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|Palestinian priest Father Shomali leads an open air mass on church lands |
threatened with confiscation by Israeli authorities for the separation wall
on April 6, 2012 (AFP/Musa al Shaer)
By Alex Shams
BETHLEHEM (Ma'an) -- A new law to create a separate "Christian" nationality for Palestinian citizens of Israel successfully passed through the Knesset on Monday with more than three-quarters of votes in favor.
The bill, which creates a distinction from the existing "Arab" nationality, has raised fears among many Palestinians that a renewed push is underway by the state to divide their society along religious lines.
The law's supporters have made clear that the new measure is not merely a legal formality, but instead intends to de-emphasize the Arab identity of Christians by racializing and politicizing existing religious distinctions.
"It's a historic and important step that could balance the State of Israel and connect us to the Christians, and I am careful not to refer to them as Arabs, because they are not Arabs," sponsor Likud MK Yariv Levin said in January, adding that Christians are "our natural allies," unlike Muslims "who want to destroy the state from within."
On Wednesday, PLO executive committee member Hanan Ashrawi condemned the law, calling it an effort to transform the occupation into "an outright religious confrontation," and stressing that Israel is adopting a "policy of the classification of its citizens based on religion or ethnicity" as part of a larger system of "apartheid."
A Knesset committee is even looking into instituting compulsory army service for Israel's 120,000 Palestinian Christians, a proposal which has raised ire among both Muslims and Christians citizens, who are currently exempted.
But Palestinian society is not taking these efforts lying down.
One member of the Knesset has even called upon the pope to intervene. Civil society groups on both sides of the Green Line, meanwhile, are mobilizing a campaign of local and global resistance to what they fear is a a larger campaign to tear their religiously diverse society apart.
'Divide and rule strategy'
"We will do everything in our power to stop this law," says Rifat Kassis, head of the Palestinian-Christian activist group Kairos.
"We are against it. All informed Christians are against it," he says, highlighting that the vast majority of Christians in Israel as well as the 50,000 Palestinian Christians in the West Bank -- where he is based -- oppose the measure.
"Christians are an integral part of the Palestinian community ... We are Palestinians just like any other."...READ MORE