It is disturbing to learn of a growing number of Islamist threats against Christians in the holy city of Jerusalem. The latest such incident comes in the form of leaflets that were distributed there recently, purporting to be issued by “Islamic State, Jerusalem Emirate.”
The leaflets state that Islamic State knows where most Christians in Jerusalem live, and warn that they have until Eid al-Fitr – the festival marking the end of Ramadan on July 19th – to leave the city or be killed.
Last November I interviewed Karen Dunham, pastor of the Living Bread International Church in Jerusalem, and she told me that Muslim neighbors had attacked her church, although this appeared to be partly a dispute over property rights, as well as over religion.
She added that the police were slow to make arrests, “because the attackers are Arab Israelis, and we are foreigners and Christians. The police did not want to cause trouble within the Arab community, so they really did not do much to help us. If we were of the Islamic or Jewish faith we would have had much more support.”
In May this year a group of Muslims launched an attack on Jerusalem’s Christian quarter. Nashat Filmon, general director of the Palestinian branch of The Bible Society, was quoted as linking this to Islamic State.
Also in May an imam at the Al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem posted online a video calling for Muslims to be constantly at war with the “polytheist enemy,” meaning Christians and Jews.
It is not just Islamists. Jewish extremists have also engaged in anti-Christian activity. For example, they are believed to be behind an arson attack in June on the Church of the Multiplication, near the Sea of Galilee, the traditional site where Jesus miraculously fed 5,000 people with bread and fish.
But it is the Islamist threat that is the major concern, with a growing number of anti-Christian incidents in Jerusalem and elsewhere in Israel, and rising support for Islamic State among some Israeli Muslims.
Christians remain free to worship in Israel, and Christianity there is thriving and growing. Nowhere else in the Middle East is this true. No wonder Islamic State is issuing its threats. We have seen what the organization has done in the areas under its control, aggressively wiping out any Christian presence.
There are many calls – even from Christians – for Jerusalem to be placed under Palestinian control or, at best, under some kind of international administration. How long, then, would Christians be free to worship? How long might our churches and monasteries even remain standing?
These latest disturbing incidents are surely grounds for insisting that Jerusalem remains governed and protected by Israel.