Another interesting aspect of Pope Francis’ visit to the region this week involved the Maronite Church, whose Lebanon-based patriarch defied hostile Arab voices and joined the pontiff in Israel.
The Maronite Church is part of the broader Catholic Church. It has traditionally been far less hostile toward Israel than other churches in the Middle East. That is especially true of the Maronites living in Israel, a great many of whom volunteer to serve in the IDF.
But there is one stain on relations between Israel and its Maronites - the fate of the northern Israel village of Kfar Baram.
Kfar Baram was originally a Jewish village dating back at least till the time of Queen Esther. Remains of a large ancient synagogue remain at the site. 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 Israel Defense Forces 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 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. And so, the Maronites would like to rebuild Kfar Baram and return to their ancestral homes, and they want the Patriarch Bechara Boutros al-Rahi, who will visit the site on Wednesday, to get the ball rolling.
But, as Maronite spokesman Shadi Khalloul stressed to Israel Today, the issue must not be allowed “to be used by the Arabs in their agenda against our country, Israel.” The matter of Kfar Baram is an internal matter unrelated to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Khalloul stated.
Read the full press release from the Committee of Kafr Baram Maronite Families:
On May 28th, the Patriarch of the Aramaic Syriac Maronite Church Bechara Boutros al-Rahi will visit the uprooted Israeli Maronite village of Kafr Baram. A coalition representing many of the Israeli Christian Maronite families from this sole Israeli Maronite village sent a letter to the Patriarch asking him to have the courage to enter into dialogue with Israeli leaders in order to end the families’ suffering.
As stated in their letter: ‘Kfar Baram is the only Aramaic Maronite village in Israel, its people are pure Maronite from Lebanese origins and roots, and the village has a unique case and struggle unrelated to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In this case, Israeli Maronite citizens are asking their Jewish democratic state and their Jewish brothers for justice. Our Maronite forefathers in Kfar Baram and in Lebanon assisted and gave shelter to persecuted Jews in Syria and the Palestine Mandate during the Holocaust and the founding of Israel. Your visit must open a lost dialogue and give new hope for better Jewish-Christian relations, in particular regarding the Maronite population. This is the only way to solve the conflict. We as Israeli Christians in general, and Maronites in particular, enjoy freedom in all aspects of life, and live better than many Christians under Arab regimes, but we lack just one thing, and that is fulfillment of Israel’s promise to rebuild our village of Kfar Baram.’
PHOTO: Ruins of the ancient synagogue at Kfar Baram