“Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.” These words of Jesus in Matthew 5:11 reflect the experience of many Messianic and traditional Christians in Israel today who increasingly find themselves under assault, especially those living in or near orthodox Jewish neighborhoods. Last month, two churches were painted with slogans such as “Jesus is dead” and “Death to Christianity.” Many priests are daily spat upon when walking on the streets in Jerusalem.
Some 146,000 Christians are living in Israel. More than 90% of them are non-Jewish citizens, while about 10,000 are Messianic believers. The oppression of Christians in Israel comes mostly from Ultra-Orthodox Jews; though a minority in the country, the religious group has a major influence. In February, several Israeli newspapers had reports on the growing oppression. The spitting is especially a problem for priests and pastors who stand out with their clerical garb. Where these Christians regularly meet Ultra-Orthodox Jews, insulting, spitting and even cursing occurs.
Some priests declared that they have been subject to spitting for years now. It is not only Christian institutions that are targeted, Islamic and other non-Jewish institutions also suffer from such attacks. An Armenian priest declared in one of the newspapers, “It’s almost impossible to pass through Jaffa Gate without this spitting happening.” The spitting has become so prevalent that some priests have simply stopped going to certain parts of the city.
Recently one of the Baptist churches, a Christian cemetery, and a Greek Orthodox monastery were the targets of graffiti slogans. The church has also been burned two times, once in 1982 and then again in 2007. The pastor of this church, Charles Kopp, declared to an Israeli newspaper, “We mainly feel sad about the attacks.” Another spokesman of the church said, “We’re just extremely hurt and disturbed.”
According to a February 27th report in the newspaper Haaretz, father Pierbattista Pizzabella, Custodian of the Holy Land and head of the Franciscan Order in Israel, wrote to the Israeli government asking them to take the necessary steps to stop these anti-Christian actions. “Unfortunately, throughout the years we have learned to ignore provocations and continue our daily lives. Still, it seems that this time red lines have been crossed and we cannot remain silent. These shocking slogans sprayed on Christian sites of prayer, especially in Jerusalem, hurt the feelings of all the Christians in Israel.”
In the last week of February the attacks escalated into outright violence when a group dressed as ultra-Orthodox men brutally attacked a 70-year-old woman in her home in Jerusalem’s Nahlaot neighborhood. According to the police, the attackers apparently believed her to be a Christian missionary. The woman had to be treated for a broken ankle, a shattered and bleeding hand, a swollen face, and internal bleeding.
The situation, however, is far from hopeless. The pastor of a group of about 20 Messianic believers reported that in the past he has experienced several attacks on his ministry, but now, he explains with a big smile, “We regularly see Jews coming to Christ since we work here. I have prayed several times with people willing to accept Jesus.”
Father, we pray for the Christians in Israel, whether they are Messianic, Evangelical, or traditional. Bless them and give them grace to face the harassment they are experiencing. We especially lift up the Messianic Christians as they interact with family and friends who resent their new faith in Christ. And we pray for their pastors, that they will have wisdom to lead their congregations well. Protect them, Father, and give them opportunities to demonstrate the reality of Christ’s presence in their lives, that many will see the truth and believe. In the name of Christ who dwells within us, Amen.