The events in the Middle East have unleashed deep sociological and ideological processes, of which we are only seeing the beginning. It is not only political Islam in the eye of the media storm. Throughout the various Arab countries in the region, the bruised and battered Christian community is raising its voice. Israel appears to be the only country in the region whose Christian community does not have a negative emigration ratio as its members flee West in pursuit of a more promising life.
Recent newspaper headlines involve Christian Israelis who are setting themselves apart from their Muslim counterparts, disproving the traditional perception of Israel's Arab population as homogenous. They want to join the Israel Defense Forces.
Against the backdrop of hysteria expressed by Arab MKs who object to national service of any kind, but particularly in the army, the comments emanating from Israel's Christian Arab community sound like a cultural and social declaration of independence.
Now comes the next phase in the independence process: forming a political party. As of today, the Arab Christian party will be named Habrit Hahadashah (The New Alliance -- the word "brit," which also means covenant, references the New Testament).
This is a historic turning point with profound and far-reaching consequences for Israeli society. If the party is successful, it will provide an alternative for that sector of Israel's Arab population that seeks full partnership in Israeli society, and which sees a Jewish democratic Israel as its home.
Israel Hayom sat down with the leader of the initiative, professional ship captain Bashara Shlayan (58) from Nazareth.
"The entire thing started from the fact that I wanted to get my nephew into the army and there were difficulties, they really didn't want him to integrate. Today he is a major in a combat unit," Shlayan says.
"When I wanted my son to join the army we decided to create a forum for Christian enlistment. We also invited priests from the church to a conference we held in Nazareth Illit. One of them is the Church patriarch, Father Gabriel Nadaf [who has drawn the ire of Arab MKs recently for encouraging Christian Arab youth to join the IDF], who preferred [our way] and said we were right."
Shlayan is proud that the forum was able to get a representative from the community assigned to work at the IDF's enlistment offices.
"We saw that we needed to create a political party," he says. "There were articles about us published in the Arab newspapers and it sparked interest throughout the region that there is an Arab Christian in Israel who recognizes the land of Israel as belonging to the Jews."
How do you define yourselves?
"Firstly we are completely Israeli, and then comes religion."
Shlayan is not fooling himself. In fact, he gives the impression that he was pushed into this position for lack of an alternative. He says he has also been met with skepticism that anything can actually be changed.
"People see what is happening now in Lebanon, Egypt and Syria. They understand where we are living. I tell them, 'For 65 years we have given to the Arab communist parties; 65 years and they have done nothing!' Give me three years, I will manage and solve their problems."
They haven't done anything?
"Look at what the Arab parties have done. Just talking nonsense about nothing but communism; [MK Dov] Khenin and [MK Mohammad] Barakeh (Hadash), what have they done for us? They want us to disappear and are not acting according to the integrity of their country's citizens."
"The integrity is very simple. A person belongs to his country. This is the integrity. You need to be like any citizen. If you were in America, you wouldn't be an American? At least in Israel, those who stayed here have been given the right to be a citizen and to integrate. But Israel's first demand, which I support -- and which needs to be understood -- is that Israel is the home of the Jewish people."
What is your opinion about the automatic position taken by the Arab parties against Israel and in support of the Palestinians?
"It's stupidity. You can be against something pertaining to a certain matter, but the state does a lot of things, so be a partner! Don't always be against. They think being against Israel is Arab nationalism, that it is the manly thing. But if you oppose this way of thinking, you are a traitor. This is what needs to be changed. It's stupidity. So I demand that we, the Christians, be recognized as loyal citizens of the state."