Gush Halav: Home To The Maronites
Despite 14 centuries of persecution, these Galilee-based Christian followers of a hermit named Mar Maroun have refused to abandon their faith. Sound familiar?
While browsing the Internet for information on the Galilee town of Gush Halav, we found these words on a site linked to the Ministry of Tourism: “The Arab village of Gush Halav is situated in Israel’s Galilee area. . .” This was repeated by the usually reliable Jewish Virtual Library, and any number of other sources.
But within minutes of entering Gush Halav in preparation for this article, we learned — and not for the first time — that the Internet can be wrong! For, according to our host, Shadi Khalloul, the vast majority of Gush Halav residents are not Arabs at all, but Maronites: Christians who have been followers of a hermit known as Mar Maroun since the end of the 4th century. And even though you often hear Israelis calling it by its Arabic name “Jish,” Khalloul asked us to please not refer to Gush Halav as an Arab village!
Khalloul explained that like Father Abraham, the Maronites originated in Aram (an enormous area stretching from Mesopotamia to the Mediterranean Sea). Over time, they dispersed throughout the Middle East. When the Arabs swooped into the region early in the 7th century, they tried to force Islam on the Aramaen population in general and the Maronites in particular. Yet despite immense pressure, the Maronites, like the Jews, refused to abandon their faith. Since then, Aramaen Maronites have been continually persecuted by the Arabs. Most of the area’s Maronites eventually moved for safety into the Lebanese mountains, where they tilled the rocky hills. Thousands were killed in a bloodbath that took place in the mountains in 1860.