Maronite Church in Israel
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Maronites in Israel (Arabic: الموارنة في إسرائيل) belong to the Maronite Catholic Church, which has historically been tied with Lebanon. They derive their name from the Syriac Saint Maron, whose followers moved to Mount Lebanon from northern Syria, establishing the Maronite Church, most of whose members currently live in Lebanon. The Maronites in Israel encompass the long existing Aramaean community in Jish area and the families of former South Lebanon Army members, 7,000 of them who fled South Lebanon in April–May 2000 to Israel. Of the 7,000 SLA and their families who left their family members and belongings in Lebanon, just 2,700 have remained in Israel. Over the years, many of them decided to return home to Lebanon, while others left for Europe and the US.
The Maronite community in Israel is trying to revive the ancient Western Neo-Aramaic language, which used to be the lingua franca of the region after the spread of Christianity, and a common language within the Maronite community until the 16th century. The Maronite-majority town of Jish has recently initiated official teaching of neo-Aramaic language in a local school, with approval of the Israeli Ministry of Education.
The Maronites in Israel and the Palestinian territories are subject to either the Maronite Catholic Archeparchy of Haifa and the Holy Land, or the Maronite Catholic Patriarchal Exarchate of Jerusalem and Palestine, both in turn subject to the Patriarch of Antioch, but since 1996 both these branches of the Maronite Church have been in the pastoral care of one single bishop, being united for now in persona episcopi.
The Maronite community in upper Galilee spans from the 18th century, being concentrated in the villages of Iqrit, Kafr Bir'im and Jish. Following the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, the Maronite villages of Iqrit and Kafr Bir'im were ordered to evacuate by the IDF, due to their proximity to the border with Lebanon. However, the Maronite residents have never been allowed to return, finally taking residence in the nearby towns of Jish and Rameh, which in turn had emptied from much of its Arab Muslim population earlier. The Maronites have formed the biggest group of Jish's population to this day.
The Maronite population of Israel has significantly increased, following the May 2000 withdrawal of IDF from southern Lebanon. Several thousands of former SLA militia members and their families, mostly Lebanese Maronites, fled from South Lebanon to the Galilee during April–May 2000. While many of them later immigrated to France, Canada, United States and South America, a bulk of them have remained, joining the existing Maronite communities of Galilee and establishing new ones, most notably in the Northern Israeli cities of Nahariya, Safed and Kiryat-Shemona.
Maronite Church in Israel
The Maronite Church has been in formal communion with the Roman Catholic Church since 1182. As a Uniate church (a sui juris Eastern Church in communion with Rome, which yet retains its own language, rites and canon law), it has its own liturgy, which basically follows the Antiochene rite in classical Syriac. The Maronite Patriarchal Vicariate in Jerusalem dates from 1895.
In 2014, Israel has decided to recognize the Aramean community within its borders as a national minority, allowing some of the Christians in Israel to be registered as "Aramean" instead of "Arab". The Christians, who may apply for recognition as Aramean, are mostly Galilean Maronites, who trace their culture, ancestry and language to Arameans.
Traditionally, neo-Aramaic had been the spoken language of the Maronites up to the 17th century, then Arabic took its place, while classical Syriac remained in use only for liturgical purposes. Recently, the Jish community has made efforts to revive neo-Aramaic to the level of a spoken language. Although the vast majority of Maronites in the Middle East are currently Arabic-speakers, the Jish Maronite community of Galilee is unique, as they have retained a "Hebrew-like" tongue, traced to Aramaic.
Recently, the Israeli Ministry of Education provided an official status to Aramaic language studies for children in Jish school.
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