Israeli Christians will be able to legally define themselves on legal documents as Aramean following a decision by the Interior Ministry on Wednesday.
The move is the culmination of a years-long process by some Israeli Christians to carve out an identity distinct from Muslim Arabs in Israel. In February, a bill drawing a legal distinction between Israel’s Muslim and Christian Arabs was approved by the Knesset, recognizing Christian Arabs as a separate minority in Israel for the first time.
The Interior Ministry contended that in order to be recognized as Aramean, one should be conversant in the Aramaic language, and come from the Maronite, Greek Orthodox, Greek Catholic, Syriac Catholic or Orthodox Aramaic factions, the i24 news outlet reported.
The Christian Aramaic Association said Israel will “greatly benefit” from the decision, adding that the move righted “a long-standing wrong,” according to i24.
Aramaic, a Semitic language, was for centuries spoken by an array of communities and ethnic groups across the Levant, including Jews and early Christians. Parts of the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Biblical Book of Daniel, and a majority of both the Babylonian and the Jerusalem Talmud are written in different dialects of Aramaic.
Many scholars believe Jesus himself spoke primarily in Aramaic, and the language is still prominent in the liturgies and prayer services of several Eastern Christian communities, especially in the Middle East.
Israel’s Christian Arab citizens account for roughly 10 percent of Israel’s 1.5 million Arab citizens. The Christians, a minority within a minority, have excelled scholastically and professionally in Israel while steadfastly maintaining their Arab nationalism and Palestinian identity. However, IDF enlistment among the Christian population has seen a sharp increase in recent years, despite the fact that military service remains voluntary for the community.
Adiv Sterman contributed to this report.