Much has been written in light of the Trump administration’s recent move to withdraw from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) or, as it is commonly referred to, the Iran Deal. Two articles, including one by Alan Dowd and one by Robert Nicholson, seeking to assess this decision and its political impact have appeared here in Providence. To supplement and expand our coverage, Providence reached out to colleagues and friends living within Israel to ask four pointed questions about what it is like to live in the land beneath the rockets. We are attempting to offer authentic points of view beyond the rhetoric and the commentary to discover the real-life effects of American foreign policy.
Below are the POV responses from Israelis Faydra Shapiro, Shadi Khaloul, and Assaf Boker.
Providence: Have you seen any effects on the ground in response to the US decision to withdraw from the JCPOA; has this decision effected your daily life; if so, how?
Shadi: As a Galilean Christian Israeli Aramean, I live in Gush Halav, which is two miles from Lebanon-Israel border. The other side of the Lebanon border is controlled by an Islamic Terrorist Shia group loyal to Iran. We were expecting a large escalation from President Trump’s withdrawal, but thank God our borders are quiet and safe.
Providence: Given the tension that already exists in the region, what is your greatest fear or concern regarding potential escalation of violence?
Assaf: As someone who is employed in the tourist industry, I’m nervous to see largescale cancellations similar to the ones we saw in 2014 and earlier in 2008. My other concern is the quietness that the Golan Heights enjoyed for decades and that allowed it to turn into one Israel’s main tourist attractions will be disturbed and jobs would be lost. I have no great existential fear from Iran or any of our neighbors as I have faith in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF).
Shadi: Yes, the latest escalation in Gaza and Syria with Iranian forces creates many fears among our Christian community. Iran is a large country with a great number of soldiers. A clash with these forces might risk Israel’s security. It is a national security risk to Israel’s existence. We fear that this conflict can bring the same Islamic State (ISIS) forces in Syria and Iraq on us as citizens in Israel, and especially as a peaceful Christian minority.
Providence: What does the church in America and the faith community abroad need to know about your current situation to inform and guide their prayer and support for your work?
Assaf: The faith community in America needs to understand the fragility of the Middle East and the fact that we as Israelis live in what our previous prime minister described as a “Villa in the Jungle”—a unique Western country in a sea of totalitarian regimes.
Faydra: Our situation in Israel is that, despite some ongoing instabilities, we really aren’t living under as many threats as we have in the past. This means that we need to start thinking about how to prepare more seriously not just for challenges and instability, which we do still encounter, but also for peacetime. This is actually a time for us to ask how we can build an even better, healthier, more educated, more equitable Israel.
Shadi: [American] Churches must address their believers about the Christian persecution of their brothers and sisters in Lebanon, Syria, and Iraq. They should know that the Christian community in Israel is safe since we have strong IDF and security forces defending Israel’s borders and ensuring democratic laws with Western values are well implemented in Israel. We in the Western and Eastern church should protect this situation in Israel and try to help all Christians in the region achieve a better future in the Holy Land before our indigenous people disappear from their original homelands.
Providence: Finally, amid the bluster and endless opinions about JCPOA and its effect on US-Israel and US-Iran relations, what is the one thing you want the world to know about what it is like to live in the middle of the fray?
Faydra: We want the world to know that it doesn’t feel like a fray, that we take for granted here that the world is a dangerous place. We are required to be unflinchingly realistic about terror attacks and marches and rockets. This notion that Israel has the “right” to defend itself is something one can say only from the outside. From the inside, we see Israel’s “responsibility” to protect its citizenry, both Jewish and non-Jewish. And it’s more than just some kind of social contract. It’s a sacred obligation. We accept the volatility of life here. And we feel we are part of a project and a vision larger than ourselves and our own comfort.
Shadi: One thing people should know about is the Iranian threat on its neighbors and especially Lebanese Christians and Israeli people as well as Sunni Muslims. Iran had threatened to eliminate Israel many times before Trump withdrew from the JCPOA. This threat has nothing to do with Trump’s decision. It is the Iranian regime’s agenda and ideology. This ideology encourages extremist Muslims from both sects, Sunni and Shia alike, to be much more extreme toward other ethnic-religious minorities in Middle East. The solution for ending minority Christian persecution as it is going on daily in the Middle East is to empower these Christian minorities in their historical homelands, create safe zones for them, and help them to build successful democracies so that they can be used as a good model for others to follow.
Shadi Khaloul is a Fellow at the Philos Project and an Aramean Christian Maronite Israeli. He serves as the chairman and founder of the Israeli Christian Aramaic Association and is a spokesperson for the Christian Israel Defense Forces Officers Forum.
Faydra Shapiro is a Senior Fellow at the Philos Project and an Orthodox Jew with a lifelong interest in Christianity. She is the founding director of the Israel Center for Jewish-Christian Relations and holds a PhD in Religious Studies.
Assaf Boker is a tour leader at Boker Tours; his position includes marketing, planning, leading, and evaluating a variety of tours in Israel with different clients including Birthright, March of the Living, Stand With Us, the Philos Project, Passages, and private clients.