Israelis move to divide Christian and Muslim Arabs

Israelis move to divide Christian and Muslim Arabs

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Israelis move to divide Christian and Muslim Arabs

By Ray Hanania

Saudi Gazette Sunday March 2, 2014

bethlehemEvery year around Easter the world starts to “think about” Christian Arabs.

Christians in the Middle East are Arab and non-Arab, and ignored by everyone, including in the West, which ironically is predominantly Christians.

This week, the issue of Christian Arabs surfaced again, in a political context driven by the rightwing political agenda of Israel’s extremist government headed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Israel’s parliament, The Knesset, approved a law that asserts Christian Arabs are a “separate minority” from Muslim Arabs. The legislation was introduced by one of Netanyahu’s senior coalition leaders, Yariv Levin, of the Likud Party.

Levin describes it as “an important historic move that can balance Israel and bring us closer to Christians.”

His views are driven by racism, as reflected in his comments to the media: “I am careful not to call them [Christian Arabs] Arabs, because they’re not Arabs. Christians are our natural allies, a counter-balance against the Muslims who want to destroy the State from within.”

Levin is only saying what many Israelis and rightwing American Jews believe, that Israel’s occupation and policies harm Christians as much as they harm Muslims. They are concerned one day Western Christians might awaken to that reality and see Israel for what it really is.

The CBS program “60 Minutes” reported that one day, Christian Holy sites and cities, like Bethlehem, may one day be devoid of Christians, occupied only by Muslims and Jews because of the conflict. (Click here to see the report online: http://www.cbsnews.com/news/christians-of-the-holy-land/)

The truth is Israel not only discriminates against Muslims, it also discriminates against Christians. Israel confiscates lands from Muslims and Christians. It uses violence against Muslims and Christians to enforce its occupation. Israel steals lands from Muslims and Christians, like myself. They do it in several ways, including through annexation but also through isolation and restrictions against non-Jews.

Ironically, the Arabs have made this an easy issue for Israel to exploit. Although the Arab activists are screaming (worthlessly as they always do) that the move is racist and wrong, they have discriminated against Christian Arabs, too.

As a Christian Arab, I am attacked, vilified and libeled online, at public events and even in Israel and Palestine by Muslim Arab extremists who reject a moderate voice of reason but who fundamentally deep down hate Christians as much as they hate Jews. Fanatics like Ikhras, KabobFest, the Islamic Association for Palestine, and Electronic Intifada, which have historically attacked me because I am a Christian Arab. Worse, because my wife is a Jew. They deny it just the way Levin denies he is politically exploiting the Christian religion. Many extremist Islamic and Israeli groups marginalize Christian Arab who support compromise based on two-states.

Worse, is that moderate Muslims remain silent, refusing to confront these religious-driven fanatics.

I am tempted to embrace Levin’s idea of having Israel protect Christians, except that I don’t believe Israelis really care that much about Christians at all. Israel has treated my Christian relatives with the same discriminatory policies they use against Muslims.

The only real truth in the Middle East today is that Christians are oppressed by all sides: Israel, the Arabs countries, Jews and Muslims. Christian Arabs are fleeing. Christians in Israel and the Occupied West Bank have decreased significantly from more than 12 percent to slightly more than 2 percent of the population today.

But Christian Arabs are often targeted by Muslim religious extremists in the West Bank and the Arab World. In Taybeh, now the only Palestinian village that is all Christian, continues to be targeted by extremists. Over the years, the Christian Mayor’s car was burned to the ground. Christians there have been assaulted. The claimed reason is that the village produces the only native Palestinian Beer, Taybeh Beer, which fanatic Muslims consider “Haram,” or a “sin.”

Moderate Muslims have refused to stand up in defense of Christian Arabs against extremists who have targeted any public form of celebration of non-Muslim Christian lifestyles including, dancing and public celebrations. Dring Ramadan, Christian Arabs are expected to defer to Muslim practices, including by fasting and not eating in public.

While the Israelis refuse to allow me to lay claim to my family land adjacent to the illegal Israeli settlement of Gilo in the West Bank, Muslims in a neighboring village, Sharafat, are seeking to take the land from my family because we are Christian. The Mukhtar of the village has refused to speak with me about the status of my land, even though since 1967, my family has allowed its villagers to harvest olives from the 160 olive trees on the property, which is 33.5 dunum (or slightly over 8 acres).

The fact that my wife is Jewish means nothing to the Israelis. The fact I am Palestinian Christian means nothing to the Muslims. Both sides equally covet the valuable land, for the same religious reasons.

Neither side likes the fact that Christian Arabs are Arab by culture if not by Biblical history. Jesus, the first Christian, was a Jew. Over the subsequent centuries, Christians converted from Judaism and paganism, and even some from Islam after it was founded in the 7th Century. Bethlehem, the birthplace of Christianity, is under a brutal Israeli military occupation. Christian Holy Sites are under siege by Israel, as they have been by Islam.

Neither side is any different. Muslims want to erase the issue, while Israel wants to exploit it.

(Ray Hanania is an award winning columnist and managing editor of The Arab Daily News at www.TheArabDailyNews.com.)

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Ray Hanania

Ray Hanania is an award winning former Chicago City Hall reporter and Columnist who began writing in 1975 when he published The Middle Eastern Voice newspaper in Chicago (1975-1977). He covered Chicago City Hall from 1976 through 1992 (Mayor Daley to Mayor Daley) and has expanded to writing for newspapers around the world focussed on Middle East and American politics.

Hanania loves to write about American Arabs in politics, and focuses on Arab life in America.

Currently, he writes weekly columns on Middle East and American Arab issues for the Arab News in Saudi Arabia at www.ArabNews.com. He writes on American politics for the Des Plaines Valley News, Southwest News-Herald, The Regional News newspaper and the Reporter Newspapers. He also writes for the online websites TheArabDailyNews.com and NewsAmericaNetwork.com (Illinois News Network at IllinoisNewsNetwork.com).

Palestinian, American Arab and Christian, Hanania’s parents originate from Jerusalem and Bethlehem. Hanania began in journalism as an activist publishing Chicago’s first English-language American Arab Newspaper “The Middle Eastern Voice” from 1975 through 1977. In 1976, he was hired by the Chicago community newspaper The Southtown Economist (Daily Southtown) and in 1985 was hired by the Chicago Sun-Times and covered Chicago City Hall for both. In 1993, he launched the “The Villager” Newspapers which covered 12 Southwest Chicagoland suburban regions. In 2004, he published “The National Arab American Times” monthly newspaper which was distributed through 12,500 Middle East ethnic food stores in 48 American States.

Hanania is the recipient of four (4) Chicago Headline Club “Peter Lisagor Awards” for Column writing. In November 2006, he was named “Best Ethnic American Columnist” by the New American Media;In 2009, he received the prestigious Sigma Delta Chi Award for Writing from the Society of Professional Journalists. He is the recipient of the MT Mehdi Courage in Journalism Award. Hanania has also received two (2) Chicago Stick-o-Type awards from the Chicago Newspaper Guild, and in 1990 was nominated by the Chicago Sun-Times for a Pulitzer Prize for his four-part series on the Palestinian Intifada.

Hanania’s writings have been published in newspapers around the world. Formerly syndicated by Creators Syndicate, Hanania also has written news, features and Opinion Columns for Al Jazeera English, the Jerusalem Post, YNetNews.com, Arab News, Saudi Gazette, Newsday in New York, the Orlando Sentinel, the Houston Chronicle, The Daily Star, the News of the World, the Daily Yomimuri in Tokyo, Chicago Magazine, the Arlington Heights Daily Herald, and Aramco Magazine. His political columns are published in the Southwest News-Herald and Des Plaines Valley News, Regional News and Palos Reporter newspapers in Chicagoland. Hanania is the President/CEO of Urban Strategies Group media and public affairs consulting which has clients in Illinois, Florida, Michigan and Washington D.C.

Hanania is Palestinian Christian from prominent Bethlehem and Jerusalem families. His wife and son are Jewish and he performs standup comedy lampooning Arab-Jewish relations, advocating for peace based on non-violence, mutual recognition and Two-States.

His Facebook Page is Facebook.com/rghanania

Email him at: RGHanania@gmail.com