Maronites in Israel are an Arabic-speaking minority who belong to the Maronite Catholic Church. They reside in Israel, and some of whom self-identify as Arameans (or Aramaeans) while acknowledging their ancient Aramaic heritage. Their church has historically been tied with Lebanon. They derive their name from the Syriac Saint Maron; whose followers moved to Mount Lebanon from northern Syria; establishing the Maronite Church; most of whose members currently reside in Lebanon.
The Maronites in Israel encompass the long-existing Maronite community in the Jish area and the families of former South Lebanon Army members; 7,000 of them fled South Lebanon in April–May 2000 to Israel. Of the 7,000 SLA and their families who left their family members and belongings in Lebanon, just 2,700 have remained in Israel. Over the years, some of them decided to return home to Lebanon, while others opted to leave Israel for Europe and the US.
The Maronite community in Israel is trying to revitalize the Western Neo-Aramaic language; which used to be the lingua franca of the region after the spread of Christianity; and a common language within the Maronite community until the 16th century. In 2014, the Maronite-majority village of Jish initiated a teaching program of neo-Aramaic language for young children in Jish Elementary School; with the approval of the Israeli Ministry of Education. The program was implemented briefly by the School but was quickly dropped.
Maronites In Israel: Their Language
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 “Syriac-like” dialect, due to their Aramaic heritage.