Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with Syriac-Arameans

JISH (GUSH HALAV), Israel – At the invitation of the Israeli Christian Aramaic Association (ICAA), Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu this week visited the Syriac-Arameans of the village of Jish (Gus Halav), in Upper Galilee. The ICAA, in partnership with the pro-Israel and Christian advocacy organization Philos Project, is an organization advocating the rights of the Syriac-Arameans in Israel and wanted to discuss with the Israeli Prime Minister the question how to strengthen Christian Syriac-Aramean identity in Israel, the emancipation of the Syriac-Aramean nationality away from Arab nationality, and the rebuilding of the empty Syriac-Aramean village of Kafr Biram. The village of Jish is a majority Syriac-Aramaic town of Syriac Maronites and Syriac Melkites (Rum), with a large Sunni Muslim minority.

Israel will hold general elections for the Knesset on March 23, 2021, and Benjamin Netanyahu is actively campaigning as Likud leader to again make the Likud party Israel’s biggest party in parliament. According to statements by the Israeli Christian Aramaic Association, PM Benjamin Netanyahu promised to better integrate Syriac-Aramean nationals by supporting their demands for self-representation in official government bodies and working together to solve their issues.

Aramean nationality

In Israel, citizenship is different from the ethnic designation “nationality”. Nationality is based on distinct variables such as religion, language, origin, and cultural and social values. According to the Israeli Central Bureau for Statistics, some 74% of the 9.2 million Israeli citizens are Jewish nationals and 21% belongs to the Arab nationality. Druze nationals number around 148,000 and (Muslim-) Circassian nationals more than 4,000.

Since 2014, Syriacs can ethnically register themselves in the Israeli National Population Registry as Arameans. Where Syriacs were often seen as “Arab Christians”, they can now register a defined Aramean nationality in their Israeli identification documents. According to the Israeli Central Bureau for Statistics there were some 177,000 Christians living within the borders of the state of Israel at the end of 2019. Around 80% of them is designated Arab nationality.

The official Aramean nationality in Israel has so far not attracted a substantial number of adherents. With the lack of reliable figures, a best unverified estimate is 1,000-3,000. The Christians in Israel who qualify for Aramean nationality are the Syriacs who adhere to the Syriac Maronite Church (~10,000), Syriac Orthodox Church (~5,000), Syriac Catholic Church (~ 3,000), Assyrian Church of the East (~ 1,000), and the Syriac Rum or Melkite Catholic Greek Church (~80,000) – the denomination “Melkite” is derived from the Syriac word for “king”, malko or malka.