It is time for most children in this region to head off to summer camp, and the Arabic-speaking Christians largely concentrated in Israel’s north are no exception.
But while Israeli Jewish children will be doing largely recreational activities and Palestinian kids in Gaza will be training for violence at the hands of Hamas, the Christians will be reconnecting to their ancient Aramean roots.
The Israeli Christian Aramaic Summer Camp began last Thursday under the auspices of the Israeli Aramaic Christian Association (ICAA) in the Galilee town of Kfar Baram.
Prior to the start of the camp, the ICAA published the following Hebrew-language press release:
"…[From] July 30 - August 3 will be held the first Christian Aramean children’s camp following the historic recognition by the State of Israel and the Jewish people of the Arabic-speaking Christians in the Land as the descendants of the Aramean nation.
"The Israeli Aramaic Christian Association under the management of IDF Maj. (res.) Shadi Khalloul…persists despite various attacks, provocations and threats emanating from Arab and Islamist elements that are determined to prevent us from returning to our Aramean roots and preserving our language that was in the past shared by Jews and Arameans living in the Land.
"We as a movement will continue to strengthen our partnership with the Jews and be loyal citizens of the state… We will continue the struggle to preserve our heritage and our language centered on the ancient settlement of Kfar Baram.
“The Maronite Christians of Baram have integrated into the State of Israel in various roles, including as member of the security forces and the IDF. Many also do national service and enjoy a dignified life together with their brothers, the Jews, in the State of Israel.”
As noted in the press release, the camp will be held in and with a focus on Kfar Baram, which is of great symbolic importance to the Israeli Christian community.
Kfar Baram was originally a Jewish village dating back at least till the time of Queen Esther. Remains of a large ancient synagogue are clearly visible. At some point between the 7th and 13th centuries AD, Jews abandoned the village for unknown reasons. Several centuries later, Kfar Baram had become a fully Christian village.
During the War of Independence in 1948, the IDF captured Kfar Baram and resettled its Christian population elsewhere. Due to the village’s close proximity to the Lebanese border, and Israel’s wary approach at the time to Arabic-speaking Christians, the inhabitants were forbidden to return to Kfar Baram after the war for fear it would become a point of terrorist infiltration.
That fear has clearly been put to rest today, as Israel now views its Christian population as a loyal and integral part of Israeli society. As such, the Israeli Christian Aramaic Association is at the forefront of efforts to rebuild Kfar Baram and return the community to its ancestral home.
In a previous interview, Khalloul told Israel Today that rebuilding Kfar Baram is important not only to local Christians, but to Israel at large as it would blunt the Arabs’ ability to cynically use Christians in their anti-Israel agenda.