Shalom from Tel Aviv!
It's a long time after Christmas, but this is a story Christians need to know. The setting is Bethlehem of Judea; ancient city of David.
It all began one cold winter's night--in fact on Christmas Eve--that Yasser Arafat rode into town. He came to celebrate Christmas in Bethlehem, the city that Israel had handed over to the PLO the day before. Arafat entered the new Palestinian city, a victorious conqueror. Paintings of Arafat several stories high hung from the buildings while PLO troops swarmed around Manger Square.
He was accompanied by his wife--an Arab Christian who converted to Islam in order to marry Arafat. They later sat together on the front row during the Catholic mass celebrating the birth of Jesus.
JESUS WAS A PALESTINIAN
As Arafat entered the city, he declared to a jubilant throng of Palestinians in Manger Square, "This is the birthplace of our Lord the Messiah, the Palestinian, the Palestinian. . . We pronounce this holy land, this holy city, the city of the Palestinian Jesus, a liberated city forever, forever, forever." (Jerusalem Post, Dec. 25, 1995) The speech reminded the editors of the Jerusalem Post of Palestinian spokesperson Hanan Ashrawi who said at the Madrid Middle East peace conference that she, as a Moslem, is a descendant of the first Christians. (The 200 newspaper correspondents in her audience stood to their feet and cheered.) (Ibid.)
The response of the Israeli media to Arafat's speech was instant. Journalists were perplexed as to "why his brazen lie did not cause an international scandal with headlines questioning the PLO leader's sanity and credibility." The Jerusalem Post wondered aloud why the church did not protest Arafat's perpetration of the "Big Lie":
"It should not be too painfully difficult for the Church to remind its Arab flocks that Jesus was a Jew who lived in Judea, as the New Testament testifies. Nor should its officials be diffident about mentioning that the name Palestine, which is never mentioned in the New Testament, is a distortion of 'Palestina,' a derisive appellation coined by the Romans to offend the Jews (including those who followed Jesus). (Ibid.)
Other columnists thought it scandalous that the world press picked up on Arafat's proclamation ''as if it were the most ordinary and acceptable of claims." In an article with large headlines called "Mocking Jesus and the Jews", one Israeli writer observed:
No disclaimer, wry or otherwise, noted that Jesus was a Jew born in Judea, or that he died more than a hundred years before Rome imposed the name Syria-Palestina on the area in the aftermath of crushing a Jewish rebellion led by Bar Kochba. The name change was meant to add mockery to the Jews' defeat by recalling historic Jewish battles with the Philistines. All of these events preceded by many centuries the Arab invasion and conquest. (Andrea Levin, Ibid., Jan 5, 1996)
ARAFAT AND JESUS IN THE SKY?
The European press did note that "Arafat has stolen the show from Jesus." And when officials of the PA (Palestinian Authority) suggested that as part of the Christmas celebration a laser beam display would show Arafat and Jesus walking together in the Bethlehem sky, church officials balked. (Ibid.) But they have not protested what the Jerusalem Post called "Arafat's rape of Christian history and belief." (JP Dec. 25, 1995)
However, a group of nine Christian organizations headed by the International Christian Embassy in Jerusalem did issue a call for Christians not to visit Bethlehem to protest Moslem oppression of Christians in the Middle East, especially in Lebanon. (Ibid., Dec. 20, 1995) The Christmas Eve statement added that no doubt Yasser Arafat would stage a colorful celebration in Manger Square to convince the world that he, rather than Israel, should be entrusted with Christian holy places.
A foreign student studying in Israel wrote of her visit to Bethlehem on Christmas eve:
To my surprise, the streets leading to Manger Square weren't crowded by pilgrims. Instead, Palestinian Police and other security forces paraded around the city's streets. . . . When I entered Manger Square, I was shocked. I had expected Christmas choirs and Christmas decorations. What I found was an overblown painting of Yasser Arafat with a banner proclaiming: "Fatah Welcomes Arafat." (Ibid., Dec. 28, 1995)
A FRONT PAGE STORY
One last note of interest: The Greek Orthodox Patriarch Deodoros, upon welcoming Arafat in an embrace to Bethlehem, declared the event as parallel to the historic event when his spiritual predecessor Sofronius in 638 handed the keys of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre to the conquering Moslem Caliph Omar ibn al-Khattab. The Patriarch then graciously welcomed Arafat as Omar's heir. (When Omar's forces occupied Jerusalem, the Jews were not allowed to stay.) Arafat liked the comparison so much that he ordered all Palestinian newspapers to make that the December 25 front page story. (Ibid.)
However the editor of the largest paper, Al Quds, failed to follow Arafat's orders, and placed the story on page eight. He was kidnapped by Palestinian secret police from his Jerusalem home, and incarcerated in the Jericho jail for several days. This incident definitely caught the attention of the international media. The New York Times called it chilling. (Ibid., Dec. 31, 1995).
What may not be known is that many Israelis, especially religious Jews, are agonizing over the loss of the city of Bethlehem to the Jewish people. Former Chief Rabbi Mordechai Eliahu has called on Jews to tear their garments in mourning. (Ibid., Jan. 6, 1996) And a National Religious Party member of the Knesset has proclaimed, "We will return to Bethlehem. The word of God is eternal. . .It may be through suffering, who knows how many victims there will be, but we will return to Bethlehem." (Ibid., Dec. 25, 1995)
However who would expect that Israelis would be up in arms over the fact that the Arabs are not only claiming Bethlehem as Palestinian, but Jesus as well? What an ironic way to move our countrymen to jealousy! Perhaps this is an example of what the Psalmist meant when he exclaimed, "For the wrath of man shall praise thee." Psa. 76:10
ISRAEL LEADS THE WORLD IN STOLEN VEHICLES
Let strangers plunder the product of his labor. Curse from Psalm 109:11
Israelis live under constant danger of terrorism; at the moment the chief perpetrator is the Hamas organization. Although for the last few months, things have been fairly quiet, military experts are warning that in March,1 terrorism will probably again stalk the land. It is in March that the PA will be given full control of all areas promised by the Rabin/Peres government. It is then widely expected that another wave of terror will explode upon the Israeli people in order to push Peres to offer new concessions to the Palestinians.
However, do not think for a moment that Israelis are able to breathe easier even for a moment. A new plague has swept across the land--that of car thievery. Israel has now become the leading nation for car thefts per capita in the world. (Ibid., Dec.13, 1995) Every 12 minutes a car is stolen in this tiny state. The number has been growing at such a rate that now about 4000 cars a month are stolen. In 1995, the figure reached 32,000 vehicles, and rose 30% during the year. (Ibid., Jan 5, 1996) In fact our own local newspaper said that on one Friday-Saturday, 100 cars were stolen from our area. (City Lights, Dec. 8, 1995)
TWO MINUTES--AND YOU'RE HOME FREE!
How could so many cars be stolen in Israel and not be detected? The answer is that most of the cars are transported to the Palestinian self-rule areas, never to be seen again. And since these areas are only hundreds of meters away from the Tel Aviv area, the thieves have an easy time of it. There is no barbed-wire fence along the Green Line which separates Judea and Samaria from Israel proper. Along the border separating the Arab population from Israel's center--which includes Tel Aviv and Jerusalem-- there are hundreds of dirt-track roads. As the Central District police chief said, "It takes two minutes to cross the Green Line."
Police statistics indicate that 40% of stolen vehicles are eventually found--but don't believe it! As one columnist put it, "the sad fact is that Israelis no longer bother to report break-ins and physical assault, let alone car thefts, because they expect the police to do nothing. (JP, Dec. 13, 1995)
CARS OF BELIEVERS STOLEN
The police were certainly unable to help us when our Volkswagen ministry van was stolen five years ago a few blocks from our home. We never saw it again, and we drove around in a Fiat Uno for three years in which we could barely fit our family, let alone carry teams for ministry. We prayed earnestly for another vehicle and God granted our petition and gave us another lovely van.
Now we have an alarm system, a lock bar, are careful where we park, and pray over the automobile before leaving it in high risk areas. In this last month two Messianic congregational leaders have had their cars stolen: a van out of a parking lot at a large mall in Jerusalem in the middle of the day, and a car in a residential area while the pastor was making a sick call.
No one, great or small, is exempt from the epidemic. A vehicle belonging to an Israel army commander was stolen recently in Jerusalem. It had been fitted with the latest communication devices enabling quick action in handling terrorist activities in the
territories. The police were alerted, and an immediate search launched, but to no avail.
STOLEN CARS COST $500
"A few days ago, the commander held a meeting with General Haj Ismail Jabber, overall boss of Yasser Arafat's police forces in Jericho and Gaza. The general's adjutant drove up in a freshly polished, gleaming car, and stepped out to join the discussions.
"'That's my stolen car!' shouted the Israeli commander. 'What's your adjutant doing with it?'
"The adjutant, instead of coming up with some face-saving explanation, refused to hand back the car. Tempers rose. Angry words were exchanged.
"Finally Jabber ordered his adjutant to give the keys to the rightful owner. There was no apology as the man muttered, 'Now I'll have to buy that Volvo with the low mileage offered me in Jenin. It'll cost me another $500.’” (Ibid., Dec. 7, 1995)
ORDER NOW YOUR OWN STOLEN CAR!
Thievery of cars by Arabs in the territories has long been a problem. For years they have taken cars into the territories, dismantled them, and sold them back to garages in Israel for parts. But one of the reasons for the current upsurge is that now burglars are actually receiving orders from PLO officials, specifying size, make, color and model. The vehicles are being taken to build a fleet for government ministers, police officers, army commanders and businessmen in the Palestinian Authority. (Ibid. Dec. 13, 1995)
They are known to favor new Volvos, Peugeots, Mitsubishis and American models which can serve as official cars. In Gaza and Jericho, one can see large sedans--still decorated with stickers advocating the retention of the Golan--driven by officers of the Palestinian security services. (Ibid.) Car theft gangs are roughly comprised of two thirds Palestinian and Israeli Arabs who together with Jewish criminals comb the streets, according to the police. (Ibid., Jan 5, 1996) The thief who actually steals the car--usually a kid--is payed $150 to $200 per vehicle.
When the late Prime Minister Rabin and his associate Shimon Peres prepared the map to fix the boundaries of the new Palestinian entity, they did not take into account the possibility that placing the Green Line (boundary) on the outskirts of Israel's most populated areas would create a haven for marauders who could harass Israel's cities and then slip back into territory under the control of Arafat.
ISRAELI MAYORS FEEL HELPLESS
The mayor of our neighboring town has complained that the mayors of the Sharon Valley (coastal area north of Tel Aviv) have been given no tools "for ensuring the safety of our residents and the physical integrity of their property." He continues:
"Thousands upon thousands of people are affected. . . .Recently we were informed that another 1,000 Palestinian prisoners are to be released. Every new wave of prisoner releases brings in its wake a new wave of property damage, theft of agricultural equipment, and theft of cars in the Sharon region." (Ibid., Dec. 27, 1995)
It would seem that this plague is only one more blow of distress and adversity with which Satan in his hatred of Israel would smite this nation. Yet God in His mercy, through all of these afflictions, will bring Israel back to himself. Even though one might think that car theft is not high on God's agenda for sins committed against Israel, nevertheless these lawless acts are being noted and recorded in the books of heaven. In that day, every act of evil that has been perpetrated will be judged injustice without mercy.
"After glory He has sent me against the nations which plunder you, for he who touches you, touches the apple of His eye." Zech.2:8
WHAT THE PEOPLE OF GOD ARE DOING THROUGH MAOZ!
Two months ago, we wrote you about the Israeli National Youth Conference we are sponsoring on March 26-28. We want to report to you that we received $5,100 from the U.S. and Canada, and £520 from England, plus a single gift of $5,000. That gives a total of$10,100 plus £520. The teenagers themselves will be paying approximately $30 apiece, which would provide another $4,500--although there will be a percentage of teenagers who will not be able to pay, and will need assistance to attend.
The bottom line is you have donated enough funds to underwrite all the expenses of this conference! We wish you could see the gratitude in our hearts for your generosity! Most certainly, we believe you, by using your "mammon" to bring these teenagers into salvation and/or greater commitment and discipleship, they in turn can reproduce and bear fruit. One day these Israelis will greet you, when the time comes for our God to distribute His rewards. (Luke 16:9) We will report to you on the conference in the May newsletter.
JACK HAYFORD RETURNS FOR ANOTHER ISRAELI LEADERSHIP CONFERENCE
Jack Hayford is returning to Israel to bless the leaders of congregations and ministries in Israel. He will be guest speaker at the three day-nationwide Israeli Messianic Leadership Conference, May 16-18. Not only is Pastor Hayford coming entirely at his own expense, but his congregation is contributing $25,000 toward the conference. The Israeli leaders who are able, will be paying $50 per person ($100 per couple).
Our goal is to invite 250 leaders (including spouses). The subsidy needed per person is almost exactly $150. (£98) Through the contributions of Church on the Way, we already have sponsorship for 140 leaders. That leaves 110 leaders who yet need sponsorship at $150 (£98) per person, amounting to a total of $16,500. (£10,700)
LEADERS FROM MANY ETHNIC BACKGROUND ATTENDING
We are inviting Israeli leaders from a great variety of backgrounds including many ethnic Jews such as Ethiopian, Russian and a large contingent of our Israeli Arab pastors.
We are devoting considerable time to create an environment for fellowship and rest during this conference so that the pastors and leaders may be refreshed and encouraged by one another.
INVESTING INTO THE LIFE OF AN ISRAELI LEADER…
There are few activities that can have greater importance in preparing us for an outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon this land than the coming together of Israel's spiritual leaders to open their hearts before God, and one another.
Would you like to sponsor an Israeli leader to this conference? Or share in a sponsorship? You will be sharing in the equipping of our leaders for evangelizing and pastoring the people of Israel.
There are many needs and opportunities in Israel at this time. We know you have given and given and given. Yet what can we do, but continue together to labor, and pray and give, as we see the time growing shorter, and the harvest growing greater?
Do not grow weary of well doing... .knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord. (II Thes. 3:31, I Cor 15:58)
. . . Your prayer has been heard and your alms have been remembered before God. (Acts 10:31)
Your giving makes possible the work of the Lord through this ministry in Israel.
Your fellow servants,
Ari & Shira Sorko-Ram
1 Because of the recent assassination of “The Engineer”, Hamas’ leading suicide bomb organizer, Hamas says they are going to seek immediate revenge through new terrorist attacks.