TEL AVIV – Christians in Nazareth, already victims of nearly institutionalized Muslim intimidation, need to contend with yet another extremist threat.
Israel’s Shin Bet security agency earlier this month announced the arrest of Israeli Arab youths from Nazareth for declaring allegiance to the Islamic State.
The Shin Bet said that during interrogations “it emerged that, in the past year, the youths obtained firearms and trained with them, while becoming more devout during meetings they held. They expressed support for ISIS [Islamic State], and praised the jihad against infidels.”
Last week, two cousins accused of being Islamic State operatives were arrested in the Nazareth area on suspicion of plotting attacks in northern Israel.
The trend in Nazareth, considered one of the holiest cities for Christians, was spotlighted by the Daily Beast on Tuesday in a piece titled, “ISIS of Nazareth: Terror Group Arrives in Jesus’s Hometown.”
The city is described in the New Testament as the childhood home of Jesus. It houses the Church of the Annunciation, which marks the spot where, according to Christian tradition, Mary was told by the angel Gabriel that she would conceive and become the mother of Jesus.
The Daily Beast reported on the rise of Islam in Nazareth and the atmosphere of intimidation:
‘Muslims make up 70 percent of Nazareth, Israel’s largest Arab city. In the northern Galilee region, the Islamic Movement’s popularity is growing. …
‘Some Christians have said Muslims in the area are attempting to instill cultural dominance, and in response a modest but growing number are beginning to publicly express their loyalty to the state of Israel, which they say can protect them from Islamic radicalism and other threats.’
At times, Christians made up the majority during Nazareth’s long history. But the Muslim majority has created a hostile environment.
Muslims drew up plans to erect a mosque just outside the Church of the Annunciation.
The Jerusalem Post in 2011 reported on a sign greeting those entering the city that read: “And whoever seeks a religion other than Islam, it will never be accepted of him, and in the Hereafter he will be one of the losers.”
In 2014, another billboard quoted Koranic verse. It read:
‘O people of the Scripture (Christians)! Do not exceed the limits of your religion. Say nothing but the truth about Allah (The One True God). The Christ Jesus, Son of Mary, was only a Messenger of God and His word conveyed to Mary and a spirit created by Him. So believe in God and His messengers and do not say: “Three gods (trinity).” Cease! It will be better for you. Indeed, Allah is the One and the Only God. His Holiness is far above having a son.’
In 2007, this reporter attended a militant march in Nazareth organized by the city’s Islamic Movement, now a dominant political party there.
The dispatch read:
Islamic Movement leaders paraded down Nazareth’s main thoroughfare brandishing their party’s green flag. Young Muslim men in battle gear marched and beat drums as a man on loudspeaker repeatedly exclaimed in Arabic, “Allah is great.”
Hundreds of activists strutted screaming Islamist epithets, including “Islam is the only truth” and “Islam shall rule all.”
Many of the town’s Christian residents stayed away from the event, with the exception of Christian shopkeepers who worked in the area. WND observed as several Muslim youth marching in the parade started to charge at three local Christian shopkeepers but the youth stopped short.
While the march was billed as a celebration, it’s militant virtues were clearly visible. The event seemed more a show of force than a street party.
“The march is meant to intimidate Christians,” said Saleem, a Nazareth Christian resident who asked that his last name be withheld for fear of what he said was “Muslim retaliation” for speaking out.
“It’s part of the methods used by the Muslims in very obvious ways to create an atmosphere where the Christians should know the Muslims are the main power and we are not welcome anymore,” Saleem said.
Ahmed Zohbi, a member of Nazareth’s municipal council and the leader of an umbrella group consisting of the city’s Islamic parties, denied Saleem’s accusations, claiming there is “no problem” between Christians and Muslims in Nazareth.
“We just want to celebrate. The Muslims have nothing against our Christian brothers. Our communities may have differences but we live a peaceful coexistence,” Zohbi told WND.
Christians in Bethlehem are facing a similar situation.
Breitbart Jerusalem reported last week that Palestinian Authority security organizations are on heightened alert in and around Bethlehem, fearing the Islamic State could launch terrorist attacks targeting Christian tourists or sites during this holiday season.
This is not the first terrorist threat discovered in Bethlehem in recent days.
Israel’s Shin Bet security service announced Wednesday that it had arrested members of two large Hamas terrorist cells in the West Bank who were planning mass casualty suicide bombings and other attacks inside Israel. One of the cells was located in Bethlehem.
Bethlehem’s Christian population faces regular Islamic intimidation.
At Israel’s founding, Bethlehem was 80% Christian. But after the city was handed over to the Palestinians as part of the 1993 Oslo Accords, the city’s Christian population plummeted to 23%. This number includes the satellite towns of Beit Sahour and Beit Jala. Christians now make up only about 12% of the population in the city limits.
What accounts for the Christian exodus?
As reported at WND:
As soon as he took over Bethlehem, Arafat unilaterally fired the city’s Christian politicians and replaced them with Muslim cronies. He appointed a Muslim governor, Muhammad Rashad A-Jabar, and deposed Bethlehem’s city council, which had nine Christians and two Muslims, reducing the number of Christian councilors to a 50-50 split.
Arafat then converted a Greek Orthodox monastery next to the Church of Nativity, the believed birthplace of Jesus, into his official Bethlehem residence.
Suddenly, after the Palestinians gained the territory, reports of Christian intimidation by Muslims began to surface.
Christian leaders and residents told this reporter they face an atmosphere of regular hostility. They said Palestinian armed groups stir tension by holding militant demonstrations and marches in the streets. They spoke of instances in which Christian shopkeepers’ stores were ransacked and Christian homes attacked.
They said in the past, Palestinian gunmen fired at Israelis from Christian hilltop communities, drawing Israeli anti-terror raids to their towns.
Human rights lawyer Justus Weiner told CBN News:
“The threat of persecution, including beatings and forced marriages between Christian women and Muslim men, are some of the reasons Christians have left.”
Christians in Bethlehem also speak of their land being unilaterally confiscated by Muslim gangs.
“There are many cases in which Christians have their land stolen by the [Muslim] mafia,” said Samir Qumsiyeh, a Bethlehem Christian leader and owner of the Beit Sahour-based private Al-Mahd (Nativity) TV station.
“It is a regular phenomenon in Bethlehem. They go to a poor Christian person with a forged power of attorney document, and then they say we have papers proving you’re living on our land. If you confront them, many times the Christian is beaten. You can’t do anything about it. The Christian loses, and he runs away,” Qumsiyeh said.
Last year, a Christian woman from Bethlehem revealed to Fox News that her uncle was murdered because he refused to pay the jizyah, or “protection tax” to Muslims there.
In October, Breitbart News reported on threats to the First Baptist Church of Bethlehem, which has been bombed 14 times.
Aaron Klein is Breitbart’s Jerusalem bureau chief. He is a New York Times bestselling author and hosts the popular weekend talk radio program, “Aaron Klein Investigative Radio.” Follow him on Twitter @AaronKleinShow. Follow him on Facebook.