Sokendai Review of Cultural and Social Studies


A Case Study of the Melkite Catholic Christians
and their Society in an Israeli Arab Village:
Composition of the Phases of Identity


(The Graduate University for Advanced Studies, School of Cultural and Social Studies,
Department of Regional Studies

Key words;

Israel, Melkite Catholic Christians, dār(paternal kinship group in Arab World), election, a sense of belonging, identity

In this paper, I focus on the Melkite Catholic Christians in Israel, who are religious and ethnic minorities in the Jewish State, and dive a description of their ethnography in order to show their phases of identity. The Melkite Catholic(Greek Catholic) is one of the Uniate Churches in the Middle East and was founded in early 18th century in Syria. Today, around sixty- eight thousand believers belong to the Melkite Catholic Church in Israel and of course, they are all Arabs. They are characterized in two points; first, they are minorities in two contexts --- minorities in Israel as a Jewish Nation, and minorities in Arab society in which Muslims occupy overwhelming majority. Secondly, they tend to immigrate to the cities like Haifa as workers or merchants while their urban life is based on their kinship in their home village. In order to explain the charactericity of their identity, I describe on their rural life and society from my fieldwork in a Melkite village in Northern Galilee, called F in this paper.

The rural society of Melkite Catholic is based on paternal kinship called “dār”(diyār in plural) in Arabic and all the villagers belong to it. Some notable diyār display their powers in the local administration and its system is deep influenced upon that of Ottomanic era. All diyār are strictly ranked in order to their history of immigration from Syria or Lebanon and their ranking give deep influence to marital relations. The marital relations form sects into diyār and the election of village parliament is power-game theatre among some notable diyār.

The influence of MAPAI-The Israeli Labour Party features the system of local parliament in village F. The Labour Party was the ruling party until late 1970’s and MAPAI was its former figure. In order to rule the Arabs in rural Galilee, The Labour Party approached to the notable diyār and utilized their power. Especially, the Melkites have given its impact deeper than any other communions, as the then Melkite Bishop of Galilee George Hakim was a member of MAPAI and he has inforced the whole Galilee seculars to vote to MAPAI-The Labour Party. The influence by MAPAI-The Labour Party can be seen clearer in the general elections, which is held as proportional representation, and the Melkites in village F have continued to vote not to the Arab parties but to MAPAI-The Labour Party, the party which the village notables are belonging to. Today, an eloquent Melkite MK(Member of Knesset, member of the Diet in Israel) has appeared and the The Labour Party-favouring among the Melkites is becoming weaker gradually.

From these tendencies in the local/general elections, it can be seen that the three senses of belonging give strong effect to whole life in village F; belonging to dār, belonging to the home village, and the consciousness as the Melkite Catholic Christians. Following these three senses, the villagers draw the border between their family circle and the strangers and composite the phases of their identity as“a member of our dār”or“a native of village F”. However, it can be considerd that their family circle will expand when they move from their village to the urban place, where they will live among various strangers, and they will compose the new phases of the identity.