Israel Team Report #6

I haven’t written for several days. That’s because things have been going on pretty much non-stop as I have been all over Galilee and central Israel as well as on the West Bank today.

A couple of days ago I visited Biblical Gath – Goliath’s home town 😉 which is now a very fascinating archaeological site. It is somewhat off the beaten path…. Actually, I was the only person there (other than a shepherd with a big flock of sheep!). Gath was one of the five cities of the Philistine Pentapolis. I tried to imagine David being there when he was fleeing from King Saul (I Samuel 21:10). David was so intent on escaping from Saul that he went to one of their chief enemies for temporary protection, the King of Gath!!  But David soon realized that his life there was very much in danger and so he pretended to be a madman. This is all an incredible story in and of itself. I may have walked right near where this event occurred (or close by), since I walked all over Gath, which today is a very large hill known as “Tell es-Safi”.

I also visited Israel College of the Bible this morning in Netanya and saw many friends from over the years, as well as other pastors and friends throughout this part of Israel. There are many other things that have happened that I hope to share later as well.

I am now back in Jerusalem, writing just off the beautiful terrace area of St. Andrews Guest House and Chapel, which faces Mt. Zion and the Old City of Jerusalem. The foundation-stone for the Church of Scotland compound where St. Andrews is located was dedicated by Field Marshal Allenby, who liberated Jerusalem in 1917.

In Report #5, Pastor Doug shared the amazing story of our Jerusalem Gateway Partnership meeting yesterday (Oct. 26)  in the sort of ‘neutral area’ of Beit Jalla between Israel proper and the Palestinian Authority proper, where there are traditional church compounds. We met at one of those compounds, which is one of the very few places where Israeli and Palestinian pastors can meet in this Land without going through a great deal of difficulty. The fellowship was tremendous and very fruitful. We’ll have much more to share on this when we return home, but it was a very encouraging time and a great blessing all around.

Right now, I’ve just returned from the Jewish city of Ariel, which is located deep within the West Bank in the very heart of Samaria. From the high vantage of Ariel I looked across a valley at Mount Gerizim, the discussion of which formed part of the encounter between our Lord and the Samaritan woman at the well.

Ariel today is surrounded by Muslim villages. There used to be a great deal of interaction and exchange between Israelis and their Palestinian neighbors in the region until the second Intifada. They have very extensive security all around now. They have had some terrorist bombings in the past, but not as many as some other places. But actually, one terrorist bombing that concerns us most did not come ‘from outside’, but from within.

I went to Ariel to meet with David and Leah Ortiz, parents of Ami Ortiz, who was nearly killed after self-confessed American Jewish terrorist Jack Teitel set a bomb in March 2008 to destroy the Ortiz family because they preach the Gospel to the Jewish people (and also to Palestinian Muslims). Ami, who was home alone at the time, happened to be the person to open the supposed Purim “gift” basket when the bomb went off. If you would like to read more about the Ortiz family and God’s miraculous sparing of Ami’s life, go to: http://amiortiz.com/thestory.cfm and http://www.israelprayer.com/articles/Expose%20PT%201.html Ami has nearly returned to a ‘normal’ life. Of course, there are still physical things to deal with from his injuries from the bombing, but God has healed him in unbelievable ways. He plans to start college soon.

Teitel is still in custody but remains proud of what he did and completely unrepentant. He is also believed to be a murderer from at least one other incident – this one against an Arab farmer, shepherd and father who was bothering no one (http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0%2C7340%2CL-3798715%2C00.html). Yet there are some extremist members of the Israeli Knesset now urging that he be released! (they cite the recent swap of hundreds of Hamas terrorists and others for the former  Israeli hostage-soldier Galid Shalit. According to this perverted logic, why shouldn’t “their” Jewish terrorist also be released?!). Hopefully this is only the view of a tiny minority in the Israeli parliament and government, but it shows you the level of hatred and injustice that exists in some quarters.

If Teitel is released, it could become open season of the Messianic Jewish community here in Israel – if others who are like-minded think they can get away with such violence as well. But even if something as outrageous as that should happen, I think there might be a move under U.S. law to have him tried for terrorist acts against U.S. citizens, since the Ortizes are American-Israelis and US law could come into play even though the incident occurred here. Teitel is so ‘out of it’ that he does not even recognize the authority of the Israeli court system and refuses to stand in court, denouncing it as a “house of prostitution”! Can you imagine letting someone like that back into society?

Anyway, enough on Teitel for a moment. To return to those Muslim villages surrounding the city of Ariel, David shared with me the tremendous openness to the Gospel that so many Muslims in those villages had before things mostly ‘closed down’ for him because of the Intifada. He passed out so many Bibles in so many Muslim villages that he could hardly keep up with the demand! He shared how one time he had to return home just to get more Bibles! He would go from village to village in Samaria and found incredible spiritual hunger and interest. He estimates that there may be as many as 3,000 Muslim-background believers in the region.

Although the Ortizes themselves have faced probably the most brutal face of persecution (at least in the attack on them) experienced recently among Messianic believers in Israel – since they were targeted for murder by Teitel and whoever was behind him – yet they say that what they have experienced cannot be compared to the persecution of some of these new believers in Muslim areas of Samaria, many of whom have faced torture and death. This is a story that MUST BE TOLD in the West; however, for now it remains unwritten….

The things I am sharing with you here you will probably not hear or read about in too many other places, but this is the reality of life here in Israel and in the Palestinian territories, where ‘the rubber meets the road’. Life and ministry are tough here, but our fellow believers are standing strong, and we need to stand with them!!  This background, I hope, will help you all to pray better for our brothers and sisters here in the Middle East, since we know that only Jesus can bring true peace here or anywhere else!  Both Israeli Jews and Muslim Arabs desperately need the only Good News that can offer them hope and life eternal!

God bless you all, thank you for your continuing prayers for our group here, and please share this (with discretion) with other believers, as the Lord leads you.

In His love and service, Jim  (from Jerusalem)