persecution of early Christians under the Roman Empire is a matter of great interest and intrigue to many, even today; as is the matter of distinction and distrust between early Jews and Christians. Furthermore, the ironically similar behavior of orthodox Christians towards heretics rouses the curiosity of many scholars. This paper will discuss the effect of Christianity on Romans and their perceptions towards Christians, Christian perceptions and treatment of Jews. The relationship between orthodox Christians and heretics will also be discussed.
Rome before Christianity
The empire of Rome, at the time of Christ’s birth, was one of the two greatest kingdoms and was steadily continuing to flourish and expand, even then. Soon, it covered most of what we now know as Western Europe. The conquered land began from Spain in the west and ended in Syria in the east, while the great countries of England, France and Greece, and the Middle East also came under its influence.
Due to differences in regions, cultural and religious diversity was common and widespread; from the Druids of Britannia to the sidelined Zoroastrians of Persia and the Jews of Judea to the ‘mystery’ religions, these beliefs coexisted under the rule of the Romans. All these beliefs existed side by side for so long that syncretism of these fundamentals was almost inevitable and was readily accepted by almost all. Syncretism, the fusion or combining of different sets of beliefs or ideas, is the reason why the Roman god, Jupiter and the Greek god, Zeus are names associated with one deity — the chief of all gods. Although many differences between both gods are present, since both of them share key qualities, the people of the Roman Empire began to see the two as similar to one another due to repeated exposure to either belief. This was further expanded upon, when Jehovah of the Jews and the sky god of the Gauls were seen as the Jewish and French equivalent of the , respectively.
Here it can be seen that polytheism was not only allowed but was encouraged, as the Romans’ main concern was the discipline of their rule and any such idea that enabled them to go about their reign efficiently was supported; polytheism allowed those within the Empire to embrace many different gods without asserting the supremacy of a single deity and ensured no one religion to be superior over any other. Now one might wonder why, in a vast kingdom where many contrasting religions and beliefs are being practiced, Christianity was the only one that was singled out and considered strange and wrong to the point that those who followed Christianity were cast out and victimized. It is indeed a valid question and by looking at this radical change, as Christianity rightly was, through the perspective of Romans, this paper seeks to understand the reasoning behind the overwhelmingly negative behavior of Romans towards early Christians.
There were some major and distinct differences between the polytheistic religions and Christianity, which led the Romans to regard Christianity with wariness and suspicion. “Where Christians were staunch believers in life after death, only Homer had ever given mention to a possibility of life after the end of one’s time in the material world, and that too was vague and insubstantial” (Bainton, 97). The polytheistic religions that ruled the land were concerned simply with their time in the world and how they spent it, and a strange and foreign notion as that of the ‘afterlife’ was immediately met with rejection and contempt.
The concept of sin, once again, was not present in the major Roman religions and no action was considered to be an obstacle towards the road to salvation as that, itself, was a tale of fiction to the Romans. In direct contrast to this, Christians (and Jews) believed firmly in the consequences of misdeeds or sins and their actions and general behavior were always influenced by their belief in the idea of divine punishment for their wrongdoings.
Where Christianity built its foundation on orthodoxy, or believing correctly, other religions based themselves on the idea of orthopraxy, which is to practice correctly. “Polytheistic Romans were all about the rites and rituals pertaining to everyday activities in their lives; farmers would perform sacrifices that would be completely different in both timings and procedure from those performed by a statesman” (Bainton, 99).
The accuracy of performing these rituals was stressed highly and tales of swift, harsh consequences in case of neglecting or incorrectly carrying out the prescribed method of appeasing the relevant gods make up a good part of Roman literature.
Roman attitude towards other religions
Polytheism became the standard for Romans and unsurprisingly, when Christianity began to raise its head and expand its wings, it was met with firm resistance. However, it cannot be said that Romans were wholly intolerant of religions that differed from the norm; Zoroastrianism and Judaism were monotheistic in nature and yet both were accepted, and even made exceptions for, under Roman rule. Although an argument can be made that Zoroastrians belonged mainly to Persia, a part of the Roman empire that was politically independent of Rome, which is why it was not challenged and attacked, this does not hold true for the Jews.
The Jews were opposed by Romans simply due to the rigidity of their monotheistic beliefs; however, they were still well and truly left alone by the Romans, except in instances where the Jews interfered and disrupted the order of their reign. Syncretism allowed Romans to become flexible and open to new beliefs since their major incentive of taking over a new region was not conversion, but expansion of their territory, and as long as a religion posed no threat to their governance, it was acknowledged and allowed.
The Jews were not persecuted due to their religious beliefs and the only opposition they faced by the Romans were in incidents that were politically charged. The great Julius Caesar himself made allowances for the Jews, in the form of exemption from paying taxes and becoming part of the Roman army in the Sabbatical years. It is rather clear that although the Romans were wary, as most would have been, when faced with foreign and unique concepts, they were not as openly hostile towards any particular religion as they were towards Christianity. We are now faced with the question of why and how this came to be.
The Romans’ perceptions of Christianity
“Before Paul’s endeavors of spreading Christianity’s message in Asia Minor and Judea began to result in large numbers of converts, Christianity was simply an extension of Judaism to Romans and was barely given any notice to as a separate set of beliefs. Thus, when the relationship between the Jews and the Romans began to fray, it affected Christianity in a negative manner as well” (Simmons, 2012).
The Jews were driven out of Rome due to the nefarious actions and disturbances caused by a man named Chrestus, according to Roman biographer Suetonius. Some historians and scholars are of the opinion that Chrestus could be the erroneous spelling of Christus while most are of the thought that the real reason behind the exile of the Jews was actually the friction between early Christians and Jews. The very first persecutions and attacks against Christians were in fact carried out by the frontrunners of the Jewish community, and this was further exacerbated by the Romans.
When the message of Christianity began to gain support and popularity, at first, the Romans were not really surprised or affected as we are now at such a novel and strange idea. This is because Classic Roman literature consists of tales similar to that of Jesus, the son of God born to a mortal virgin woman — Romulus and Hercules are two of the most famous examples of this. The major difference that roused the Romans suspicion and anger was the stern belief in a single deity and while the Jews had similar basic beliefs, early Christians were far keener and eager in their efforts to spread the message of Christianity and actively participated in the conversion of the general Roman population.
Another source for general incredulity of the Romans about the resurrection of Christ after his crucifixion by Roman officials was the lack of believable witnesses; the testament of a group of women and supporters of the executed were not to be relied upon for authentic accounts of such an unbelievable story. Furthermore, due to the absence of the concept of sin from the polytheistic system of religions that influenced the Roman Empire, the depth and true meaning of the idea that Jesus Christ sacrificed himself so that the sins of humankind may be washed away was completely lost on the Romans. The steady and sure rise of Christianity and the continuing conversions greatly irked the Roman officials as such a large part of their kingdom was being lost to a faction that was previously not even classified as a threat; they begun to fear the loss of social, legal and political power.
The persecution of early Christians by Romans
Before becoming a prominent and established religion, Christianity was a persecuted religion in the Roman Kingdom. It progressed from a small religion to well established one in the medieval West, and elsewhere for that matter. However, the history of its persecution needs to be revisited.
“Where there were some periods in the early centuries of the AD era, the Christians were generally punished and prosecuted and were often killed by the Romans. Christians, as a group, were first prosecuted by the Roman emperor Nero. This was not only the first time they were subjected to punishment, but also this was the worst kind of persecution they had ever received” (Lunn-Rockliffe, 2011).
The event that led to this worst kind of persecution from the Nero in the year 64 AD was the colossal fire that broke out in Rome. This fire was responsible for the destruction of much of the city. There were rumors circulating that no one else but Nero himself was responsible for the outbreak of this fire. Taking advantage of the destruction that resulted from this fire, Nero managed to build an extravagant palace for himself at the place where the fire had destroyed the site. “Nero could not come up with a better idea to divert the attention of the people from the rumors than to order the kidnapping and killing of the Christians. These Christians were kidnapped, beaten up like dogs, meanwhile the others burnt alive. Over another hundred years or more, not many Christians were persecuted until the mid of the third century. In the mid-third century, the Romans emperors started the Christian persecutions intensively” (Bainton, 87).
Reasons for Persecutions
The level of persecution of the Christians in Rome depended on the governors and emperors of a particular time or era. There were many reasons for the persecutions of the Christians, as individuals as well as a group. The Pagans of Rome reckoned that some of the Christians we indulged in cannibalism and incest. Moreover, the Pagans also used to get infuriated when the Christians denied the sacrifice to the Roman gods. It was considered to be an insult for the Romans. This situation was further aggravated when the Christians refused to offer sacrifice for the Roman emperor, who was considered to be a semi-divine monarch by the Romans.
Another reason for the persecution of Christians, apart from the colossal fire during the reign of Nero, was the decline of the economy and instability in Rome. The Pagans as well as the Christians had to suffer this downfall in the economy and inflation that caused them to become intolerant towards each other. Since the Pagans were the more dominated group, persecution came in the part of Christians.
Christian Perceptions of Jews
Jews were also present in the Christian society just like the heretics. However, they were not considered by the Christians as people who shared their faith. There were three religions in the society and all the three groups were separated by distinct boundaries. All the three different groups had different attitude towards the other two. The event that led to strict barriers between Christians and Jews was the extensive campaign that was carried out against the heretical sects in the thirteenth century. Moreover, the perception of Jews in the Christian society was based on two levels. The first level was the physical one; meanwhile the other one was a theological one. Both these levels were not the same.
The Jew that was present in the thoughts and imagination of the Christian was the theological Jew. Furthermore, the theological Jew was considered to have formed an important part of the Christian society and was an internal but separate entity with different characteristics. According to some sources, in spite the absence of the real Jews, they were considered as the theological or the imagined ones by the Christians.
The key to understand the code of conduct of the Christians with the Jews in the Middle Ages and particularly in the thirteenth century was to comprehend the theme of boundary between the two religions. We find out according to some sources that the Jews became an important part of the Christian environment, where they progressed and made good relations with the Christians, by the thirteenth century. There were times when the Christians could not be differentiated from the Jews because of the similar dressing, language as well as customs. The only place where the two groups differed was the religious practices.
Needless to say, Jews were nothing more than just a minority in the Christian society where they have gained the permission to live and work. As the Jews were a part of the Christian society and lived throughout the Christian West, they were required to maintain a code of relative tolerance. This tolerance was inspired in part by the desire of the authoritative bodies to maintain proper law in order in the region and in part by the basic Christian theological perception of the Jews. However, the state of tolerance and stability in which the Jews were living in the Christian society were interrupted off and on by outbreaks of intolerance that used to become violent attacks in extreme cases. Attacks like these used to swing the situation from tolerant to intolerant.
The treatment of Jews in the Christian society started worsening as the solidarity in the Christian world increased. The concept of Christian solidarity meant the delineation of other groups and formation of new legislation regarding the Jews.
Treatment of Jews by Christians
As mentioned earlier, when the wave of solidarity emerged in the Christian world, the conflict between the Christians and Jews also increased. The interaction between the Christians and the Hews did not decline, and Christians were seen participating in Sabbath worship, but the conflicts did not resolve. As this conflict further exacerbated, the writers of the New Testament were negatively influenced. There are many places where the author of gospel of John has associated Jews with darkness and devil. This led to the perception of Jews as agents of devil in the minds of Christians for a very long period of time.
Later on, in the second century, the Jews were being written as the “rejected people” by the Fathers of the Church. They were also characterized as people who were ill-fated and destined to misery. On the other hand, the Jews started to consider the world as “despised people.” “On the other hand, the Jews were also hostile to the Churches as they burnt them down. The Christians did not react to this burning down of the Churches” (Marcus, 125). In some countries of the world, there was a lot of political as well as civil discrimination against the Jews. They were attacked physically and some of them were also killed in this whole situation. There were only a handful of Bishops, Popes and Christian princes who stood up against this violence, but could not win their voice over. Just in the middle of the twentieth century, the followers of the Catholic Church along with some other protesters protested against the anti-Judaic theology.
In the 4th century, Christianity was established as the religion of the state in the entire Roman Empire by Constantine the Great. As a result, many laws were issued that were pro-Christianity but against the Jews. “Constantine was the first Roman emperor who made special discriminatory laws for the Jews. Their participation in politics and other civil matters was also restricted by him. These imperial laws, which limited the rights of the Jews in Rome, had a significant influence on Judaism as it was denied the opportunity to remain a missionary religion because proselytes were prohibited” (Marcus, 3).
“One of the other laws that was also very discriminatory towards the Jews in Rome was the prohibition of marriage between Christian women and Jewish. Later on, this law was made even stricter when all the Jewish and Christian marriage was banned in Rome. The aim behind this prohibition was to halt the conversion and propagation of Judaism and to harm them economically. Moreover, the third law selection that was called Theodosius II forbade any Jew from holding an honorable office in Rome” (Marcus, 3). In the same century, another emperor Theodosius the Great managed to expel the Jews from all the honorable positions. This is the reason why the Christians destroyed the synagogues of the Jews and considered it to be there religious duty.
In the 7th century, the Jews were persecuted in Spain as well. These were the Jews who did not accept to baptize and were made slaves of the people who considered pious Christians. All the children of Jews who were seven years old or older were taken away from their parents and were forcefully given the Christian education. “According to many Christians, they were a distinct identity; however, this could not be deciphered from the difference in their language, customs or country. They claim that they might not have a state of their own, or their own dialect, their faith and teachings could not be understood by the men who claim them to be having some kind of intellect. The increased intolerance towards other minorities was also implied by the statement of some Christians that read that Christians are to the world what soul is to the body” (Bainton, 121).
Orthodox Christian Perceptions
“The Orthodox Christians believe that the church has been uprooted from the land of Palestine almost 2000 years ago. As the word itself is pretty prominent, the word orthodox means something pure and something one can’t argue against. This area of faith was organized by Jesus Christ in a manner subsequent to the call of the first apostles in Galilee.” (Fitzgerald, 3).
“The Orthodox Christians believe that out of all the sects of Christianity present, they are the ones that stayed the most faithful to what the Christ preached. The groups of Orthodox Christians made it their motive to go out and spread the word. Their main goal was to spread the message of the pure and the right religion across the Mediterranean world and even beyond that. The missionaries then kept going to more and more places across Africa, Asia and Europe. The Orthodox Christians believed that the faith they had was a universal one and the right one. They believed that their idea and form of Christianity wasn’t restricted to a certain group of people or a certain time period.” (Fitzgerald, 4)
In the start of the fourth century, subsequent to the cessation of the government, Christian religion was prominent over the Roman Empire. That is to say that Christianity had set its mark and was just spreading into people. Surely, when all the riots calmed down, the actions of the missionaries increased that led to further spread of the religion. After the formation of Christianity as a firm religion, there came the advent of differences. “It is merely on the basis of differences, that the concepts of Orthodoxy and Heresies have been created. Even since the start, there always remained variability in the way church was expressed and followed by different groups of people.” (Fitzgerald, 4)
The idea of differences arose between the Eastern and Western churches were merely due to cultural or political biases. Some of the practices and beliefs did not really pertain to the church thus many people went on to act on it as they wish. The people who took church more seriously thought this was a serious violation of the church, which they considered theirs and thus not subject to any alterations. “A major argument took place in the Eastern part of the Roman-Byzantine Empire. The argument was on the words and the context used to describe the relations of Christ to full divinity and to fully humanity.” (Fitzgerald, 6) It was the differences in perceptions of a certain group of people who later on went onto be a part of the Orthodox Church and thus stand against the Antiochian traditions and the Alexandrian traditions.
The major differences over the Christians present at that time stood up against each other because of two main problems. The first one was over a statement present in the testament and the second was the unfairness shown by the Bishop. “There was a statement present in the testament known as filioque which basically “and from the son” in Latin.” (Fitzgerald, 6) It was made a part of the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed of 381 subsequent to being affirmed that the sprites and the giver of life are from the father. “The differences arose in the fact that the Christians of the East believed that the Holy Spirit proceeded from the father through the son whereas the alteration that was made was stated that the spirit proceeded from the Father and the Son.” (Logan, 336) This was accepted in Spain in the sixth century and later on in Rome as well. These alterations and this amendment thus became part of the faith of Christians all over the Western part of globe. The St. Photios of Constantinople was the first ones to raise objection against this change in such a pure document. They stated that changing the testaments and the word of God like this was a form of disrespected to the Father and to the Spirit. “This was occurring concurrently with Constantinople disclaiming what the pope was claiming over the Eastern parts of the church. Thus this was an example of a cultural difference and a distinct perception that the orthodox Christians believed in. Another distinction arose in how the Christians viewed the central leader and bishop of Rome at that time, the pope.” (Fitzgerald, 7) Subsequent to the invasions and feudalism that occurred in the area at that time, it was stated that the pope would have the structural and administering rights in the region. He attained the primacy of honor and thus had to be consulted in all matters. The Eastern bishops and leaders of church were not were happy with this change. According to them, the pope taught teaching and preached in ways that were not in sync with what was taught in tradition n and in the testaments.
“Other differences in perceptions of life after death came forward. When talking about purgatory, the Eastern theologians stated that the souls of the death went into place after death and stayed there until the Day of Judgment. They also believed that if the loved ones could pray, their prayers would reach the dead and thus give them satisfaction even in the afterlife.” (Logan, 336)The Orthodox Christians were happy and satisfied with the fact that where the other prominent churches in the area at time were created and brought out forward by saints, this church was center to Jesus Christ themselves. Orthodox Christians believed in Trinity, honor and respected their saints before others. “According to the Orthodox Christians, the respect for the known icons and relics were only because they represented God and the saints who taught the text.” (Serfes, 2001)The seven sacraments that were recognized by the Orthodox Christians were Baptism, Holy Eucharist, Chrismation, Confession, Holy Unction and Marriage. “A major different seen in this form of church is that a person has to formally enter the church or be baptized into it.” (Serfes, 2001) The differences arose in the period of estrangement between the ninth to the thirteenth century. The major distinctions were present in matters related to other Sacraments, liturgical customs and in marriage.
Even though these differences were tired to be resolved and looked into that never really happened. The Orthodox Christians went on to think that their religion or their form of Christianity was the best and most pure one. This belief led to hatred and doubt and thus led to the formation of Heretics.
Persecution of Heretics
Now we shift our attention to the idea of orthodoxy and heresy. In the first century, no concept of orthodoxy or Heresy was present. The word “heresies” when used in context of the old translations of the New Testament meant a mere difference in opinion. As mentioned earlier, the Church had never stayed a single and united community. “There were always challenged and alterations and basically the creation of new beliefs. The Eastern and more Orthodox parts of the Church gave rise to Nestorianism, Arianism, and Eutychianism.” (Fitzgerald, 6) For the West, Donatism and Pelagianism were examples of heresies.
“Heresy was merely a departure or a transition from what was believed to be orthodox. In the middle ages, the Heresy wasn’t caused by scholars or Bishops as such. It was a product created by lowly priest and illiterate common men and women.” (Logan, 202) The changes that they made came out on everyday issues and matters linked to piety. “The Cathars were one of the most prominent of the heretics if looked at how organized they are. Their spread from region to region was an alarming sign for the orthodox Christians. In 1144, Cathars were taken from the clergy who was willing to defend them and they were burned down.” (Logan, 203) When the Cathars were recognized by the Hildegard of Binge, he started off with “anti-Cathar” preaching to Mainz. (Logan, 203) In early 1145, St. Bernard who was the abbot of Clairvaux also gave out sermons direceted against the Heretics and the Cathars.
Innocent III who was a pope at that time, was “committed to reform.” Putting down the Heretics was on the top of the list for him. For him the Cathars were becoming a threat since they weren’t just a group of people, but an entire church with beliefs and good organization. (Logan, 204) The Orthodox Christians attempted to engage the cathars into debates and attempt to convert them by setting examples, but the peace did not stay for long. “The Peter of Castelnau was assassinated by Count Raymond VI, who was a knight of Toulouse. This started off the crusade that led to the death of many Cathars.” (Logan, 207) “A surprising thing was that once the crusade was something to recover “holy places” for Christianity but now it was used against the Christian heretics.” (Logan, 207)
“The Heretics faced discrimination in their trials and punishment as well. It can be known as ‘investigation’ but has also been known as ‘inquisition’ and the people carrying out the procedures were referred to as ‘inquisitors’.” (Logan, 209) The “Canonical legislation” to deal with the heretics was distinct than the one that was for the Orthodox Christians. (Logan, 209)
The mere idea of Heresy came forward when the ideas presented by the writers were put forward and went onto be accepted. Another example came forward of Donatism which was founded in the fourth century. “Their rise came mainly from the fact that their clergies had given over their books to be saved from the Roman atrocities.” (Peters, 24) Thus, for them their own clergy were taken down from the level of priests. “After the opposition and persecution done after the Donatists, they were removed from the whole area by the start of the fifth century.” (Peters, 26)
Since many of the leaders of Orthodox Church knew that it was against religion and humanity to kill a man, they decided to put the blame of the blood not on the church but on the state. Thus, for the persecution of the heretics, church and state were amalgamated. This meant that anyone who was carrying out heresy would be persecuted as per the order of the state. St. Augustine was a prominent figure in carrying out the persecutions. He believed that anyone who went against the sacred and revealed testament was committing a horrendous crime. He adopted various methods of torture only to make sure that the heretics confirmed to the correct religion.
“The first execution of a heresy was done under Emperor Maximus. Priscillian gathered a group of followers and taught them the Manichaean-Gnostic Doctrine. This doctrine had a close link to magic and astrolog.ly. On the basis of this, he became the first on to be persecuted. Even though he wasn’t linked to witchcraft, he was executed on the basis of practicing witchcraft and teaching it as well.” (Peters, 44)
Subsequent to St. Augustine, most of the bishops and leaders who came were in favor of killing those who didn’t confirm to the right doctrine. Heresy became known as something so bad that it was described in resemblance to the leprosy. It was viewed as a disease that caused damage to a person’s soul and body. Since all the diseases had to be eradicated and burned down, burning was the method chosen for people as well.
The Waldensians were another group of Heretics who preached the gospel and also went onto translate the bible into a different language. Even after reading the bible, they went on to rejected many important pats like prayers for the dead, church music, confessions and many more. “This group of Heretics gave much more regard to women and also allowed them to preach.” (Peters, 141) Seeing how their spread was very fast and increasing day by day, their persecution became a favorite target of the orthodox Christians. Even though popular, this group of heretics was banned to preach by the majority of catholic bishops there. (Logan, 211) On one day, 150 Waldenisians were burned alive at Grenoble. Crusades were carried out against the innocent and people flee to unknown villages. Some of the Waldensians were maimed and were just left to die of hunger. Other examples of persecutions including stripping the flesh off until the people died after bleeding. Children were killed in front of their parents. Most of the heretics who did manage to flee were either killed by disease or by dying of hunger.
The idea presented by St. Augustine that the error has no rights became a reason for the persecutors to go and do anything they want. They went on to burn children and women only because their beliefs differed from there’s. Even though it is seen that the people were not actually against the heretics, they made a major impact to the bishops and the leaders at that time. The legislature and laws were also different for the Heretics as well. “The ‘Theodosian Code of 438’ and the ‘Corpus Iuris Civilis’ in the sixth century were just parts of the ant heretical laws. These documents were specially designed to make legislature that opposed Heretics.” (Peters, 46). “A part of the Book XVI stated that the “privileges” of religion were only granted to those who retained to the Catholic faith.” (Peters, 46) “Friar’s stand out in the Heretics as despite their growing numbers, they did not attain equal rights. Even though the Francis’s brother got gifts wherever they went, but according to the law, the friars could not own anything.” (Logan, 217)
Differences and Similarities
Regardless of what form of persecution it is, it was torturing and disgusting nonetheless. Out of the three different perceptions and persecutions, religion has always been the main motive. It was either the introduction of a new religion as in the case for the Romans and Christians, or alterations to a persisting perfect religion, such as the Orthodox. A similarity can be seen between the perceptions of the Romans and Christians. Both the Roman and Christians viewed the minority group as alien species or people related to doom. The Christians were seen as blood suckers and violent makers whereas the Jews were as rejected people. Let alone hatred, these two nations were viewed as disgusting and far from right. The Heretics, even though persecuted, were not seen as alien species. They were Christians and they claimed themselves Christians. It was also because of this reason the Orthodox Churches were reluctant to persecute at times. Their idea of Christianity and their daring to change the pure message was viewed as evil. Since man ay heretics came forward, their presence was not just one religion or group. There were different eras of different heretics and in almost all of them, they were persecuted. Burning was always a very common method of persecution for all three groups mentioned above. This could be possibly because in those days, burning and fire made things pure as well. There is also a component of state and politics seen in all three of the cases. The Roman emperor wanted to be bowed own to, the Orthodox Christians didn’t consider the other pope credible and there was political discrimination against the Jews as well. It has also been noted that those who were in the minority were not allowed to attain any of the leadership position.
Minority Issue today: Israel and Palestine
Even though the declaration of Independence that Israel initiated on ensured that all the citizens of the country will attain equal political and social rights regardless of what religion, language, culture, sex or race they were from. Despite the assertions of justice and equality, the Arabs still remain a minority victim of injustice in Israel. Following the war in 1948, most of the Palestinians fled the country letting only a small part of the Arabs to remain in Israel. The case that Arab is a minority in an Israel owns state makes them vulnerable to certain discrepancies. The Palestinians in Israel are now torn between two extremes. “They can either be in favor of the terror organizations such as Hamas or Hezbollah or they can be against them and support the killing of their fellow Palestinians.” (Reiter, 2009) “Thus, it could be stated that the Palestinians are split between their “national Palestinian” and “Civil Israeli” identities.” (Reiter, 2009)
“Just as the Heretics back in the fourteenth century were found in certain areas, the Arabs can be located in certain areas of the country. They are concentrated in northeast Negev, the North in the Galilee and the little triage in the middle of Israel.” (Reiter, 2009) Even though they reside in Israel, most of the Israeli Arabs refer to themselves as being Palestinian Muslims. The alienation is visible by the 2006 Annual Herzliya conference that took place. After a survey conducted, it was seen that 56% of the Israeli Arabs were not happy about their identity as an Israel. Furthermore, 73% were not willing to fight to defend the state. “Since the Israelis were scared that the Arabs could be disloyal to the country, they were exempted from the military service.” (Reiter, 1980) Since they were exempt from the military, they could not attain the special benefits like government subsidies, government houses or facilities offered by the government.
“Now after such a long time, the government is thinking of reforming the Israel draft law. There could be a possibility of forcing and requiring the citizens of Arab to doing .” (Hackl, 2012) Even though the government might be making an effort for the Arabs there, but they are reluctant even more than before. “The Arabs said that they will not perform national service unless and until “the state treats us as equal citizens.” (Hackl, 2012)
“There has been talk that the government has not dealt quite well the Arab sector. This meaning that even though the Arabs have a right to vote as much as the Jews, they still feel like “second-class citizens.” (Hirschberg, 2004) The unemployment is high amongst Arabs as compared to Jews. The budget allotted to areas where Arabs live is less as opposed to where Jews reside. “Also, the government provides less money per student to Muslim Israelis as opposed to the Jews.” (Hirschberg, 2004) “A 2005 study done at the Hebrew University stated that three times more capital was provided in academic studies of Jewish children as opposed to those of Arab children.” (U.S. Department of State, 2008) “The reductions that were made in the cuts of veteran benefits and children allowances were more severe and profound for Arab children as well. The finance minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, referred to the Arab’s in Israel as a “demographic problem.” (Hirschberg, 2004) Surely, this went on to irritate the Arab community and make them feel like unwanted citizens.
The security provided to the Arab citizens is not like what the Jews attained either. When the fight against Lebanon was taking place in 2006, there were warning sirens planted and bomb shelters were made. However, none of the protective mechanisms were given to the Arab communities. “The government also made a Business Development Center for the shops that were damaged by the war. A shocking part of this pact was that only Jewish shops were eligible for this.” (U.S. Department of State, 2008) In 2003, Israel also enacted the Citizenship and Entry into Israel Law. This law denied citizenship and residence to any of the Palestinians who lived in the West Bank or the Gaza Strip.
The kind of relationship that Arab citizens have with the State of Israel is indeed very strange. There has been constant tension for the Arabs of Israel because of the religious issues. Although, there is no such restriction (for the Arabs in Israel) that forbids them to build a mosque, not many new mosques have been built in Israel. Being a minority group, the Arab citizens of Israel consider themselves as being at a state of war with their own nation.
If this issue is seen in comparison to the instances discussed earlier, many similarities and differences can be seen. The first most prominent thing is the difference between the powers of the minorities. In the instance of Palestine and Israel, the Jews were the minority initially but gained enough power mainly on the basis of wealth and alliances. If looked at the Heretics or the Christians at the time of the Romans, they were helpless. These groups were in minority and thus were persecuted. Even though the Heretics tried to gain strength by spreading their message and organizing to the best of their abilities, they were still found and persecuted. A reason for the success of the Jews in attaining Israel could be their remarkable organization, strategies and the leadership that they had. Where in the instance of Roman and Christians and Heretics, religion was a major cause of persecution, religion does aggravate the aforementioned situation of Palestine. Both the groups have religious closeness to the land and thus can go onto think and act irrationally when it comes to the matter. The Islamic groups are taking actions against the Israelis to regain entry but also to protect their holy place. Even though there was no instance of forceful conversion like the Romans forced the Christians to bow down their ruler, the Muslims are still not able to practice their religion freely.
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