Many Israeli Christians Condemn Hamas and Support Israel
They warn that the Islamist group that launched the Oct. 7 terror attacks is a deadly danger to anyone who doesn’t share its fundamentalist Muslim beliefs.
JERUSALEM — On Oct. 7, when Shadi Khalloul, a prominent member of Israel’s ancient Aramean-Maronite Christian community, heard that Hamas terrorists had killed 1,200 people in Israel and kidnapped 240 more, he feared not only for the safety of Israel but for the well-being of his own community in northern Israel.
Hamas, which rules Gaza, is considered a terrorist organization by the U.S. government. An Islamic fundamentalist movement often likened to the Islamic State group (ISIS), it has vowed to destroy Israel and spread Islam and sharia (Islamic law) throughout the world.
“Our community existed here before the Arab conquest” of the Holy Land in the seventh century, “and we faced genocide from that Islamic invasion,” Khalloul told the Register. “This is exactly what we saw on Oct. 7.”
Khalloul, whose Arabic- and Aramean-speaking community is considered “Arab Israeli” by the Israeli government but is not ethnically Arab or Palestinian, said Hamas is a danger to all.
When Palestinians and their allies chant “From the River to the Sea,” he said, “it means they don’t want Israel to exist. What Christians don’t realize is that to Islamic Jihadists all non-Muslims are infidels. If Israel ceases to exist here, we Christians will cease to exist.”
Khalloul, a major in Israel’s army reserves, believes that widespread international Christian support for an immediate Israeli cease-fire is akin “to supporting the devil” because it will only serve to embolden Hamas. He called on Christians “to stop supporting ideologies that support the annihilation of Israel.”
Pope Francis has repeatedly called for a cease-fire and the return of the hostages Hamas kidnapped to Gaza.
While many of Israel’s 180,000 Arabic-speaking Christian citizens do not feel comfortable speaking out publicly against Hamas or in support of the Israeli military, most feel that they belong in Israel and share in its destiny.
In a December 2023 opinion poll conducted by the Israel Democracy Institute, 73% of Arabic-speaking Christians said they “felt a part of the State of Israel.” Among Muslims, the number was 62%, while 80% of Druze Israelis, who practice an offshoot of Islam, expressed a sense of belonging.
These numbers rose sharply following the Hamas massacre, according to the December poll.
Arabic-speaking Israelis have gone to great lengths to ensure that relations between Jews and Arabs remain peaceful. On Oct. 7, parliamentarian Mansour Abbas, who heads the Islamic Ra’am party, called on “all Arab and Jewish citizens to maintain restraint and behave responsibly and patiently, and to maintain law and order.”
When Hamas urged Israeli Arabs to rise up against Israel, Muslim lawmaker Ayman Odeh told a reporter, “Any call for militant actions and igniting a war between Arabs and Jews inside Israel is something we will not accept.”
The Catholic Focus
For its part, the Catholic Church in Jerusalem has focused most of its wartime statements and efforts on the heartbreaking plight of Palestinian Christians in Gaza. The remnants of the already dwindling community — there were only 1,000 Christians in Gaza prior to the war — have taken refuge in two churches in the north of the territory. Their tiny enclave was hit repeatedly by Israeli airstrikes and sniper fire after Hamas used the surrounding area as a launching pad for attacks. More than 20 of Gaza’s Christians have been killed by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), according to Church officials, and the community is homeless.
In the West Bank, Israel’s tightened security measures and dearth of tourists to Bethlehem has made life more difficult for Palestinians, both Christian and Muslim.
Father Ibrahim Nino, media director of the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, said the patriarchate recognizes that Israeli Christians are also suffering from the war — Hamas has launched more than 11,000 rockets at Israeli towns and cities — but unlike Palestinians in the West Bank or Gaza, these residents have access to Israel’s economic safety net.
“Our main concern right now is relieving the conditions for people in Gaza and the West Bank, but different offices in the patriarchate are trying to find solutions for Christians in Israel. It’s a work in progress,” Father Nino said.
George Akroush, director of projects at the patriarchate, noted that Christians living within Israel’s 1948 borders “are widely affected by the total paralysis in the tourism sector, which many of them work in, let alone the economic hardships caused directly and indirectly by the war.”
The patriarchate and various dioceses are trying to help Israel’s needy Christians “within its limited means,” Akroush said, adding that unlike Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, the Israeli government provides some support to its citizens in the form of unemployment benefits and assistance to small businesses hit by the wartime slowdown.
Despite their fears for innocent Muslims and Christians in the West Bank and Gaza, many Arabic-speaking Christians in Israel believe that pro-Palestinian activists, whether governments or Christian leaders from abroad, are downplaying Israel’s legitimate security concerns.
“The fact that South Africa brought Israel up on war crimes while it hosts Hamas’ leaders is a travesty,” said one Christian resident of Tel Aviv-Jaffa, who requested anonymity. “The very notion that Hamas, which raped dozens of women and girls, beheaded people and burned them alive, is a legitimate resistance movement is ridiculous.”
Joseph Haddad, a Greek Orthodox Christian who advocates for Israel, is perturbed that pro-Palestinian activists claim that Jesus was a Palestinian and share memes like “If Jesus was alive today he would be under the rubble in Gaza.”
In a Christmastime video, Haddad said that Jesus was born to Jewish parents and that Palestine did not exist when Jesus lived. “In fact, there were not even Arabs,” Haddad said. “Arabs invaded and conquered the Holy Land in 636 CE. There were no Arabs. So Jesus could not be a Palestinian or even an Arab. There are people today trying to politicize, trying to promote their own agenda. But making Jesus a political point is wrong.”
Others strongly disagree. Artist Rana Bishara, a Palestinian Christian who lives in Israel, created a piece of art that depicts Baby Jesus in an incubator, lying on a Palestinian head scarf, in artificial blood. The installation was exhibited near the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem around Christmas.
“The Christ is affected by the Israeli bombs that claim the lives of people and children in Gaza,” Bishara told journalists, referring to the danger posed to three dozen Palestinian infants when IDF actions cut off electricity to Gaza’s Al-Shifa Hospital in November. Five babies reportedly died as a result.
Economic Hardships and Fear
John Zaknoun, a member of the Aramean Christian community, says his community is proudly Zionist — believing that Israel has the right to exist and defend its citizens.
“We support the state; we support the IDF. We are an integral part of the state. But because we are still considered Arabs, others look at us with suspicion,” he said. “Still, I’ve served in the army; I worked for the Ministry of Finance, and now in tourism.”
The company Zaknoun works for is struggling due to the war, because 60%-70% of tourists come from abroad.
Like other Israelis, he dreams of peace but doesn’t believe it will come any time soon.
“My Christianity doesn’t allow me to hate people. But I really hate the teachings and actions of Hamas-ISIS, which even Arabs here understand are terrorist in nature. I don’t think they will change. They believe the whole Earth should be theirs. When you look at the situation, there are two options: Either Israel will cease to exist or Hamas will be gone.”
The most painful part of the war for Zaknoun is how it has affected his family. His 16-year-old daughter cannot get the images of Oct. 7 — which she saw on social media — out of her head. Zaknoun’s 2-year-old granddaughter has become fearful and less verbal.
“Our children feel the fear,” he said. “The children in Gaza feel the fear.”