Israeli-Arab Christians take to the streets of Haifa for an unusual protest

7-8-2014 – TLV1 – A group of Israeli-Arab Christians marched in Haifa last night against the persecution of Christian Arabs in the world, against radical Islamic organizations such as Hamas, and in favor of Israel’s military operation. TLV1′s Lissy Kaufmann was there. A group of Arabs gathered on Sunday night at Unesco Square in Haifa, waving Israeli flags. Wait – Arabs? Well, the language that was mostly heard around was indeed Arabic. But when asked who they are, the protesters said something completely different:

I am not Arab because I am Christian and I don’t think that you can be Arab and Christian at the same time, Arabs are Muslims in my opinion, they just made us forget who we are, our identity. I am Israeli, I am Christians and that is it. 

I am Israeli, I am Christian, and I am Israeli so I support Israel, I live here in Israel and this is my country. 

Yes, yes I am Christian and Israeli and proud of it. No not at all, you are insulting me right now because I don’t consider myself…. I feel 2 months later I will go to the army. And I am the kind that gives all to my state – that is all.

The people that gathered at Unesco Square in Haifa are Christian-Israelis. They waved not only Israeli flags but also the yellow and white flag of the Vatican. They have been distancing themselves from the Arab population and from its protests against the war during the last couple of weeks. These round about 100 people were protesting against Christian persecution in the Middle East, such as in Syria and Iraq. Some of them were holding banners asking why the UN and the West are closing their eyes on it.

The protest was also against Hamas. Shadi Khalloul can explain why. He is the spokesperson of the Forum for Christian Recruitment, which tries to persuade more Christians to join the IDF. And was also one of the organizers of the protest.

You cannot only do only a protest about Christians in Iraq and Syria and ignoring what is happening for you here inside the country. You can see where are in war. If we would ignore this, the soldiers that being killed, the civilians being killed by the same terror we will not be doing the just way, that be believe in it, which is terror is the same terror, it is killing the same people Hamas is the same ideology like al Qaida, like Hezbollah, and they don’t accept anyone who is different from them. 

The religious assistance came from father Gabriel Nadav, a priest from Nazareth who also prayed together with the crowd. Father Nadav cannot leave the house anymore without security. Many people, including from his hometown of Nazareth, vehemently oppose his opinion that Christians are not Arabs, that they are closer to the Jewish religion and that it is good for them to serve in the IDF.

One of the young Christians who will soon be joining the army is 17-year old Jennifer, who is waving the Israeli flag to the cars passing by, shouting “Hamas out”. A big Christian cross is hanging from her necklace. From all the countries in the Middle East, only in Israel can she live as she wishes and is granted freedom of religion, and that’s a reason to be grateful, she says:

It is very important because we are Christians here, we have been safe. I am not dying over here, they are not killing me, that is because thanks to Israel.

There were also Jewish Israelis present at the Christian protest. Shadi Khalloul called out to the young people of the Likud, who seem to be the closest to his beliefs, to join him and his people. 27-year old Gal, a student from Haifa, is one of the Jews who attended. He thinks that Israel is facing the same problem of Islamic fundamentalism as Iraq.

We came here to show solidarity with the Christians who are demonstrating against the ethnic slaughter in Iraq committed by the ISIS organization. We think it is the same thing there than here.

Jews and Christians protesting together in favor of the state of Israel and in favor of the ongoing war feels like a revolution. Many Christians, says Shadi, think this way. But they are afraid to speak out against the Arab Muslim population. Shadi knows that his group is still a minority and that many people from the Arab community do not appreciate his work. Which is one of the reasons that he carries a gun. He says that he has been carrying it ever since he left the army 16 years ago, because many people didn’t like his decision to voluntarily join the IDF. But the Christian community isn’t being attacked by Muslims alone, but by Jews as well. A couple of months ago, Shadi’s village, Gush Halav, was attacked by radical right-wing Jews, who also sprayed his family’s house. But even this doesn’t make him change his mind:

They don’t represent the whole Jewish population, most of the support us and the government represent the majority of the population support Christians in Israel and it is doing making many laws to protect the population to give them more rights and more freedom in the state.

This is Lissy Kaufmann, reporting for TLV1. 

This is a segment from So Much to Say: Listen to the full show.