Yaakov Khalloul, a two-year-old Christian child from the Galilee, made history on Monday when he became the first person in Israel’s modern history to be officially registered as an Aramean.
To date, all Christians in Israel have been registered with population authorities as Arabs, given that for most, their mother tongue is Arabic. But last month, outgoing Interior Minister Gideon Sa’ar issued a directive permitting local Christians to now be voluntarily registered according to a more ancient ancestry.
“We are not Arabs. We are simply Christians who speak Arabic,” noted Father Gabriel Naddaf in an interview with Israeli media last year. The Nazareth-based priest who has been actively encouraging young Christians to join the Israeli army, noted that Aramean Christians were living in this region long before the Arab Muslim conquest.
That sentiment was echoed earlier this year by Knesset Member and coalition chairman Yariv Levin (Likud) when he proposed the first bit of legislation recognizing a separate and distinct Christian minority in Israel.
“This is a historic and important step that can help to balance the State of Israel and to further connect us and the Christians, and I’m careful not to call them Arabs, because they are not Arabs,” said Levin.
Young Yaakov Khalloul’s father, Shadi Khalloul (pictured), whom Israel Today has featured in many stories, has long been at the forefront of the movement to revive the ancient Aramean identity, culture and language.
In remarks to the Israeli newspaper Ma’ariv, Khalloul was overjoyed by finally being able to register his own children according to their true heritage.
“Finally, after 1,400 years of the Middle East being occupied and controlled by different forces, the Jews come along and recognize us, the Aramean people, who are even now being persecuted by Islamist forces (ISIS) in Iraq and elsewhere,” said Khalloul. “Here, at the hands of the Jews, we receive justice.”