An Israeli Christian intends to build a new town in Israel specifically for Christian Aramaeans to preserve their language and culture.
Shadi Khalloul, 42, who chairs the Israeli Christian Aramaic Association and is a fellow of the Philos Project, told The Daily Wire that Aramaean Christians are also native to Israel and descendants of the first believers in Jesus in the ancient land.
Although Aramaic is widely considered a "dead" language — as Khalloul was told while studying at the University of Nevada — he and his family continue to speak it. Even since hearing that during his university class he has been on a mission to preserve his culture with an aim of coexisting among the Jewish people.
"Aramaic is common for both of us," he told The Daily Wire. "This is something that can strengthen Israel as a Jewish state and show the world that we Israelis are building and preserving [the Aramaean community] as the only country for the persecuted Christians in the Middle East."
"We as a minority want to live as indigenous Aramaic Christians and to be able to have one sole Aramaic town that can preserve our Christian faith, Aramaic language, ethnic identity, and our heritage and explain more about our common roots with the Jews."
The town he envisions will be called "Aram Hiram."
"Aram" is the name given to the Aramaic kingdoms from the Bible and "Hiram" refers to King Hiram of Lebanon, who supplied King Solomon with wood from cedar trees with which to build the Temple.
He is presently asking for land in northern Israel where he says his ancestors lived for 400 years prior to the 1948 war for independence — they were forced to evacuate — when Israel became an independent nation-state.
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Israel turned 70 earlier this year and its population continues to grow, at around 8.8 million, 74.5 percent of which are Jews. Arabs comprise 21 percent of the population. Yet approximately 404,000 citizens, 4.6 percent, are non-Arab Christians or are members of other ethnic groups.
In the past few years, Khalloul has met with government officials all the way up to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, which he says ultimately resulted in a measure that allowed Israeli Christians to put "Aramaean" on their official identity cards as opposed to "Arabs."
The proposal for the town is now being reviewed and is in Netanyahu's hands, according to Khalloul.
If approved, the town of Aram Hiram will be built on approximately 150-200 acres land but they will need $5 million to develop and plan, a project that will last around seven years. Khalloul hopes Christians and Jews from around the world will contribute to make this a reality.
"We need to build bridges through a Christian positive attitude to ask for our rights in a way to lead towards coexistence with Jews and this can come by being positive citizens of the state, defending the state, integrating into the state, and asking for our rights at the same time," he said.
Presently, approximately 15,000 Israeli Christians pray in Aramaic in Israel, and the majority of them, like Khalloul, belong to the Syriac Maronite Church of Antioch.
The Aramaean people also consist of the Syriac Orthodox, Syriac Catholic, Chaldean, "Nestorian" and Melkite churches, he noted in a speech before the United Nations in Geneva last year.
Among scholars and reputable historians, a consensus exists that Jesus and His disciples mostly spoke Aramaic, the common language of Judea in the first century AD, likely a Galilean dialect.