National Law: Lessons Learned From Christian Lebanon (Shadi Khalloul)
The modern State of Lebanon was established by Maronite Christians, as a shelter for them and other persecuted Christian communities in the Middle East. The goal of the founders of the State of Lebanon, experienced with persecution and genocide, was to protect and cultivate, in their own state, their language, Aramaic, and their unique Phoenician-Aramaic culture. The Muslim population of Lebanon was not a partner to this national vision, and due to differences of opinion, the Maronites were compelled to abandon their national ambitions. With no other choice, they agreed to the establishment of a state of all its citizens that, to their chagrin, joined the Arab League.
Unfortunately, not only did this solution not bring peace and calm, but it created tensions among the major national and ethnic groups within Lebanon until the situation finally deteriorated into bloody war. The Muslims did not at all see themselves as part of an independent Lebanese country and instead they nurtured their dream of uniting with their brothers while cooperating with the Arabs in the surrounding region.
These processes brought about increased extremism in the Muslim Arab population in Lebanon, weakening state institutions and causing many Christians to emigrate from the land of their forefathers in which they had thrived for generations. Furthermore, the religious-national tensions in Lebanon created discord among the Christian communities, themselves, that until the 1950s had comprised the majority of the population and today — after innumerous wars and tragedies – they have become a persecuted minority in their own country: from 80% in the 1930s Christians now make up only 35% of the contemporary Lebanese population.
What is the lesson to be learned from Lebanese history with respect to the National Law in Israel? As an Israeli Maronite Aramaic Christian, belonging to the minority and enjoying freedom in Israel, I actually understand the importance of this Law. Yes, our forefathers supported, for ideological reasons, the realization of the Jewish nation in the Land of Israel. But my support of the National Law arises as well from the bitter Lebanese experience: I believe that Jewish Nationalism declared by Israeli law in fact guarantees that she will continue to be a democracy, and it also promises me that I will remain secure as a member of a religious minority.
Experience teaches us that the Jewish majority in Israel appreciates democracy and is faithful to its principles. A state of all its citizens (meaning: a state of all its national groups), on the other hand, is liable to duplicate the Lebanese tragedy here in Israel. Recent history proves that there is good reason to suspect that without the fortification in law of Jewish nationality, national and religious tensions would grow and intensify. Supported by elements outside the country, the Arab Muslims of Israel would seek to join with their Palestinian brothers, and after that to unite with the larger Arab world around us.
It must be emphasized that the Jewish state is based upon the Jews as a People and not on religious law. Therefore, Israel is very different from religious states such as the Islamic Republics that are governed according to Sharia Law. For Jews there is the right of national self-determination, just like the United Kingdom, Poland or Ireland. The National Law is new, but its essence is ancient: it is the culmination of both historical ambition and contemporary reality; this Basic Law, together with earlier Basic Laws promise to maintain the democratic nature of Israel.
In contrast with those opposing the law, I also believe that emphasizing Jewish nationality will promote the Two State Solution, because this law focuses on the value of nationality – and not only religion – in the identity of a state. This is an important basis upon which to build civic stability, standing firm against all the elements negating the Jewishness of the state – both within Israel and without.
In addition, I am hopeful that in the state of the Jewish People, that our forefathers supported, there will be a way for self-expression for loyal minorities like us, who mostly prefer to live and integrate within her. And at the same time, I anticipate that a way will be found to maintain, within Israel, our own identity, culture, and Aramaic language. In contrast with many Palestinians, we seek to accomplish this peacefully and in brotherhood alongside the Jewish majority and not instead of it. Your brothers, the Maronite-Arameans in Kfar Baram await the fulfillment of the just promise of the State of Israel, and I am convinced that now that the nationality of the Jewish People is codified in a Basic Law, the conditions will ripen for the establishment of a settlement for my own community.
Captain (reserves) Shadi Khalloul, of the Aramean-Christian Movement of Israel, founder of the Christian-Jewish Pre-Army Preparatory Program, Kinneret.
This article was originally published in Hebrew in Israel Hayom. This is my translation, published with the author’s permission.