Christians in Nazareth attacked; mosque proposed near church

NAZARETH, Israel (BP)--Christians in the Nazareth area of Israel are facing pressure following recent riots by Muslims, who attacked businesses owned by Christians and injured some individual Christians in their cars along the streets.

"We need a lot of prayer. We are under a lot of pressure -- all Christian Arabs," said Phillip Saa'd of Haifa, chairman of the Association of Baptist Churches in Israel, according to a report in European Baptist Press Service April 22. Saa'd grew up near Nazareth and knows well its people and Christian situation.

Tensions have been building for more than a year due in part to a controversial proposal to build a large mosque near the Church of the Annunciation, a Christian, landmark in Nazareth. A city-owned lot near the church has been occupied by a Muslim group, who propose that a mosque be built on the site that would be taller than the Christian church and have a minaret taller than the church's steeple. The proposed mosque, in fact, would become one of the largest in the Middle East.

The city had planned to have a small park on the site, incorporating into it the tomb of a revered Muslim.

In spite of the attacks on people and property, police have not intervened and no government response has come to help solve the situation, EBPS reported. Since national elections are planned in May, many Christians think the government is not stepping in because they do not want to alienate the Muslim voters, Saa'd said. There is now a Muslim majority in Nazareth. "It is against government interest to take a side," he said.

Christians in the area are also concerned, he said, because Muslim extremists continue to actively work in the surrounding towns and villages -- in many places where Christians, Jews and Muslims have coexisted without major problems. Now extremism from both the Orthodox Jews and Muslims is increasing.

Download Story