Aramean Maronite Christian homes

Aramean Maronite Christian homes by Anita363.

Some considerably newer ruins across the lawn from the ancient synagogue we went to visit in Bar Am, 3 km (2 mi) from the Lebanese border. Until 1948, this was the home of Aramean Maronite Christians, friends and allies of the Jews. During fighting with Arab armies here in the War of Independence, the Israeli commander asked them to evacuate, promising that they would be allowed to return in 2 weeks.

They’re still waiting. And this even though the Israeli Supreme Court finally ruled in their favor. That was 6 years ago.

We learned the story from a man who left his family picnic on the park lawn and came over to talk when he saw our interest in the unmarked ruins. Now, my husband loves to schmooze. One of his great joys in traveling is striking up conversations with the locals and learning a little about their lives. So here was a golden opportunity: a local who struck up a conversation with him.

Our new friend, Shadi Khalloul, told us this used to be his family’s village. He identified himself as a Semitic Aramean Maronite Christian, and explained each of those terms in turn. His people aren’t Arabs, he told us. They’re a Semitic people who have lived since antiquity in the area that is now northern Israel and southern Lebanon. They have defended their land and kept their faith for 1,500 years. They held out against the Arabs -- newcomers to the Levant, who invaded from the Arabian Peninsula in the 7th century CE, converting everyone in their path to Islam at the point of a scimitar and extending hegemony across the entire Middle East and North Africa. They held out against the the Ottomans from Turkey; and so on.

The Aramaic alphabet was the ancestor of the present Hebrew one, and independently of Arabic script (see
en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aramaic_alphabet ). Arameans still worship in Aramaic, the language spoken here at the time their religion began, and have kept that language alive, just as Jews have kept Hebrew alive. In daily life, however, most of them use the local language of the country in which they live -- which means, for those remaining in this part of the Middle East, Arabic (indeed, they are often called Christian Arabs -- mistakenly, says Shadi). However, there is a recent movement to revive the use of Aramaic in daily life, which Shadi has been active in. He pointed us at his organization’s website, aramaic-center.com/aramaic.html .

I wasn’t clear on why the villagers were not allowed to return after evacuating. I get the impression it was basically a case of ‘the fog of war’. And I can well imagine the villagers’ claim being unfairly lumped (both legally and in the popular perception) with the right of return for Palestinians, many of whom deserted their land with every expectation that after the Jews were “driven into the sea” by the overwhelming might of the surrounding Arab armies, they would get to return and reclaim not only their own land but the Jews’ too.

We ran this story by various Israeli friends and family during the rest of our trip. Invariably they not only were familiar with the case (not surprisingly; see more of the saga at
en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kafr_Bir'im ) but agreed that it was a terrible injustice. The website of present-day Kibbutz Bar-Am also mentions the situation ( www.baram.org.il/public/htmls/articleeng.aspx?C2047=12329... ).

When we toured the Israeli Supreme Court building (which included an excellent briefing on the Israeli legal system, as well as on the striking architecture), I asked our tour guide about the case. “How is it possible that the Supreme Court has ruled and yet the ruling hasn’t been carried out?” The idea that law enforcement personnel would -- or could -- simply choose to ignore an order of the Supreme Court was downright bewildering to us Americans. In the US, judges, although in many respects more limited in their scope and power than judges in the British legal system, have ample teeth to enforce their decisions -- up to and including jailing people for contempt of court. Her candid answer was that this is indeed a weakness of the Israeli system: the court just doesn’t have the muscle it needs.

We stood and talked with our new Aramean Maronite friend at Bar Am until park closing time. His people will wait as long as it takes, he assured us. Meanwhile, I guess they come here to picnic, and visit the ruins of their homes, and tell their story to anyone who’ll listen. 

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