A Christian Arab is working on his plan to build a statue of Jesus in Nazareth, the childhood home of Jesus which is now dominated by Arab Muslim citizens of Israel. It will be, he says, larger than the Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio de Janeiro in Brazil.
"Slowly, but surely, the Christian identity in Nazareth is beginning to disappear," said Bishara Shlayan, a Christian merchant seaman from Nazareth who has come up with the plan, according to Fox News.
Shlayan told The Jerusalem Post he is raising funds for the project from both Israeli Arab Christians and Jews.
The statue would sit atop Mount Precipice, from where a mob tried to throw off Jesus only for Him to walk through them without any harm, as recorded in Luke 4:29-30. The site is owned by the Jewish National Fund, a quasi-governmental, non-profit organization.
Last month, Israel's Tourism Minister Uzi Landau told Shlayan if he starts the project "we will bless it." Official confirmation, however, is yet to come.
Churches are expected to join the effort to build the statue, said Shlayan, who has formed an organization called Diglei Habrit, or Flags of the Covenant, which would undertake the project. Shlayan wants international Christian organizations also to support it.
Nazareth's population is 69 percent Muslim and 30.9 percent Christian, according to 2009 data by the Israel Central Bureau of Statistics.
The plan is likely to face opposition from some people and groups. "People who are against it, it comes from jealousy," said Shlayan, adding that some Muslims and Jews are not happy with it.
The opponents include the supporters of the new Muslim mayor, Ali Salam, who have said they would prefer a statue of the mayor rather than that of Jesus.
"I don't believe in statues, but it is a symbol of love and peace," Shlayan said.
The project is part of Shlayan's larger plan to start a Christian Arab political party, which would be called "Bnei Habrit [Allies of the Covenant], the Christian party of Israel," and support Israel as a Jewish state and national or army service for Arabs.
Robert Goldberg, an ex-officio member of the Board of Trustees of The Jewish Federations of North America (formerly UJC) has shown support for the proposed party, Shlayan said.