- (Photo: The Voice of the Martyrs)
The Voice of the Martyrs, a Christian nonprofit that highlights the persecution of Christians worldwide, has drawn its attention this month to the hostilities faced by Christians in the Holy Land, and acknowledges that some might find its "position of highlighting Israel as a hostile nation" disagreeable and offensive.
"There's no persecution in the Holy Land … unless you share your faith," reads the quote on the cover of The Voice of the Martyr's February 2014 newsletter. The quote is attributed to Steven Khoury, an Arab Israeli Christian who pastors churches in Jerusalem and Bethlehem. Pastor Khoury has spoken in the media of witnessing church members being attacked because of their faith, and of losing an uncle who was martyred.
The Voice of the Martyrs, founded in 1967 by a Jewish couple, lists Israel on its "restricted nations" map as a "hostile nation."
The Oklahoma-based nonprofit writes of the February issue's cover story in a Facebook post"
Christian bookstores are filled with publications on Israel — on topics ranging from the nation's rich history to biblical prophecy and the end times. Discussions of Israel reveal varying opinions and even controversies. But rarely will you read or hear a discussion about Israel being hostile toward the followers of Christ who live there. That statement itself may evoke strong opinions.
Many Christians in Israel today live free of persecution. But those who share their faith and witness on the frontlines of the nation's spiritual battleground face an altogether different experience. Rami Ayyad, manager of a Bible Society book store in the Gaza Strip, was kidnapped and killed because of his witness for Christ.
While most persecution against Christians in the Holy Land is at the hands of radical Muslims, believers are also persecuted by anti-missionary Jewish activists. The activists sometimes spray graffiti on Christian churches in what are called "price tag attacks" (exacting a price on anything that seems to threaten Jewish sovereignty). A few months ago, they painted "Jesus is a monkey" on a church that is a major pilgrimage site for Christians.
While noting that Israel is "at the heart of our Christian faith" and suggesting the country has a significant role in future events, The Voice of the Martyrs reminded supporters that "as followers of Christ today, we are still called to be his witnesses" by evangelizing, even amid threats of torture, imprisonment and death.
"VOM's calling also remains unchanged — serving those who suffer because of their witness for Christ, be it in Colombia, Iran, Nepal or even Israel," the nonprofit states.
"More than 120,000 Christians live in Israel, including about 17,000 Messianic Jewish believers. There are an estimated 8,000 Palestinian Arab evangelical believers, with 1,400 of those in the West Bank and 300 in Gaza," according to the persecution watchdog organization.
Excerpts from the VOM February 2014 newsletter shared online include the story of Messianic Jew Ami Ortiz, who was seriously wounded as a teen in 2008 when he opened a bomb disguised as a gift left at his home by U.S.-born Yaakov "Jack" Teitel. Teitel, dubbed a "Jewish terrorist" throughout the case, was sentenced in 2013 to two life terms in prison plus 30 years for the bomb attack, and the murder and attempted murder of others in Israel. Teitel confessed to wanting to kill the teen's father, Pastor David Ortiz, because of his position in the Messianic Jewish community.
Pastor Ortiz, despite the attack, called for Christians to stand in support of Israel, as Teitel was not representative of all Israelis.
"They should continue to pray for Israel, supporting Israel. These radicals are less than one percent of the population. They don't represent the Israeli public," he said after the bombing.
The U.S. Department of State reveals in its 2012 Report on International Religious Freedom regarding Israel and the Occupied Territories that while "the country's laws and policies provide for religious freedom and the government generally respected religious freedom in practice," that attitude among Jews toward missionary activities and conversations were negative.
"Most Jews opposed missionary activity directed at Jews, and some were hostile to Jewish converts to Christianity," according to the State Department's report. "Messianic Jews and Jehovah's Witnesses were harassed regularly by Yad L'Achim and Lev L'Achim, Jewish religious organizations opposed to missionary activity."
Despite the resistance to Christian evangelism efforts among some Israelis, the Middle East country has long enjoyed the favoritism of many American evangelical Christian groups and prominent individuals, such as Texas Pastor John Hagee and Christian Broadcasting Network founder Pat Robertson.
However, some Christians have been pushing for a more balanced approach to how U.S. evangelicals discuss the longstanding Mid-East conflict. Todd Deatherage of the Telos Group, which encourages American evangelicals to help positively transform the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, said he and other faith-based groups and Christian activists want to persuade evangelicals "to affirm and support the dignity of all the people of the Holy Land, to be truly pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian at the same time."