The difference between how Christians are treated in Assad’s Syria compared to areas under US backed terrorist control

Treatment of Christians in Assad’s Syria vs in US-backed ‘Rebel’ Areas

We want to thank Janice Kortkamp who has traveled around Syria for several months during the past two years for this inspiring post. Her report paints a totally different picture from what the United States government and our mainstream media tells us about what is happening to Christians in Syria.

Janice began researching Syria and the war in 2012 and has put in well over 6,000 hours in research. She has made hundreds of contacts in Syria also ex-pat Syrians in several other countries. Also, she has made four trips in 2016-2017, each almost one month long that included: Traveled to Damascus (inc. Ma’aloula and Saidnaya), Homs (inc. Valley of the Christians and villages in the countryside near Masyaf), Lattakia (inc. Ugarit, Slonfeh, Kessab), Tartous (inc. Amrit, Arwad) Aleppo, Palmyra, and Deir Ezzor (inc. Al Mayadeen).

During her travels, she met with: Soldiers, doctors, lawyers, scientists, artists, musicians, community and government leaders, professors, teachers, students, displaced persons, religious leaders, businessmen, housewives, children – from all major religious groups. She met with refugees and immigrants from Syria in Germany, Lebanon, Kuwait and America; as well as internally displaced persons in Syria from Aleppo, Idlib, Deir Ezzor, Raqqa, Al Mayadeen and other areas of Syria.

Janice describes herself as “100% independent and self-funded thru my husband and some donations from friends and family.” [Ed.-TEC]


Christianity in Syria vs Christianity in “Rebel” Held Areas of Syria – Syria Resources Archive

On this Palm Sunday for western churches, allow me to compare and contrast Christianity in Syria vs Christianity in US-backed “rebel” held areas of Syria.

Some of these pics are from my own travels around Syria the past two years.

In government held areas of Syria (about 85% of the population is in these areas):

– The government of Syria is secular; its constitution protects all religions. The population of Syria is 90% Muslim. Sunnis are the majority, over 70%. The rest are various sects like Alawites, traditional Shiite, Druze, Ismailis, Sufis etc. Before the war, Christians made up about 10%. Now it’s possible half are gone. The president is mandated to be Muslim in the constitution and there are many who would like that changed, but that is a matter only for the Syrian people to decide.

– There are hundreds if not over a thousand churches in Syria. Eastern Orthodox and Catholic primarily but also all major Protestant denominations. Churches and mosques sit comfortably side by side.

– Easter is a national holiday in Syria. The government and businesses are closed.

– Many Muslims attend Easter services and celebrations with their Christian friends. Everywhere around government controlled Syria you will see Easter parades and events.

– The Syrian Arab Army is also secular. Muslims and Christians fight side by side against the US supported terrorist groups. Many thousands of Muslim soldiers, including some Hezbollah and Iranian fighters, have died protecting Christian areas and populations. Christians have died protecting their Muslim brothers.

– Christians are in every level of leadership and society in Syria. The current head of Parliament is Christian.

– The Christians of Syria, virtually all, stand with their president and army against the “rebel” terrorists who have targeted them for expulsion and often execution. I have met with many Christians there, leaders and just regular folks. They’ve all said the same. One young Christian lady asked me, on a Palm Sunday when I was there, “Why do Americans want us all dead?” The great majority of Muslims also stand with their president and army including the majority of Sunnis.

– President Assad recently spoke with a group of Christian youth. He said, “Christians are not guests or migrating birds. They are from the origins of the nation and without them, there is no Syria.” He and his wife visit Christian towns, villages, orphanages, churches etc often.

– Christian and Muslim leaders meet regularly together.

– In areas that have been liberated by the Syrian Army from US supported terrorist “rebels”, churches are being rebuilt and reopened.

In areas where US supported “rebels” are still in control:

– Christians have been executed, often by beheading, or driven out of their homes. “Rebels” have kidnapped, tortured, and killed priests and nuns. They’ve massacred whole Christian villages. Any Christians who’ve tried to stay in their homes under the terrorists’ rule are required to pay a special tax and are the victims of abuse and persecution.

– There is no religious tolerance in “rebel” held areas of Syria. No operating churches, in fact they are often burned and destroyed by the “rebels”.

Gathering of religious and government leaders
Meeting with Pastor Ibrahim in Aleppo, April 2017
President and Mrs. Assad visiting the orphanage in Ma’aloula, an ancient Christian village, on Easter before the war
Ma’aloula is rebuilding after being liberated from US backed “rebels” fighting alongside al Qaeda. The “rebels” killed many townspeople but most were able to escape. The “rebels” looted and burned the churches there.
Easter week in Ma’aloula in April of 2017 as the town was preparing for an Easter parade.
This wonderful man sang The Lord’s Prayer for us in Aramaic in Ma’aloula.
A man of Ma’aloula who joined the town’s militia to protect it.
Christian soldier in the Syrian Arab Army.
This mortar fell on a small Christian school. The “rebels” often fired mortars into civilian areas of Damascus. Each one is filled with shrapnel and kill many people.
An ancient Christian manuscript preserved in the Al Assad Library, Damascus
Orphanage in Damascus
This gate commemorates where the Apostle Paul was lowered over the Damascus wall.
An orphanage and elderly/special needs care facility in Damascus
Orphanage in Damascus
President and Mrs. Assad visited Saidnaya Convent recently.
President and Mrs. Assad in a church during the Christmas season about 2 years ago.
Syrian soldiers
During the renovation of a church in Old Homs, May 2016
Inside a church in Old Homs
Father Frans van der Lugt was murdered by al Qaeda “rebels” in Old Homs shortly before the city was liberated by the Syrian Army.
In Ma’aloula in May 2016 surveying damage done by “rebels” to a church there.

Source: Whtt

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Russia and Iran Prepare To Retaliate for the Attack on Syria (TruNews Radio)

Israel Takes Steps to Bar Gaza Christians for Easter Holiday

Posted on 

[ Ed. note – Israel’s supporters and its legions of hasbara apparatchiks are quite fond of telling us how wonderfully Christians are treated in the Jewish state. But an article published today in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz gives us a slightly different perspective. Palestinian Christians in Gaza are required to obtain permits to travel to Jerusalem for Easter observances, and according to the Haaretz report, Israeli authorities are refusing to issue permits to Christians aged 55 and under.

One other thing you’ll note about the article below: it makes mention of an Israeli government agency known as “COGAT.” COGAT stands for “Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories.” It is a part of the Israeli Ministry of Defense and generally speaking is responsible for implementing government policies in the occupied territories. Back in February it was none other than a COGAT official who made the ludicrous assertion that Muhammed Tamimi, the young cousin of Ahed Tamimi who was shot in the head with a rubber bullet, had actually injured himself by falling off his bicycle.

Immediately below the Haaretz report, you’ll also find a Press TV program from Easter of two years ago. One of the guests on the program discusses travel restrictions on Palestinian Christians from visiting the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem–so in other words, while the age restrictions discussed in the Haaretz article below may be new, the travel restrictions in general are not. And also, in the same video, you’ll hear about hate crimes against Christians, including vandalism of churches and spitting upon Christians.

One final thing I’ll mention–I have not reported it so far because I’ve been busy on other things lately, but the case of Ahed Tamimi was finally adjudicated by the Israeli military court. The girl was sentenced to eight months in jail following a plea bargain deal reached with prosecutors. She will also pay a fine of nearly $1,500. The arrangement was announced on Wednesday of last week.

Ironically, in the same week, an Israeli military parole board ruled that Israeli soldier Elor Azarya should be released after serving only nine months for shooting a wounded Palestinian in the head and killing him back in March of 2016. But wait, there’s more. Also last week (a rather stunning week for irony, even perhaps by Israeli standards), yet another Israeli, David Muial, is reported to have been sentenced to community service for participating in a lynching of an Eritrean assylum seeker that occurred back in October of 2015.

So let’s see. Azarya, when he is released in May, will end up having served just nine months for carrying out what in reality was a cold-blooded murder of a Palestinian…while Ahed, for the horrible crime of slapping a soldier at the front entrance to her home, will remain behind bars for eight months–a mere 30 days less than Ararya got for an act of murder. And Muial’s appallingly brutal sentence of community service I guess speaks for itself.

So…imposing draconian discipline upon “chosen people” for petty crimes like murder and lynching–what in the heck is that all about? It looks like Jews really do have it tough in Israel after all!

Of course, we do know of one Jew who paid the ultimate price–for the “crime” of preaching peace, love and compassion. ]

***

Haaretz

Only Christians over the age of 55 will be allowed to enter Israel from the Gaza Strip to pray at Jerusalem’s Church of the Holy Sepulchre during Easter, according to a document issued by the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories. Five hundred permits have been issued for the holiday, as compared to 700 for Christmas, but sources in Gaza say that the age restriction means that only about 10 percent of the quota will be filled.

According to Christian clergy in Gaza, who say the limitations are unjustified, only about 120 Christians meet the age criteria and many will not be able to travel without relatives who are under the age limit. George Anton, a Christian community activist from Gaza, said that no permits for Easter have been issued so far.

Easter, also known as the “great feast,” is the most important holiday on the Christian liturgical calendar in the Middle East, as opposed the West, where Christmas takes precedence. Catholics and Protestants will celebrate Easter on Sunday, while the Orthodox churches will mark the holiday two weeks later.

Anton told Haaretz that there are about 1,200 Christians living in Gaza (as opposed to 1,313 documented by a Vatican delegation in 2014). Similar age restrictions were imposed in the past, he said. For the Easter holiday in 2015, following the war in the Gaza Strip the previous year, entry to Israel was barred for people age 16 to 35. However, after church leaders in Israel and abroad intervened, the restriction was lifted and 850 permits were issued.

According to COGAT, restrictions are eased during Muslim and Christian holidays as part of the policy to encourage religious activities of all faiths. But in Gaza, news of the relaxed restrictions are usually made public late, and responses to permit applications are often given too late or are turned down with no reason given.

In a video posted on COGAT’s Facebook about three weeks ago, the day the quota was made public, an Israeli army officer named Alaa Halabi asked Gaza residents who had received permits for Christmas and had not yet returned to do so immediately. Halabi warned that their failure to return would “impact the ability” of COGAT “to take steps ahead of Easter.”

Sources in Gaza believed that a few dozen people did not return after leaving the Strip for Christmas.

The COGAT document did not reveal the reason for the age restrictions but the office confirmed the age restriction and did not deny that it was a punitive measure. “The State of Israel is a sovereign state that has the right to decide who enters it,” the response stated. “Foreigners have no inherent right to enter Israel, including Palestinian residents of Gaza.” It was decided to issue permits only to those over 55 “In light of the recurring phenomenon of Palestinians who took advantage of the permit to remain in Israel illegally” and “as part of the actions to limit illegal presence in Israel,” COGAT said.

Lawmaker Aida Touma-Sliman of the Joint List asked Deputy Defense Minister Eli Ben-Dahan to change the entry conditions so that all Christians would “be able to exercise their basic right to freedom of religion.” Touma-Sliman said she has not yet received an answer. “Israel boasts to the whole world that it is a safe place for all religions. But in fact it continues to harm the Palestinian Christian population,” the lawmaker said. She added that the age restriction “constitutes more proof that Israel has never left Gaza and continues to control everything that happens there.”

Following requests for action from Gaza, the nonprofit organizationGisha – Legal Center for Freedom of Movement demanded in a letter to COGAT that the age restriction be lifted and that the number of permits for the holiday be increased. “There is no justification for arbitrary impairment of freedom of movement and religion,” Gisha wrote, “certainly not a dialogue of threats. This is another example of collective punishment of the residents, and generally the punitive and arbitrary nature of Israel’s permit regime with regard to Gazans.”

***

Legitimizing Terrorism: Inviting Al Qaeda “Moderates” to Washington for “Consultations”

Global Research, January 09, 2018

The recent visit of Free Syrian Army commanders to Washington amounts to an exercise in war propaganda.[1]

The visit serves to legitimize the FSA terrorists in the eyes of the broader public by perpetuating the fiction that they are somehow “moderate”, or that they represent organic opposition to the Syrian government. 

Nothing could be further from the truth.  The CIA alone spends about one billion per year[2] supporting terrorists in Syria. So the FSA aren’t Free.  They are beholden to their imperial masters and underwriters. Nor are they “Syrian” in terms of being legitimate Syrian opposition. And they are not an “army” either, although they are part of an “army” of foreign-backed Al Qaeda affiliated terrorists infesting Syria and beyond. 

We do know, however, that the FSA were amongst the terrorists who stormed Syria from Turkey and beheaded many of Lilly Martin’s Christian neighbours.[3]

We do know that the terrorists who invaded and desecrated the primarily Christian town of Maaloula, Syria, included FSA terrorists.[4]

We also know that FSA terrorists were amongst those who terrorized people in Aleppo for years.[5]

The FSA, alongside other terrorist factions, including ISIS and al Nusra, have terrorized Syria and Syrians for years.

Naturally the Western media presstitutes and the criminal politicians will mention none of this.  But the truth is there for all who seek peace and justice.  Presumably, Western populations would not support the FSA if they knew the truth.

Notes

[1] “Free Syrian Army Commanders Visit Washington – Reports.” South Front/Global Research. 8 January, 2018.

(https://www.globalresearch.ca/free-syrian-army-commanders-visit-washington-reports/5625267) Accessed 8 January, 2018.

[2] Mark Taliano, “Criminal War Propaganda.” Global Research. 7 November, 2017. (https://www.globalresearch.ca/criminal-war-propaganda/5616974) Accessed 8 January, 2018.

[3] Declan Hayes, “The Rape of Kasab.” Op Ed News. 16 September, 2014.(https://www.opednews.com/articles/The-Rape-of-Kasab-Syria-by-Declan-Hayes-Ambassador_Attack_Beheadings_Christian-140914-360.html) Accessed 8 January, 2018.

[4] Mark Taliano, “A Christian Christmas? The West Supported Al Qaeda Terrorists Who Killed Christians in Syria.”Global Research, 12 December, 2017. (https://www.globalresearch.ca/a-christian-christmas-the-west-supported-al-qaeda-terrorists-who-killed-christians-in-syria/5622487) Accessed 8 January, 2018.

[5] Mark Taliano,“Syria: Egregious Lies and Crimes Are The Foundation of Western Foreign Policy.” Global Research.  15 March 2017. (https://www.globalresearch.ca/egregious-lies-and-crimes-are-the-foundation-of-western-foreign-policy/5589955) . Accessed 8 January, 2018.


Order Mark Taliano’s Book “Voices from Syria directly from Global Research.  

Taliano talks and listens to the people of Syria. He reveals the courage and resilience of a Nation and its people in their day to day lives, after more than six years of US-NATO sponsored terrorism and three years of US “peacemaking” airstrikes.

Mark Taliano combines years of research with on-the-ground observations to present an informed and well-documented analysis that refutes  the mainstream media narratives on Syria. 

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VIDEO: Palestinian Christians Protest Patriarch Who Sold Church Land to Israel

January 7, 2018 4:27 AM 

 IMEMC News & Agencies

07 JAN 4:27 AM

Palestinian Christians from around the occupied West Bank, East Jerusalem and Israel came out in harsh opposition, Saturday, to a visit by Greek Orthodox Church Patriarch of Jerusalem, Theophilos III, to the southern occupied West Bank city of Bethlehem.

Theophilos III, along with several other religious and political figures, were visiting Bethlehem as part of celebrations for Greek Orthodox Christmas Eve.

Despite an intense presence of Palestinian security forces who attempted to open roads near Bethlehem’s Manger Square, for the patriarch’s car, angry protesters swarmed around the procession, holding signs, Palestinian flags, and chanting slogans against Theophilus III.

According to Ma’an News Agency,  some people threw stones and smashed windows of the car that the patriarch was riding in as they demanded he be stripped of his titles and removed from the church.

Theophilos III is accused of orchestrating the sale of more than 500 dunams (123.5 acres) of Palestinian land belonging to the Arab Orthodox Church in Jerusalem to Israelis belonging to Zionist and settler groups.

The protest was not the first of its kind in Bethlehem — visits by Theophilus III to the biblical town have been boycotted in the past.

On Saturday, heads of the municipalities of Bethlehem, Beit Jala and Beit Sahour boycotted the reception, along with several religious organizations affiliated with the Greek Orthodox Church.

The church has been accused numerous times, over the years, of selling its leasing rights over land in Jerusalem to Jewish Israeli investors, with Israeli financial newspaper Calcalist revealing late last month that the Orthodox Patriarchate had sold the rights to 500 dunams, in August 2016, for 114 million shekels ($32 million), a move to be effective in 2050, when the Jewish National Fund’s lease of the land is set to expire.

Detractors have accused the patriarchate of contributing to Israeli plans to “Judaize” Jerusalem by selling or leasing off large amounts of land to Israeli authorities and business people, betraying the church’s responsibility to protect Palestinian lands that were handed under its care during the Ottoman period.

In 2015, a patriarchate spokesperson denied that the church was selling off lands in Jerusalem — a claim that did not convince many members of the faith, at the time.

Related story:

12/07/17 Bethlehem, Beit Jala, Beit Sahour Engage in “Christmas Blackout” to Protest US Jerusalem Decision

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Russian Church Vows to Rebuild Christian Syria

Posted on 

[ Ed. note – The video above contains Russian Christmas music. I thought it very fitting to post given the news which appeared yesterday on the Russian Faith website–namely that the Russian Orthodox Church has vowed to help Christian communities in Syria rebuild. The war in Syria has in some respects been a war against Christianity.

We should remember that the terrorists who targeted Syrian Christians in brutal and bloody attacks over the past six years, kidnapping nuns and beheading priests, plundering and ransacking churches and monasteries–we should remember that these terrorists were equipped, trained, and funded by foreign backers who knew full well that attacks on Christians were the likely result of their backing. And yet they went ahead and provided them with support and backing anyway. Those who view the Syrian conflict as solely an effort at regime change I think are seeing only part of the picture.

At any rate, below is the the report from the Russian Faith website on Patriarch Kirill’s pledge to help support the rebuilding effort in Syria…and beneath that you will find a Russian-to-English translation of the video description, including the artists and song titles.

Also down below you’ll find a bit of breaking news from the Syrian conflict itself. Tensions seem to be escalating between the US and Russia, or at least between the US and Russian Air Forces. It seems there are some particularly “close encounters” between fighter jets taking place now. ]

***

By Matfey Shaheen | Russian Faith

December 8, 2017

The leader of the Russian Church, Patriarch Kirill promised that the Russian Church will help Syria to cope with post-war problems in every way possible, Interfax Religion reports.

His main concern is to help reestablish ancient Christian communities, many of which were ravaged by western-backed terrorists fighting the legitimate Syrian government. Many monasteries and Churches were damaged, for example, the Mar Taqla Monastery in Maaloula, where they speak the same language which Jesus spoke – Aramaic.

Orthodox priests and believers were cruelly persecuted. My mother’s family is distantly related to  Father Fadi Haddad, a priest martyred by extremists in Qatana, a village within sight of the biblical Mount Hermon.

Continued here

***

From the video description:

***

A list of songs and artists at the end of this text.
I’ve been looking for a series of Christmas songs online … Individual video clips, audio … You are welcome… But I wanted a collection of good Christmas songs in Russian. There are many assemblies in English. And I thought, why not do something like that. A couple of weeks collected Russian audio, and then the pictures. And finally, this is a nice musical assembly. Especially for his friends and everyone-everyone who loves New Year as much as I do! I’d love it if you like it! 40 minutes of Christmas and winter songs in Russian.

1. Julia Savicheva-New Year
2. Group of shiny-Tic Tac Clock
3. Choirs Arkady and Natalie-Christmas toys
4. Olga the Christmas snowflake (song from C/F Paradise)
5. Andrei Derzhavin-Christmas
6. Future visitors-Christmas song
7. Fire-Snow is spinning
8. The Christmas singer is unknown
9. History of Romance
10. Alexei Glyzin-New Year
11. Oscar Kucera-New Year
12. Stas Pieha and Pavel Christmas

By the way, the latest news on the Syrian front is that US and Russian aircraft are having encounters in the skies that in some respects resemble aerial dog fights. An article published December 9 at RT says that the Russian Ministry of Defense has “blasted” the US Air Force for the actions of “rogue” US fighter jets that have interfered with Russian military operations against ISIS. An incident that occurred on November 23 involving a US F-22 seems particularly to have vexed the Russians, and the article includes an interesting quote Defense Ministry spokesman Major General Igor Konashenkov.

“The F-22 launched decoy flares and used airbrakes while constantly maneuvering [near the Russian strike jets], imitating an air fight,” Konashenkov said. He added that the US jet ceased its dangerous maneuvers only after a Russian Su-35S fighter jet joined the two strike planes.

The major general went on to say that “most close-midair encounters between Russian and US jets in the area around the Euphrates River have been linked to the attempts of US aircraft to get in the way [of the Russian warplanes] striking against Islamic State terrorists.” He also said that the US military officials provided no explanation for the November 23 incident as well as other, similar encounters.

You can access the full article here. I would also recommend, for anyone who hasn’t read it yet, a newly-published article by Vanessa Beeley regarding the organization Reporters Without Borders–a Western-backed NGO that supposedly defends freedom of the press but which recently attempted to shut down a conference in Geneva, Switzerland at which Beeley was slated to be one of the speakers. It’s a topsy-turvy world when organizations ostensibly dedicated to free speech attempt to interfere with free speech, but that seems to be what happened.

Some Thoughts on the Latest Church Vandalism in Israel

Father Antonio Scudu, caretaker at the St. Stephen Church, west of Jerusalem, examines a portion of a shattered statue of the Virgin Mary. The vandalism of the church took place on September 19, 2017.

By Richard Edmondson

There still has been no arrest in the vandalism of St. Stephen’s Church, a Christian site near Jerusalem which vandals entered and desecrated on the night of September 19. I am, for that matter, not especially hopeful an arrest will be forthcoming. Israel has an extremely sorry history when it comes to investigating and prosecuting criminal cases of this sort. The record speaks for itself.

An article published by Haaretz on September 24 reports that over 50 Christian and Muslim religious sites have been vandalized since the year 2009. In that time only nine indictments have been filed, and only seven convictions have been handed down. That’s bad enough, but an article published Tuesday at Crux, a Catholic news site, suggests the record may be even worse than Haaretz is reporting. “There have been some 80 incidents of vandalism against churches and Christian sites in the Holy Land over the last decade. In most of the cases, no arrests or indictments have taken place,” that article states.

All I can tell you is that over the years since I’ve been blogging, which is about seven years now, I have reported on numerous attacks by vandals on religious sites in Israel, yet still the practice remains an acute problem.

My initial report on this month’s attack at St. Stephen’s was posted September 23. In that post I noted that the church is located on the grounds of a Catholic monastery, Beit Jamal, a Salesian monastery that lies near the city of Beit Shemesh. I also noted that this is the third time in four years that the site has been vandalized and commented, “Apparently the site is on somebody’s hit list.”

The previous attacks occurred in 2013, when a firebomb was thrown at the door and hateful graffiti scrawled on the walls, and in January of 2016, when the cemetery was vandalized. At the time, I put up a post on the 2016 cemetery attack, which you can access here. All this taken into consideration, it does seem as if the church might be on a hit list of some sort.

Whether this has anything to do with the fact that the locale is believed to have been the burial place of St. Stephen, I can’t say. But indeed, there is a longstanding tradition in church history that the saint’s remains were buried here. This of course is why the church is named after him, and perhaps for this reason, it is worth recounting a bit of St. Stephen’s story

Stephen, his speech before Jewish leaders and his death by stoning at their hands, are told of in the sixth and seventh chapters of the Book of Acts. Initially selected to help with daily distribution of food, Stephen was described as “a man full of God’s grace and power” who “did great wonders and miraculous signs among the people,” and he seems to have risen quickly to prominence among the disciples in Jerusalem. This of course in the months after Christ’s crucifixion.

Jews from one of the synagogues began to accuse Stephen in a manner very reminiscent of the charges brought against Jesus–and, like Jesus himself, Stephen ended up before the Jewish ruling council, or Sanhedrin. He was, among other things, accused of speaking “words of blasphemy against Moses and against God,” and he was also alleged to have invoked Jesus’ prophecy about the destruction of the temple. It’s probably not too much of a stretch, then, to speculate he may even have told people that God didn’t live in the Jewish temple (as Jewish leaders claimed) and that it was not necessary for people to actually go there in order to worship God, that God can be worshiped anywhere. This would have reflected Jesus’ teaching in John 4:21-23, and if Stephen indeed spread such teachings, then it would have infuriated the Jewish leadership all the more, for the temple was an enormously lucrative enterprise for them.

Then the high priest asked him, “Are these charges true?”

This is the opening line in Acts chapter 7, and it is at this point that Stephen launches into his lengthy speech. Basically, it’s a speech recounting the narrative of the Old Testament. The Abrahamic covenant, the stories of Issac and Jacob, the twelve patriarchs, the bondage in Egypt, Moses and the Exodus–all of this is spoken of by Stephen. All of it makes up about ninety percent of his speech, and for the most part it doesn’t ruffle too many feathers, but then we get to the following passage–and it is at this point that all “heck” breaks loose. Here again, the speaker is Stephen:

You stiff-necked people, with uncircumcised hearts and ears! You are just like your fathers: You always resist the Holy Spirit! Was there ever a prophet your fathers did not persecute? They even killed those who predicted the coming of the Righteous One. And now you have betrayed and murdered him–you who have received the law that was put into effect but have not obeyed it.

Notice that Stephen chooses the same adjective–“stiff-necked”–used by Moses in describing the Israelites. He is in effect saying that the Abrahamic covenant is hereby abrogated. If you consistently disobey the law–most especially if you murder God’s son–what other conclusion than that can be drawn? The covenant is dead. Jews can no longer consider themselves God’s “chosen,” Stephen is basically saying. It’s a pivotal moment. It is literally earth shaking. And the reaction from the Sanhedrin is spontaneous and immediate:

When they heard this they were furious, and gnashed their teeth at him. But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. “Look,” he said, “I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.”

At this they covered their ears and, yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at him, dragged him out of the city, and began to stone him.

Thus Stephen became the first Christian martyr in recorded history. Interestingly, the text notes that one of those present, giving his approval to it all, was Saul–later Paul–who, somewhat astonishingly, ended up becoming an apostle of Christ himself.

Could this narrative in the New Testament have anything to do with why St. Stephen’s and the monastery have been attacked repeatedly?

The night of September 19/20, when the vandal(s) entered the church, was the eve of the Jewish New Year. “The monastery is open for visitors and generally has good relations with its Jewish neighbors,” the Crux article notes, “including the residents of an ultra-Orthodox town.” The “ultra-Orthodox town” being referred to here is Beit Shemesh, located nearby, a city of about 103,000 population.

Beit Shemesh is mentioned in the Book of Joshua as being among the towns allotted to the Levites, or priestly class. In the modern, post-1948 era it was settled by Jewish immigrants from Bulgaria, though by the late 1970s it had become a major center of the Likud Party. The “good relations” mentioned in the Crux article probably pertain to Neturei Karta, which has a small community living in Beit Shemesh, primarily in one neighborhood of the city. You can go hereto see video of a protest in which an NK member, holding a Palestinian flag, is attacked and chased by Israeli police. The date on the video is 2015. An earlier video, also shot in Beit Shemesh, shows a confrontation between police and a large group of Orthodox men demanding enforcement of segregation between the sexes. It is perhaps not terribly surprising that a Christian church and monastery located in proximity to such a city would come under attack.

The vandals destroyed a statue of the Virgin Mary, a cross, and smashed stained glass windows depicting events in the life of Jesus. While Hebrew graffiti has been a hallmark of previous church attacks in Israel, nothing of the like was left in this case. Still,  Giacinto-Boulos Marcuzzo, the Catholic patriarchal vicar for Jerusalem and Palestine, expressed the view that the attack was most likely carried out by “Jewish extremists.”

“Vandals broke into the church and destroyed the crosses, the statue of Our Lady and the stained glass, as well as the faces of the saints,” Mgr. Marcuzzo said.

“In the Old Testament, it is written to destroy the statues as a symbol of idolatry. Here, these people distort the Scriptures and promote fanaticism. Perhaps it is not a direct attack on Christians, but it is certainly a message against those who do not share their ideology and it is scary because it shows that there is no respect for others. Living together is undermined,” he added.

Anther cleric who commented on the matter is Salesian Father Antonio Scudu, who serves as caretaker of the church.

“I was shocked. I didn’t expect to see something like this. The church is always open. If you see what happened, you feel they did it with hate. They smashed everything,” he said.

Israeli Police spokesperson Micky Rosenfeld told the Catholic News Service that the case is being given “top priority.”

“There have been arrests in previous cases. We are looking into this case to see if it was an individual or a group. These are all separate cases,” Rosenfeld said. “People can say what they want. This kind of case is top priority.”

Yet as the report posted by Crux notes:

Christians in the Holy Land, including Catholic leaders, have expressed frustration with lack of legal action against cases of desecration and vandalism of sacred places.

Even as the Assembly of Catholic Ordinaries of the Holy Land issued a statement condemning the September 20 desecration and vandalism of a Catholic shrine in Israel, some people criticized the statement’s “weak language” and asked, “How long will we be tolerant?”

“Unfortunately, in these situations we feel how vulnerable we are,” one person wrote on Facebook.

The words “how long will we be tolerant?” have a certain poignance to them, for in Israel there are “Jewish extremists” who seem to feel the nation has been overly “tolerant” by even allowing Christians and Christian churches to exist inside the country’s boundaries. One such individual is Benzi Gopstein, whose views I discussed in the post I put up in January of 2016 on the St. Stephen’s cemetery desecration.

Gopstein is the leader of Lehava, the far-right Israeli organization that opposes intermarriage between Jews and non-Jews. He also hates Christianity. My 2016 post included an excerpt from a Times of Israel report in which Gopstein is quoted as referring to Christianity as “that accursed religion” and likening Christians to “vampires.”

Interestingly, the Lehava leader has also been referred to as “Israel’s teflon man, nothing sticks to him.”

The Israeli government may be feeling mounting pressure to do something about the wave of attacks upon religious sites, and if that is the case, we could end up seeing an arrest in the St. Stephen’s case. This of course would not alleviate the anti-Christian hatred felt by Jews like Gopstein, and if anything will make it worse. There is a reason the Christian Church, founded by men like Stephen, ended up breaking off from Judaism: the two faiths are pretty much incompatible.

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