Arab and Jewish children share a Haifa bomb shelter
Galilee Evangelical leader sends letter of solidarity to Olmert.
More than a week into the current shooting war with Hizbullah, little attention had been paid to the Arab communities of northern Israel. They make up half of the 1 million residents of the Galilee and Haifa areas forced to flee or hunker down in bomb shelters under the barrage of Katyusha rockets. But few outside Israel knew they were also being targeted - that is, until a rocket struck Nazareth and killed two young brothers from an Arab Orthodox family, aged nine and three.
"The missiles have been hitting Arab villages too," Dr. Hani Shehadeh toldThe Jerusalem Post from his home just four miles south of the Lebanese border. "As Bibi Netanyahu told the Knesset this week, a Katyusha doesn't have eyes to see whether it hits a Jew or an Arab."
Shehadeh, pastor of an Evangelical congregation, has sent an open letter to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, calling him "a man of peace" and assuring him that Arab Christians in the Galilee were praying for Israel's leaders in this crisis.
"I am writing while my home and church building are being shaken by rockets, yet we are not afraid, for we believe in the protecting hand of the Lord of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob," he wrote. "We are aware of the difficulties that you are facing, mostly caused by the Islamic extremists."
"This war is not about politics as much as spiritual warfare," he told the Post.
Like so many other Galilee Arabs, Shehadeh has relatives in Lebanon that he worries about. "My granny is Lebanese, and we all have family there. Of course we pray they're all safe."
In Haifa, the Beit Eliyahu congregation, which conducts its services in Hebrew, has Arab and Jewish children sharing bomb shelters. Shmuel Aweida, the congregation's Arab pastor, notes the rare agreement across the country on the necessity of this war.
"We can't remember the last time there was such a consensus in the Israeli society and leadership on a war. Hizbullah is like a deadly tumor that has to be removed," he said.
Not all Galilee Arabs are as patriotic. There are reports that some local Arabs have been seen on rooftops quietly cheering when Katyushas land in nearby communities.
Other Arabs have charged that the government appears to have forgotten their presence on the front lines of this conflict. They complain that there are no shelters or air-raid sirens in Arab villages and no materials in Arabic instructing them on what to do in emergencies.
Also sometimes forgotten in this conflict are the over 2,000 South Lebanese refugees living in the Galilee who fled their homes six years ago. As they weather Hizbullah attacks on northern Israel, friends and family back home face Israel's counterattacks. Relatives calling from southern Lebanon say Hizbullah militiamen are taking over Christian homes to hide rockets and fire them at Israel.
Some of the refugees are living in shelters provided by Evangelical congregations like Beit Yedidya in Haifa.
Children there pounced on some crayons, coloring books, puzzles and board games brought by a team from the International Christian Embassy in Jerusalem on Wednesday.
The ICEJ and other Christian ministries are joining Jewish organizations in collecting emergency funds to bring relief to those stuck in bomb shelters in the North, especially children and the elderly. Many are to be brought to safer housing in the center of the country and provided summertime recreational activities.