During the week covered by this review, we received 8 articles on the following subjects:
One opinion piece argued that, in light of the celebration of the birth of Jesus, it is worth meditating on the fact that Israel’s relations with Christians has never been better. Evangelical Christians in particular pray for Israel’s success, donate to Israel, and fight for Israel politically. They are united through the common vision of the International Christian Embassy of Jerusalem. However, these Christians also hurt because Israel is suspicious of them and does not treat them with respect. In light of Christmas, and as a New Year’s resolution, Israel needs to show more love and respect towards Evangelical Christians.
A second opinion piece, written in light of Christmas, discussed the difficulties facing Christians in the Middle East. Christians are harassed and persecuted in Egypt, Turkey, Syria, and Palestine. In Iraq they have been nearly wiped out. The population of Palestinian Christians has been in a “downward trend.” In the 1950s, 86% of Bethlehem residents were Christians, but now that percentage has dropped to 12%. In Gaza, Christians have been murdered, and their buildings commandeered by Hamas. In Israel, however, the Christian population remains stable at about 2%. They are free to worship, and the recent Church Lands controversy shows that Israel is willing to negotiate and work together with churches. The author concluded: “As Christmas approaches, we should appreciate living in a country with these freedoms, and hope, in these bleak times for Christians across the Middle East, that their situations will improve.”
A third opinion piece was written by Franceso Patton, the Franscican Custos of the Holy Land. Patton noted that both Christmas and Hanukah revolve around the theme of light. During Christmas, he said, we celebrate the birth of a boy, an event that reminds us that life is a fragile gift, from inception to end. The event fills hearts with hope and light. On Christmas, tens of thousands of Christians in Israel will celebrate this birth, whether they be Christian Arabs who speak Hebrew, immigrants, or pilgrims. Many around the world look to Israel’s holy places for inspiration, and the Franciscans work to preserve these sites and make them accessible to all, “so that people can know our faith and our way of life.” It is important that during this time, Christians, Muslims, and Jews learn to coexist and foster mutuality. Patton concluded: “In the name of the Franciscan monks of the Holy Land, we wish all of Israel a year of tolerance, cooperation, and peace, founded on truth, justice, charity, and freedom.”
A fourth article reported that Christmas has become very popular amongst Israelis. Tens of thousands made their way to Nazareth to experience the holiday. There were even organized Hebrew tours. Israelis posed with Santa hats, and took selfies with the giant Christmas tree, and visited the Church of the Annunciation. The number of Israelis visiting Nazareth’s Christmas Market is at a record high. Some attend because, they say, it is a way to expand their world. Others want to expose their children to other religions. In recent years, it has also become popular to attend a midnight Christmas mass in the Old City.
Finally, in light of Christmas, a number of articles provided some statistics. 172,000 Christians live in Israel, of which 70% reside in the North of the country, and 77% are Arab. Most Christians in Israel are Greek Orthodox, who in fact do not celebrate Christmas until January 7. 61% of tourists to Israel are Christians (and 22% are Jews). In general, the tourist industry has fared well over the past year. There has been an increase of 13% in the number of visitors, of which 40% are returning visitors.
Haaretz, December 25, 2018
Archaeologists from the Israeli Antiquities Authority have unearthed an ancient ring dating back to the Second Temple period. The ring was found in the City of David excavation, which has turned up many interesting artifacts this past year (the article lists a number of them). The ring was found near the remains of an ancient mikveh.
Globes, December 24, 2018
A Messianic Jewish congregation in Haifa, Bethesda, will no longer be required to pay “arnona” (municipal tax) after a second court appeal resulted in a ruling in the congregation’s favor. Bethesda runs a prayer meeting on Wednesdays, and after an inspection in 2015, it was decided that the congregation should pay “arnona” because childcare was being offered during the meetings. After two appeals, the congregation has finally won their case. It has been decided that the nursery does not violate the congregation’s non-profit status (as it is run by volunteers). Furthermore, only a few children attend, and only during prayer time. Therefore, the nursery is part and parcel to the congregation’s freedom of worship, and Bethesda is now exempt from the tax.