The Israeli Supreme Court has ruled in favor of an ancient group of Christians who have been campaigning for additional rights under the law.
Aramean Christians speak Aramaic, the language thought to be used by Jesus himself. They are also considered to be some of the earliest recorded followers of Christ. In Israel, however, they have spent years battling for state recognition and access to schools that are supportive of their unique cultural heritage.
But in a landmark ruling delivered last month, the Supreme Court granted the group the right to send their kids to either a Jewish or Arab school of their choice and in turn “preserve and nurture their identity as members of a unique minority group.”
Many Arameans have become concerned at the “Islamization” of Arab schools, fearing that they will no longer be able to express their cultural heritage or freely speak their preferred language. Several of the schools they were forced to attend do use the Hebrew language in their curriculums, let alone Aramaic.
“This was a big injustice for us because it disconnected us from our roots, from our history,” Shadi Khalloul, director of the Israeli Christian Aramaic Association told Christianity Today. “People were not able to learn the basic things about their identity, our language, the language of Jesus.”
A former soldier in the IDF, Khalloul has also felt disturbed by the fact that Arab schools very rarely encourage service in the Israeli forces — an endeavor that is highly respected among the minority religious community.
The most recent ruling originated from an appeal filed by Khalloul after city authorities refused to transport Aramean students to a Jewish school nearby. They were instead forced to attend the Arab school, where their culture was not fully recognized.
Despite parents having to take time off work to ferry their kids to school, the municipality continued to refuse to run buses for Aramean kids. Buses for the Jewish children, who receive free transportation to school, continued. The transportation issue was a subtle form of “oppression” Khalloul said. Now, the city will be expected to offer transportation to the Aramean children and deliver them to any school of their choice.
With this latest win, the Aramean Christians are building upon their fight for full recognition in Israel — their identity was only formally recognized by the state in 2014. Khalloul believes much of his people’s struggle can be traced back to the fact that they desire to be labeled “Arab Christians.”
“We were struggling to fix this identity, and, thanks be to God, we succeeded,” he said of the 2014 ruling. “It means they recognize the early Christians who inhabited this place with them and spoke the language of Jesus.”