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   JANUARY 2002 -  Issue #141    


An Outrage in Nazareth

Herbert Zweibon

Militant Muslims are illegally building a huge new mosque directly adjacent to the Basilica of the Annunciation, a major Christian religious site in the city of Nazareth. That is an outrage. But what is equally outrageous is that this Muslim construction activity is taking place with the acquiesence of the Israeli government.

This tragedy-in-progress began in 1997, when Nazareth city officials set aside a 2,000-square meter plot of land next to the Basilica, in order to make it into a plaza for Christian pilgrims visiting the site. The extremist Islamic Movement, a major force among Israeli Muslims, erected a protest tent on the site. Israeli officials acknowledge that Islamic Movement preachers incite violence against Israel and inspire their followers to support Hamas. It is noteworthy that Major-General Alik Ron, the recently-retired chief of police for northern Israel, has criticized the government for failing to outlaw the Islamic Movement or take other strong steps against it.

The Islamic Movement's activists in Nazareth are demanding that they be permitted to build a mosque there. This is, of course, consistent with the traditional practice in Muslim countries of never permitting a synagogue or church to be taller than a mosque. In Muslim eyes, the size of the mosque is a symbolic demonstration of the superiority of Islam.

In the modern state of Israel, however, such medieval practices are supposed to be anathema. Jews and Christians are not supposed to be treated as they were in the Muslim world throughout the centuries, as dhimmis, third-class citizens whose existence was tolerated only so long as they could be humiliated as a reminder of the inferiority of their religions.

But after two years of Muslim pressure and protests, the Israeli government surrendered to the extremists' demands and agreed to let them build a mosque on the site. Pope John Paul II has protested the Israeli government's decision. So has President George Bush. Yet so far the Sharon government has shown no signs of being willing to stand up to the Muslim extremists.

The Israel Lands Authority, a government agency, transferred the property to the management of the Wakf, the Islamic religious authorities. Even though the official building permits have not yet been issued, the construction is well underway. A 50 foot-deep pit has been dug, and the foundation has been laid. At this writing, cement trucks have been pouring concrete at the site, in defiance of a stop-work order issued by the Ministry of Internal Security. And Father Michel Piccirillo, an archaeologist who also serves as director of the Franciscan Institute in Jerusalem, reports that the Muslim construction crews have been hauling away human bones as well as the remains of what appears to be "an early church or ancient synagogue."

Militant Muslims have long demonstrated their awareness of the significance of "creating facts." They are trying to "create facts" in Nazareth, and the timid Sharon government, afraid to ruffle Muslim feathers, is letting them do it. Sharon does not seem to fully appreciate the feelings of tens of millions of Bible-believing Americans, who have always been Israel's strongest supporters, and are now puzzled and dismayed at this threat to one of Christianity's most important sites.

Jewish and Christian leaders are mobilizing to protest this Muslim outrage. A recent full-page advertisement about this issue in the Washington Times, organized by Americans For a Safe Israel, was signed by the leaders of such prominent organizations as the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Liberties, Bridges for Peace, the Christians' Israel Public Action Campaign, the National Coalition of American Nuns, the Religious Roundtable, the Christian Broadcast Network, the Apostolic Coalition, Judicial Watch, and the Zionist Organization of America.

The involvement of this broad array of prominent Americans has reinvigorated Christian groups in Israel, showing them they are not alone and giving them hope that they may yet prevail before the construction of the Nazareth mosque becomes a fait accompli.

Herbert Zweibon is chairman of Americans For a Safe Israel.


Resurgent European Anti-Semitism ...3

Sharon and Peres: A Symbiosis ...5

January 2002               - 1 -               Outpost


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