its Aramaic heritage, language and culture alive. Aramaic Christian literature largely developed between the third and eighth centuries C.E. Learned Aramaeans translated Greek texts to Aramaic and then to Arabic, making Aramaic into a kind of ‘pipeline’ for transferring Hellenistic ideas and science to the Arab world. Nonetheless, the degeneration of Aramaic was inevitable with the invasion of the Mamluks, a military ruling caste originating in Egypt. Gradually Arabic not only superseded the everyday language, but also the sacred tongue of the church. In 1517 the Maronites, still mostly located in Lebanon, forged an alliance with the Druze in a bid to shake off Mamluk rule. It was a prosperous, successful period for both communities, as they regained their independence and retained their cultural autonomy. It was the Aramaeans who created the mold for an expanded Lebanon as a state for all its citizens regardless of creed, a feat they would later regret as a historic mistake, as it converted them into minorities in their own state … The Maronite Christians in Jish [the ancient Gush Halav, Paul’s birth place, according to Jerome] enjoy a vibrant community life and maintain close ties with Maronites living elsewhere in Israel – mostly in Nazareth, Acre and Haifa. These include 2,000 former South Lebanon Army soldiers who sought refuge here after Israel’s pullout from southern Lebanon in 2000 … Students taking the course learn not only basic phrases … but also the Maronite liturgical tradition and the meaning of Aramaic prayers. On major holidays like Christmas and Easter, young pupils bring their language skills to church, having already mastered the prayers and hymns almost as well as their elders. ‘We don’t identify ourselves as an Aramaean nation in contrast to other nations. We seek self-determination alongside the Jews and the other minorities in this country,’ Khallul says. ‘The State of Israel is very precious to us – I am very proud of my military combat service as a captain in the Paratroopers Brigade, and no small number of Israeli Maronite Aramaeans enlist in the Israel Defense Forces of their own free will, in light of their support for the state. Our Aramaic language is almost a twin sister to Hebrew, and we feel a tremendous, profound feeling of belonging to this place, and all the traditions it holds.’ The various Maronite streams in Lebanon were in constant contact with the Zionist movement in Palestine from the 1930s onward. During the 1939 Arab Revolt, Maronites provided food to the besieged Jews of Safed by donkey, and smuggled Holocaust survivors through the border crossing at Bir’am when the British closed Palestine to Jews fleeing Europe. David Ben-Gurion even worked to establish a Maronite Christian state in Lebanon with Jewish Agency money, as part of his vision of ushering in a new age in the Middle East” (English edition).