Protecting and Preserving Aramean Culture in Israel

And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt. And those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky above; and those who turn many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever. Daniel 12:2-3 (The Israel Bible™)

In a quest to maintain Aramean culture and language, a patriotic Christian Israeli is seeking to establish a city exclusively for Christian Arameans in northern Israel.

Captain (Res.) Shadi Khalloul is a 42-year-old Aramean Christian who is a fellow of the Philos Project, and the chairman of the Israeli Christian Aramaic Association. He also was a candidate for Knesset with the Jewish Zionist party in the 2015 elections.

Khalloul describes himself as an Aramean Christian and says that modern Arameans are indigenous to the land of Israel as well as descendants from the first Christians. While studying a class on Bible as English Literature at the University of Nevada, he decided to make it his life’s mission to preserve his people’s culture.

The reserve captain plans to call the town Aram Hiram – an amalgam of two Biblical sources. “Aram” is the name given to all Aramaic kingdoms in the bible and ‘Hiram” refers to King Hiram of Lebanon, who supplied King Solomon with wood from the cedar trees to build the First Temple.

He wishes to locate town in the barren hills where the village of Kafr Bir’im – only 4 kilometers south of the Lebanese border and 11.5 kilometers from Safed – was once located. He claims his forefathers lived there for approximately 400 years until the inhabitants were evacuated during the 1948 War of Independence. Prior to the evacuation, Kafr Bir’im reportedly had a total population of 1050 Christians who Khalloul says belonged to the Syriac Maronite Church of Antioch.

“We need to build bridges through a Christian positive attitude to ask for our rights in a way to lead towards coexistence with Jews and this can come by being positive citizens of the state, defending the state, integrating into the state, and asking for our rights at the same time,” he said in an interview with The Daily Wire.

Khalloul has had the opportunity to meet with government officials including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in 2013. As a result of that meeting, he said that Christians in Israel were able to register as “Arameans” on their identity card instead of Arabs. Last week, he met with the General Director of the Prime Minister’s Office, Yoav Horovitz, where he pitched his proposal for Aram Hiram and discussed other Christian needs in Israel.

Khalloul served in the Israeli Defense Forces as a paratrooper in 1993 and claims he was one of only five Christians to join the IDF that year. He also founded the Christian-Jewish Pre-Army Preparatory Program to prepare Christians and Jews for the IDF by giving them training and education on navigation, leadership, Christianity, Judaism, Aramaic, and the history of Israel. Of the Christian participants, he said, “I teach them about their common roots as Christians that developed from Judaism.”

There is a historic link between Christians and Jews, especially in the use of Aramaic – the language of the Talmud and the language that Jesus likely spoke. Khalloul argues that this commonality is something that can strengthen Israel as a Jewish state and be a further example of how Israelis are building and preserving the Aramean community and the only country in the Middle East protecting Christians.

“We as a minority want to live as indigenous Aramaic Christians and to be able to have one sole Aramaic town that can preserve our Christian faith, Aramaic language, ethnic identity, and our heritage and explain more about our common roots with the Jews,” he said.

He plans for the town to have a “culture center” to encourage the learning of the Aramaic language and a research center that will focus on building Jewish and Christian relations. Tourism will be the town’s main source of income, as it will likely be a magnet for people all over. He would like to build a hotel to host a biannual conference for Jewish-Christian relations. Khalloul would like all denominations of Western Christians to also visit the town.

Israel has many Druze, Bedouin, Arab and mixed towns, but not an Aramean one. “We deserve one town as Christians,” he says. “This town would be defined as a community town for preserving the Aramaic language and people.”

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