“So. What’s it like living in Jerusalem these days?”
Whether they’re worried or simply curious, it’s a question family and friends often ask me.
I usually begin by explaining how I embrace my life here in Israel: Cherishing friends. Celebrating the many stories, ethnicities, foods and music that surround me. Delighting in the indescribable golden light that illuminates even the most ordinary mornings and afternoons.
And, except in local trouble spots like the Temple Mount and parts of East Jerusalem, daily life here carries on at a normal, even carefree, pace.
And that is the truth. Most of the time.
News reports never fail to remind us of a dangerous storm that rages just barely out of sight, flaming along Israel’s borders and flaring up across the Middle East.
Syria’s seemingly endless civil war has killed many more than 200,000 people and displaced millions of civilians fleeing President Bashar al-Assad’s vicious army or Sunni terrorist savagery.
Lebanon faces violence on a nearly daily basis, thanks to the domination of Hezbollah – Iran’s proxy army – and the dangers that await foes who deride or defy this militant group.
Egypt is ferociously battling jihadis in the Sinai while attempting to block Hamas from terrorist activities along the Gaza border. Just a few days ago, Sinai-based terrorists affiliated with ISIS killed approximately 30 Egyptians.
Further afield, hostages are being captured in Libya. New beheadings appear on YouTube. Car bombings kill and maim dozens in Iraq. ISIS continues to seize territory in both Iraq and Syria, killing, raping and plundering through any and all who stand in the way, while leaving millions of refugees shivering in the cold.
And Iran looms – that threat of all threats. While innumerable prisoners-of-conscience languish in Tehran’s prisons and hidden centrifuges spin, the mullocracy stalls for time. Toying with “negotiations,” the Supreme Leader steers his ayatollahs unabated into their apocalyptic nuclear fantasy.
They seek to hasten the day that their Shiite messianic figure – the “Hidden Imam” – returns to the earth.
And at least some of them believe that this can transpire only after the world is cleansed of Jews.
As Charles Krauthammer pointed out in a recent column, Hezbollah chief and Iranian puppet Hassan Nasrallah “welcomes Jewish emigration to Israel — because it makes the killing easier: ‘If Jews all gather in Israel, it will save us the trouble of going after them worldwide.’ And, of course, Iran openly declares as its sacred mission the annihilation of Israel.”
One powerfully unifying issue cobbles together the fragmented Middle East: hatred of Israel, and more generally, Jews.
But the Jewish people are not the only ones at risk.
I arrived in Israel in 2006, hoping to learn more about the plight of the Jewish homeland in an increasingly hostile world. Anti-Semitism was clearly burgeoning not only in Europe, but also even more openly in the Middle East.
I was curious about what life was like for the Jewish people. My best hope was to find a way to express solidarity with them.
What I hadn’t foreseen was how deeply rooted Jews and Christians are in bloodstained common ground. There is an undeniable connection between the abuse of Christians and Jews by Islamists in the Middle East.
A year or two after my arrival in Israel, I became aware that more than 850,000 Jews had been driven out of 10 Muslim lands between approximately 1948 and 1970. They were expelled from their historic homelands with little more than the clothes on their backs – simply for being Jews.
To this day, no U.N. resolutions have addressed those expulsions and confiscations. No inventory has recorded the losses. And no attempts at restitution have been made. *
The jihadis have a saying: “First the Saturday people, then the Sunday people.”
It didn’t take me much longer to discover the abuses that are being imposed on Christians in those same countries today, little more than half a century later. My book Saturday People, Sunday People: Israel through the Eyes of a Christian Sojourner, records these insights and much more.
In 1948, there were about 135,000 Jews in Iraq. Today less than 10 Jews remain.
Since 2003, more than half of Iraq’s Christian population of 800,000 has fled. One horrific church bombing October 31, 2010, killing 58, made the news. But there was much more. As international human rights lawyer Nina Shea testified in a Congressional hearing:
“…In August 2004 … five churches were bombed in Baghdad and Mosul. On a single day in July 2009, seven churches were bombed in Baghdad. The Archbishop of Mosul, was kidnapped and killed in early 2008. A bus convoy of Christian students were violently assaulted. Christians … have been raped, tortured, kidnapped, beheaded, and evicted from their homes.”
In 1948, there were some 100,000 Jews in Egypt. Today, there are less than 50.
Since late 2010, Egypt’s Coptic Christian community – 8,000,000 strong – has been under assault – tens of thousands have fled. In recent months, the Christians have been blamed for the demise of the Muslim Brotherhood’s regime.
In the span of just three days, between Aug. 14 and 16, 38 Churches were destroyed; 23 were vandalized. Fifty-eight Coptic homes were burned and looted. Eighty-five Copt-owned shops, 16 pharmacies and three hotels were demolished. Six Christians were killed; seven Copts were kidnapped.
In 1948, there were around 30,000 Jews in Syria. Today less than a dozen remain.
Now hundreds of thousands of Syrian Christians have fled; others are bleeding and dying, often targeted by Al-Qaeda-affiliated rebels who demand that they convert to Islam or die.
Can it be that I wrote those words before ISIS launched its deadly rampage across Syria and Iraq?
Nowadays, as Canon Andrew White, the beloved Anglican “vicar of Baghdad,” has pointed out, “there are more Iraqi Christians in Chicago than in Iraq … Chicago, Detroit and Sweden. That’s where you’ll find Iraq’s Christians today.”
The Middle East has become a seething cauldron of Islamist rage.
Israel’s Jews are continuously mocked, reviled and threatened by their Islamist neighbors.
Meanwhile, Christians in the Middle East – the cradle of Christianity – are rapidly disappearing. Tens of thousands have been driven out at the edge of the Islamist sword. Others are quietly leaving Muslim-majority areas such as Lebanon, Turkey and the Palestinian territories. Discrimination, extortion, threats, kidnappings, rapes and killings are decimating these Christian heartlands.
Muslims who don’t measure up to Sharia orthodoxy face their own hapless future.
And so the tumult continues.
Yet, on most days, all seems to be quiet in Jerusalem. One of my friends recently pointed out with a smile, “You know, we live in the eye of the storm.”
This inspired me to Google the NOAA website, wondering what the eye of a storm actually is.
The answer: “The ‘eye’ is a roughly circular area of comparatively light winds and fair weather found at the center of a severe tropical cyclone. Although the winds are calm at the axis of rotation, strong winds may extend well into the eye. There is little or no precipitation and sometimes blue sky or stars can be seen.” http://www.aoml.noaa.gov/hrd/tcfaq/A11.html
Life in Jerusalem is emotionally rewarding, intellectually stimulating and visually beautiful. And, metaphorically speaking, it is generously blessed by light winds and fair weather, while blue sky and stars add a touch of beauty here and there.
But yes, “strong winds may extend well into the eye.”
Just a few days ago rockets were fired into the Golan Heights, driving northern Israeli residents into bomb shelters and triggering an emergency evacuation of the Mt. Hermon ski area.
That was followed by the killing of two Israeli soldiers, with seven more injured, at Hezbollah’s hand.
All of this was revenge for an airstrike, allegedly by Israel, that killed a dozen Hezbollah and Iranian military commanders who were traveling in an espionage convoy along the Golan. As is its custom, Israel has neither confirmed nor denied the allegations.
Meanwhile, thanks to upcoming elections, gale-force political winds are also blowing wild and free in the Israeli media, bearing rumors, accusations and contradictory poll numbers in a virtual maelstrom of uncertainty.
As a wise Hebrew prophet ominously warned millennia ago, “Sow the wind, reap the whirlwind.”
In Jerusalem, for all these reasons and more, Jews and Christians alike live in a state of heightened consciousness. We try to follow updates on social media and the Internet. We check out newscasts on the radio or TV. And we know what to do, more or less, if faced with a worst-case scenario.
Most of all, we’re hoping for the best.
We’re praying for those in danger.
And we’re paying close attention ourselves.
Because, as the song goes, “You don’t need to be a weatherman to know way the wind blows.”
* For more information about this often overlooked history, see Martin Gilbert’s important book In Ishmael’s House: A History of Jews in Muslim Lands, published by Yale University Press.
Lela Gilbert is the author of “Saturday People, Sunday People: Israel through the Eyes of a Christian Sojourner” and co-author, with Nina Shea and Paul Marshall, of “Persecuted: The Global Assault on Christians.” She is an adjunct fellow at the Hudson Institute and lives in Jerusalem. Visit her website at www.lelagilbert.com