Christians under Israeli occupation

Messianic Jews, as these Jews who believe in Jesus are called,number just a few in Israel — anywhere between 6,000 and 15,000 — but they provoke hatred all out of proportion to their meager numbers.Many orthodox Jews view them as traitors for joining the Christian faith,which for centuries has persecuted Jews. One Messianic Jew, Tzvi Sadan, a teacher and editor, recalls telling his father, a Holocaust survivor, that he had accepted Jesus as his savior. “My dad flipped out. He said that the SS guards in the camp had ‘God Is With Us’ written on their belts. He told me, ‘You’ve joined the enemy.’ But he calmed down a bit when he saw my prayer shawl.”

Some rabbis also view the Messianic Jews’ conversion as part of a grand Evangelical scheme to fulfill Biblical prophecy (which requires the conversion of the Jews) and hasten the Messiah’s arrival. Messianic Jews observe Judaism’s rites, holidays and customs but believe in Jesus as the Messiah.

But lately, the outrage among extremist orthodox Jews has spilled into violence. Even after the Ariel bombing it has continued. Last month, when the deputy mayor of Or Yehuda, a town near Tel Aviv, found out that Messianic Jews had been passing out copies of the New Testament to a community of poor Ethiopian Jews, he ordered the books to be collected and they were set alight in a bonfire. He later apologized and said the Bibles had been burned accidentally. “If somebody had done that in Europe to Jewish Torahs, you can image what sort of a reaction that would provoke here,” says Ortiz. To be fair, commentators and officials in Israel were quick to condemn the act, comparing it to the infamous book burning by Nazis.

Messianic Jews living in the Negev Desert also say they are routinely harassed and attacked by yeshiva students, some inspired by Yad L’achem, a religious organization dedicated to stamping out Christian missionary activities in Israel. Random acts of anti-Christian violence have also occurred: last October in Jerusalem, a church was fire-bombed, and several days after Christmas, a German pilgrim who was returning from Bethlehem carrying a large wooden cross was attacked by a gang of ultra-orthodox youths who smashed the cross into splinters. These are isolated attacks, and Christians living in Israel say that as long as they refrain from missionary work — prohibited by the Israeli government — they are left free to worship.

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