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Bad times in Nazareth

We tend to associate Jesus with the place of his birth – Bethlehem. But Jesus was raised in the town of Nazareth.

The little, traditionally Christian town of Bethlehem is wracked this Christmas season with violence. There have been dozens of news stories showing the way the city of David has become a battleground between Yasser Arafat’s Palestinian Authority and Israeli troops.

But we haven’t heard much of what is happening in Nazareth. So let me fill you in.

During the past 30 months, a violent, Islamic fringe element has occupied the central plaza in the town. This was a small piece of real estate set aside by the city and the Israeli government as open space in the congested town center. The area was used primarily for loading and unloading of Christian tourists and others who come from around the world to visit the ancient remains of Jesus’ home town and the Basilica of the Annunciation.

The radical Muslims have constructed an illegal prayer tent from which they taunt worshippers and ridicule the Christian beliefs of those who visit Nazareth.

This group, which calls itself the Islamic Movement, has even initiated physical attacks on tourists, proclaiming in banners, “God has no son and Mohammed is his prophet.”

Scores of Christian shops have been burned. Both Christians and peace-loving Muslims have been intimidated and terrorized by attacks and harassment.

But it gets worse. Within the last 30 days, the group has moved the tent aside and begun excavating the foundation for a permanent mosque on the site. Though they have no property rights to the area, they are moving forward in a highly provocative way to build an Islamic worship site without a deed, without building permits, without any controls, in total disregard for archaeological artifacts.

The local police do nothing for fear of sparking a violent confrontation. Local residents wonder why the Christian world and the Israeli authorities do nothing – why they don’t lift a finger or whisper a word of protest.

Israelis do nothing because Christians are a small minority among the Arabs. They prefer not to create another flashpoint. But if there were an outcry from the Christian world, there is no question the Israelis would be forced to act – to protect the tiny remnant of Christians who remain in the area.

I have written about this atrocity before, but the situation is becoming more grave. The Muslim campaign in Nazareth is part of an overall strategy to neutralize or eliminate Christian sites and Christian believers from the Middle East. Have you ever wondered why Christians are leaving the Mideast in droves? This is an example of what they face – every day.

The current Israeli government has shown that it only responds to political pressure. And now the pressure must be applied by the international Christian community. I believe they will get plenty of support among the people of Israel – if not instantly from government officials.

It’s time for Christians and Jews in Israel to draw a line in the sand by blocking this mosque. It’s time for Christians throughout the world to lend them support.

“But, Farah,” you say, “What can we do?”

A new organization has been created to lead the fight – side-by-side with the Vatican. It’s called the International Coalition of Christians and Jews for the Preservation of Nazareth, headed by Ed McAteer, an evangelical with close ties to the Jewish state.

McAteer sees the Muslim plan in Nazareth as simply part of an overall strategy of Islamic hegemony in the Holy Land.

So, all you have to do to get involved is to write to the International Coalition of Christians and Jews for the Preservation of Nazareth and ask for a copy of the petition to stop the construction of this mosque. Do it today. Here’s the address: P.O. Box 11467, Memphis, TN 38120.

You should also protest Israeli inaction by calling and faxing Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s office. The phone number is 972-2-561-0076. The fax number is 972-2-566-4838.

If you prefer, you can contact an Israeli embassy. You can e-mail the embassy in Washington by writing [email protected]

It’s time to take a stand, Christians. Your brothers and sisters in the Holy Land don’t have the strength, the resources or the voice. Be their voice. Speak out. Lend them your support.