Maronites in Israel
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The Maronites in Israel are a part of the Maronite Catholic Church, which has historically been tied with Lebanon. They derive their name from the Syriac Saint Mar Maron, whose followers moved to Mount Lebanon from northern Syria, establishing the Maronite Church, most of whose members currently live in Lebanon. The Maronite community in Israel numbers about 6,700, most of whom live in Galilee, close to the Lebanese border. The Maronites in Israel encompass the long existing community in Jish area and the families of former South Lebanon Army militia members, who fled South Lebanon in April-May 2000.
The Maronite community in Israel is trying to revive the ancient Syriac language, which used to be lingua franca of the region after the spread of Christianity, and a common language within the Maronite community up 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 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, North America and South America, a bulk of them[vague] have remained, joining the existing Maronite communities of Galilee and establishing new ones, most notably in the Lebanon border-adjustent 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.
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.[discuss]
Recently, the Israeli Ministry of Education provided an official status to Aramaic language studies for children in Jish school.
In a study on Maronites' identity in Israel, performed in Haifa University, it was found that the large majority of this community reject Arab identity in favor of distinct Maronite one.
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