Category Archives: Christians

WHAT ARE ISRAELIS THINKING TODAY?

BLOG 451
November 18, 2019

israel

WISE ON THE MIDDLE EAST

Each week Robert L. Wise, Ph.D., explores the Middle Eastern situation, ranging from Egypt through Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Israel and the surrounding area. Wise first traveled to Israel and the neighboring countries in 1968. Two of his sons taught in Jordan and Lebanon universities. Wise presents an objective view of the behind the scenes situation in these countries.

WHAT ARE ISRAELIS THINKING TODAY?

Two issues dominate public opinion.

Israelis don’t want a third election. They hope Benny Gantz and the Blue and White alliance can form a government before the deadline shuts them down. In general, the public doesn’t want the ultra-Orthodox groups in office. Of course, these extremists have been significant in Netanyahu’s coalition that kept him in power.

One of the country’s important leaders, Avigdor Liberman declared that Gantz must accept President Rivlin’s plan that included a join Prime Ministry led government including a leave of absence for Netanyahu because of bribery charges and that he gives up the ultra-Orthodox bloc. So far, Netanyahu has refused to abandon the religious oriented bloc. Liberman’s refusal to participate in a right-wing government led to the dissolution of parliament and resulting new elections that followed.

What a mess.

The second problem is wide-spread concern because of the abrupt withdrawal of American troops from the Syrian border in an arbitrary decision by President Donald Trump. Israelis are highly aware that Christian and Muslim Kurds are running for their lives because they fear persecution by the Turkish-backed army. These people know well about the genocide Turkey visited on their people in 1915. In a similar vein, the Turks murdered 1.5 million Armenians. Today’s Kurdish survivors know well that they cannot trust the politicians. Both The Jerusalem Post and The Times of Israel report Israeli concern because they know a vacuum in the Middle East will be quickly filled by a country like Russia. Moreover, the arbitrary abandonment of the Kurds means that the current USA government could just as easily drop its relationship with other governments like Arabia and Egypt … and of course with Israel. However, Israelis have an even more immediate urgent worry. They fear that Trump’s action will be part of paving the way for Iran to come charging in for a deeper and mover permanent relationship with Syria’s Bashar Assad moving Iran ever closer to Israel’s borders. Because Iran has declared even intent of destroying Israel, the citizenry must be ever wary of such Iranian moves.

The local press reports that Israeli government officials privately view Trump’s actions as “a colossal and dangerous mistake.”

Where is it all going? Many indicators suggest a third election is probable whether the public approves or not. And the situation in Syria? Keep your guns loaded!

You might find my collection of Holy Land experiences to be helpful.
BIBLE LANDS: An illustrated Guide to Scriptural Places
Barbpir books Publishers

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Filed under America, Christians, Israel, middle east, Syria, Trump, World

HEY! SOMETHING NEW ON THE HORIZON

BLOG 394 May 7, 2018

Yes, yes, I know this is a weekly take on the Middle East. Yes, I know your interest is in what is happening in the struggle in Syria, the Palestinians in Gaza, and with the Iranian nuclear peace agreement. Yes, I realize these facts.

However….

I’ve got a new website I want you take a look at because I think you’ll find it important. Our just created The Early Faith For Today website explores the first five centuries of the Christian era and the first three centuries in detail. Most people know very little about this period that sets the stage for all that unfolded. Here’s an opportunity for you to explored the ancient backdrop to today’s Middle East.

Our purpose and mission in this new website is to restore the simplicity, mystery, and awe of the ancient faith. Contemporary viewers will find encouragement and clarity for their daily journeys. The objectives of this website are practical, relevant, and offer theologically sound inspiration for walking on the path coming to us from the beginning. Our goal is to help contemporary times recover the original dynamic and direction of the first Christians. A small band of Apostles with a dead leader who came back to life created a movement that in 300 years over took the Roman Empire. That’s worth knowing about!

Strangely enough, the 21st century is surprisingly like the first century. Both were secular oriented political systems run by people seeking power. Citizens were often confused and struggled to live with limited financial means. Religious plurality existed everywhere. Roman had statues to gods on every corner of the city. While Americans general  affirm only one God (who they hope is out there somewhere), we actually worship money, status, power, and influence. Just gods of a different shape! The general public experienced wide-spread confusion about what to believe. Today, we have 40,000 expressions of the Christian faith. We’re not as different as you might like to have thought.

Next week we’ll return to our regular format, but I thought you might to tune us in. We’re still making adjustments to the website and will be for a couple of months, but I think you will find these old – new insights helpful.

Against this backdrop, the goal of EARLY FAITH FOR TODAY is to bring clarification, insight, and inspiration.  Along the way, you’ll pick up insight into divine interventions. Join us at earlyfaithfortoday.com

THE EARLY FAITH FOR TODAY
Surveying the first 3 centuries, we are examining the ancient Christian faith.
The focus is practical, relevant, and inspirational. TUNE IN

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RUN IN AT THE WALL Part 3

BLOG 361 August 14, 2017

            Hey! Before we go any further … got a special word for you. After today I’ll be in Alaska up there close to the Arctic Circle and hiking through Denali National Park. Sorry, there will not be a blog next week. I’ll finish the summer in one of the most beautiful and restful places in the world.

Now on to today!

My last two blogs on the Western Wall in Jerusalem turned out to be somewhat prophetic. Now, we have a different and dangerous new chapter. For the second time in under a month, terrorist carried out a deadly attack in Jerusalem’s Old City. The Arab assailants were shot in the Temple Mount complex.

In the exchange of gunfire, two Arabs killed two Israeli policemen.  The police report states that the attackers came from the Temple Mount and shot the Israeli’s next to the Lion Gate before returning to the Temple Mount where they were killed by the police. The terrorists used knives, a submachine gun as well as hand guns.

The two police officers killed were Kamil Shinaan and Haiel Stawi who are now remembered as patriots. Prime Minister Netanyahu and other government officials publically mourned the killing of these two men.  They are being remembered in numerous expressions of the media.

Muslims call such attacks part of a holy war that grants the martyrs a free pass to heaven with all the benefits. For them, getting killed is a worthwhile objective. A deadly mindset indeed!

In response, Prime Minister Netanyahu convened a security briefing and a re-evaluation of security. The government will consider harsher measures in protecting the entry gates into the Old City. The incident is far from over. Since October 2015, an undeclared war has gone on between Arabs and Israelis that also hit some tourists during the wave of violence. At least 280 Palestinians have been killed. The Israel Defense Force has seized approximately 150 firearms and raided 20 workshops.  More than 500 illegal weapons were seized.

A couple of years ago, I was in Jerusalem during one of these outbreaks at the Temple Mount. Young men ran out of the Al-Aqsa Mosque and assaulted non-Muslim tourists and then ran back inside. As I was walking through the Jewish sector, I came upon a squad of around 50 young women fully dressed in uniforms and carrying rifles. They were hiding in an archeological site.  I stopped and asked their leader what they were doing.

“If these thugs come out again,” she said. “We’re here to stop them.”

“Your troops are ready to shoot? To Kill?” I asked.

“Absolutely,” the leader said.

I walked away knowing that the Israeli response to these attacks would be more than adequate. A squad of young women could stop the terrorists.

See you on August 21!

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RUN IN AT THE WALL Part 2

BLOG 360 August 7, 2017

Last week we looked at any issue not particularly published in the United States. A struggle over religious observance at the Western Wall has developed into a political crisis in Israel. Prime Minster Netanyahu has been worried about the stability of his government because of this situation that we have been exploring the controversy.

Christians often have a hard time understanding all the fuss over this particular stone wall that has existed back to the Second Temple period. From Judaism’s point of view, the issue is far more than a commemoration of antiquity. Actually, the issue reflects a basic difference between how Judaism and Christianity function.

Christians center their concerns on what people believe. Having a correct theology is basic for faith. Christian denominations have split many times over small differences in how they define true belief. Having the right convictions is everything.

On the other hand, Jewish interest is in proper observance. Judaism encounters many groups with extremely different views of belief and this diversity is acceptable. What counts is ritually maintaining their link to the past. Keeping the high Holy Days is essential. Therefore, praying at the Western Wall touches the heart of Jewish conviction and faith. It is seen as ritual maintenance that links Jews to the past, to the present, and to the body of Israel.

Adding to the current strife, Jewish women are no longer willing to allow men to dominate ritual prayers at the wall in a manner that excludes them. The WOW group (Women at the Wall) has staged demonstrations wearing kipahs (skull caps), tallits (prayer shawls), and carrying Torahs. This infuriates the ultra-conservative Hassidics who believe they own the wall. Bingo! We have confrontation!

The WOW element are charged with being only Feminist without religious interest. I personally know some of these women (including a female rabbi) and recognize their genuine religious interest. They only want a piece of the wall to pray without harassment from the haredi element.

In the current confrontation put on tentative hold on June 30, Prime Minister Netanyahu appointed a task force to review and study the issues. Any legislation on the issue was asked to be delayed until the task force makes its recommendation. The Prime Minister has been well known for side-stepping controversy with such maneuvers. Moreover, Netanyahu has been a flip-flopper when it served his purposes. Haredi leaders Ya’acov Litzman, Moshe Gafni, and Arye Deri had threatened to topple his government if change was not put on hold.

At this moment any decisions are delayed. However, groups like the Shas political party and other ultra-conservative elements remain committed to stopping any change in the status quo which continues to shut Reformed and Conservative elements out. Is change inevitable? The Reformers say, ‘yes.” The Orthodox says, “never.” What’s ahead? We shall see.

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HEY! HOW’S THE SYRIAN SITUATION SHAPING UP?

BLOG 351 May 22, 2017

Syrian refugee washing clothes…

            STOP! Got a road sign for you. This is the last blog until June 12. Sorry, but I’ll be traveling and out of the country. As you probably know, I work with Pope Francis as his Apostolic Representative For Christian Unity. I travel all over creation talking with Catholics and Protestants about the possibility of “unity without uniformity.” That idea suggests we can be friends and fellow travelers even if some of our beliefs and perspectives are different. On June 4, Pentecost Sunday, we will gather on the Piazza in front of Rome’s St. Peter’s Basilica to celebrate the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.

            Hang on! I’ll be back on June 12 with an update for you.

And what about Syria? Sorry – yes, sorry is the only word that comes to mind. I’m sorry. The world is sorry. (in the sense of mourning) Bashar al-Assad is REALLY sorry (in the sense of diabolically obscene). Having killed at least 400,000 of his own people, Assad continues to bomb, starve and gas his countrymen.

One of the actions that President Trump has succeeded in doing in his first 100 days in office was bombing Syria. Everyone applauded. Now, the next question is what comes next? Trump has been so occupied with so many controversial and divisive upheavals in government, his and the press’s attention has shifted from the Syrian civil war that rages on. The world now knows Trump is good at impulsive actions, but that’s no substitute for a complete foreign policy. One of the major failures of the Obama administration was the timid and reserved Middle East policy that gave the Russians extraordinary success in supporting Assad and his war crimes. If Trump doesn’t reverse this course, American influence in that and other areas is going out the back door. Bad news indeed!

The evidence against the Assad regime is staggering. Three tons of Syrian government documents were captured that detailed their war crimes. During this six-year war, these assaults have gone unanswered in any court. Possibly, they are worse than in any previous war. The country’s population has been displaced. Human rights groups report more than 100,000 persons are missing, detained, or killed. Tens of thousands languish in government custody. These tragedies are so severe that a United Nations commission called the actions of Assad’s government “extermination,” a crime against humanity.

What has kept Syria going? Russian vetoes in the United Nations debates are the only factor that has kept Assad from international condemnation.

The United States will continue to go through its own throes and political struggles you hear about every night on the media. For heaven’s sake, don’t let that noise in Washington drown out the cries of dying children and their mothers, of widows and the massacred.

SEE U ON JUNE 12!

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MORE ON PERSECUTED CHRISTIANS IN EGYPT

Blog 347 April 24, 2017

           A number of readers wanted to know more about last week’s report on the deaths of Coptic Christians in Egypt. Many Westerners have not been acquainted with the ancient Coptic Church than began in 64 CE when St. Mark came to Alexandria and befriended a shoemaker who in time became their first bishop. Where the first church began now stands a great Cathedral with giant chandeliers. Supposedly, the head of Mark is in a vault in the Cathedral.

            As reported last week, ISIS attacked the Christians because they are Christians and particularly vulnerable in Egypt with only 10% of the population in a Muslim oriented country where Muslims have a long history of persecuting Christians.

Muslim President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi visited Pope Tawadros (the name of the head of the Coptic Church) in Cairo on the Thursday after the attack and vowed to apprehend the parties responsible for the killings. A state of emergency was imposed. However, a local Christian resident responded with the accusation that the state of emergency was called not to protect Copts, but to prevent a revolt by them.

For Coptic Christians, this remains an ancient story. Roman Emperors such as Diocletian began persecuting them even in the first century. The remains of many of these martyrs were buried at the Monastery of St. Mina, an hour’s drive from Alexandria. The seven Christians killed in the Sunday massacre were also buried there as a symbol of high honor and sign of respect. Bishop Kyrillos Ava Mina, who leads the monastery, said the seven are now eternally one with the heroic deaths of Christians through the centuries.

Will this killing stop? Coptics say no. ISIS has only become a new part of the destructive equation. The issues with the Egyptian government and police are both ineptitude and indifference. Christian experience from across the entire country ranges from apathetic shrugs to outright discrimination. Few Christians ever serve in the top ranks of the military and academia. Egyptian expert at New York’s Century Foundation, Michael Wahid Hanna notes that the highest-ranking people in the country will never be Christians.

You are probably asking yourself, “How can this be?” May I recommend a movie that I am telling everyone to see. The Promise is a current well-done movie that is emotionally powerful. The story starts at the beginning of World War I. The basic plot is about what the Muslim Turks did to the Christian Armenians. Once you’ve followed the story line, you will have a deeper insight into what today’s Coptic Christians face in Egypt.

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CHRISTIANS CAUGHT IN THE CROSSFIRE

Blog 346 April 18, 2017

            Before we start, I need to inform you of a change. Cancel the internet radio show! I had too much trouble in getting an acceptable quality of sound – among other things. So, I am shutting down that operation. Moreover, this summer I am beginning a new website that will fascinate you to no end. The time required for these efforts makes the radio broadcast marginal. Stay tuned for future information on the new website.

Since this is Easter weekend, I am taking a break from the ominous events boiling in North Korea and Syria for a closer look at the Christian experience. Sorry to say that being a Christian in the Middle East is dangerous business. If you follow the regular media, you read of the attack on Coptic Christians in Egypt. Making up only 10% of the population, (about 9 million) they are highly vulnerable to attacks by the Muslim majority. I have known some of these Coptis and found them to be fine, sensitive Christians. I have a deep concern for the price they pay for their faith.

Coptis date their origins to St. Mark working in Alexandria during the reign of Roman Emperor Claudius around the year 42 CE. (only 9 years after the Resurrection). They are arguably the oldest Christian community in the world.

ISIS has called Middle Eastern Christians their “favorite prey.” In December, twenty Egyptian Copts (mostly women and children) were massacred in their church by ISIS. Many more were wounded. Such horrendous incidents are not only an ongoing struggle of Christians for their faith, but they also offer a measure of insight into how Arab governments respond to persecution and hate crimes – particularly against Christians and similar minorities.

Recently, ISIS produced a “hit list” of Christians it intends to murder. So far seven have been murdered with one beheading. One person was burned alive. A father and son were dumped on the side of the road after the father was shot and the boy burned alive. These acts reflect a Muslim symbol, saying that the victims do not even deserve human burial, but should be left to be eaten by animals. ISIS sees all Christians in this light.

And how is Egyptian President al-Sisi responding? Hardly a blip in the media. Since the Copts aren’t considered by him to be in the mainstream, they get little attention. Because the Copts have no presence in the West, there is no one to take up their cry for protection. Copts are Orthodox Christians and not connected to Roman Catholic and Protestants groups. Strangely enough, the only people who seriously take up their cause are Jews in Israel. Israelis know that if such atrocities go unnoticed, they could well be next. Israelis know that only moderate regimes can keep the region stable. Protecting Christians is protecting Israel and the region.

A necessary if unhappy message for this year’s Easter.

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CLIMBING AMMUNITION HILL

Blog 344 April 3, 2017

            I am often asked about how to take a trip to Israel. Having conducted a multitude of these adventures, my answer usually surprises the inquirer. I suggest two excursions; one for the Christian experience and another for the Jewish discoveries. If you make two such a journey, you will see two entirely different countries—that are both Israel!

Christians visit sights like Capernaum, Bethlehem, where John baptized in the Jordan, the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, etc. Of course, the experience is one of the highlights of a life time. On the other hand, a tour of the Jewish heritage takes one to the Independence Hall in Tel Aviv, the Ayalon Institute, the Diaspora Museum, Mea Shearim, etc.. Once you have taken a tour of both sides of Israel, you’ll be amazed by what you have learned. Unfortunately, both faiths know little about the other.

One of those experiences Christians know little about is the battle of Ammunition Hill now celebrating it 50th anniversary. On June 6, 1967, the Paratroopers Brigade’s 66th Regiment attacked this strategic sight that was the key to conquering the Old City. Well-trained Jordanian troopers held the key position and were firing rapidly. When the Israeli commander and bazooka man were hit, one of the regular soldiers shouted, “Aharai!” (follow me) and troops surged forward.

The battle was ferocious, but the Israeli troops eventually blew up the main Jordanian bunker with hand grenades and took control of the hill. During the fight thirty-six Israelis were killed and seventy-one Jordanians died. Yaki Hetz received Israel’s Medal of Courage for leading the troop forward with his Aharai cry.

When the fight was over, the Israel soldiers did not rejoice, but went about the emotional business of burying seventeen Jordanian soldiers whose bodies were still on Ammunition Hill. They wrote on a tin in English, “Buried here, 17 brave Jordanian soldiers, IDF 1967.

When asked what he learned 50 years after the battle, Yaki Hetz said, “I am very much for peace, but we must first of all be strong. If we’re not strong, our enemies will slaughter us. Our strength is in our spirit. The Jordanians were better soldiers from a professional point of view, and they had better weapons. But we won because of our fighting spirit.”

The few surviving heroes of Ammunition Hill represent significant insight into why Israel has risen from a struggling state to become the most powerful nation in the Middle East. Every Israeli family has its own tragic history that goes back to the Holocaust. They know not to rejoice but to stand their ground. Such a tenacious mentality cannot be obtained through a boot camp. It can only come through one’s history and personal struggle.

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JESUS AND THE JEWS

BLOG 342 March 20, 2017

            For 2,000 years, the tension between Christians and Jews has grown out of the way each side views the person of Jesus of Nazareth. This problem was the theme of a widely acclaimed novel by Chaim Potok My Name is Asher Lev. Fictional Asher Lev was born with a prodigious artistic ability into a Hasidic Jewish family, set in the 1950s in the time of Joseph Stalin and the persecution of Jews in the Soviet Union. During Asher’s childhood, his artistic inclination brings him into conflict with the members of his Jewish community, which values things primarily as they relate to faith and considers art unrelated to religious expression to be at best a waste of time and possibly a sacrilege. Asher begins to go to art museums where he studies paintings. He becomes very interested in the paintings, especially the ones of the crucifixions. He starts copying the paintings of the crucifixions and nudes, but this would only get him into trouble. Potok’s book raises many important question for today’s world that are still under discussion.

This tension makes a current painting exhibition in Jerusalem’s Israel Museum particularly important. Entitled “Behold the Man: Jesus in Israeli Art,” director James Snyder believes that the exhibited works transcend time, place, culture, and even religion. He contends this theme is a universal impulse that helps us define our own identity from the symbols that part of collective world history.

The intent of the unusual exhibit is to bring insight into Jesus the man rather than the ubiquitous icon. The ideal of this exhibit is set against a persistent theme in the experience of the Jewish people. With a history that includes the Inquisition held by the Roman Catholic Church which resulted in the death and persecution of Jews as well as additional struggles through the centuries, it remains difficult for Jews (particularly Orthodox Jews) to see any personal application for their people. Contemporary Christians tend to “not get it” when this history is brought up. Consequently, we have one side that doesn’t understand how anti-Semitism applies to them and the other side that has lived through a persistent history of pain. The exhibit attempts to confront both issues.

Jewish artist Marc Chagall’s The Crucified is part of this irony. Perhaps, the greatest Jewish artist of the 20th century, Chagall (Like Asher Lev) had his own obsession with the figure of Jesus. In producing many pictures of the crucified Jesus, Chagall remained 100% Jewish.

Possibly the Jerusalem Israel Museum exhibit marks a turning point in how Jews and Christians have seen each other for over 2,000 years. A new examination of the history, the icon, the person of Jesus the man, the unfolding details of history will allow a new door to open. Possibly Jews will be able to see the Christian world as no longer chasing them while Christians embrace Jews as the elder brother who is to be loved and respected.

Let’s hope so.

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THE “FAITH” WARS

BLOG 291 February 22, 2016

Anyone who has closely followed the upheaval in the Middle East has discovered that the fundamental conflict is between Muslim Sunnis and Shiites, not countries. Americans struggle to understand how two similar religious groups can kill each other over their differences. The US populace tends to view the situation as if Southern Baptists were shooting Methodists because they do not dunk people in baptism. Americans simply don’t have a paradigm for murder, destruction of ancient artifacts, and cutting off heads because viewpoints differ.

Now let’s put one more iron in the fire. Christophobia: Christians murdered for their faith while living in the Muslim world.

On October 9, 2011, 24 Coptic Christians were killed in Cairo in clashes with the Egyptian Army. On March 8, 2011, during a large Christian demonstration in a Cairo slum, 13 people were killed and 140 injured. Terrorist attacks on Christians in Africa, the Middle East, and Asia increased 309% from 2003 to 2010. Such is a staggering number!

Churches have been burned and parishioners imprisoned. In some countries, nothing less that the fate of Christianity is at stake. For some unexplained reason, the US government does not seem to notice or protest.

Traditionally, wars have been categorized in one of three ways: the just war, the unjust war, the religious war. The worst and most brutal conflict is religious warfare. For example, the Crusades pitted Christians against Muslims in one of the bloodiest conflicts in Middle Eastern history. Even to this hour, the name Crusader is hated in the Middle East.

Terrorist groups like Boko Haram killed more than 510 people while burning down or destroying more than 350 churches in 10 northern states. Shouting “Allahu Akbar” (God is great) they used guns, gasoline bombs, and machetes on unsuspecting citizens.

Today there are virtually no Christians left in Iraq. More than 900 Assyrian Iraqi Christians were killed by terrorist violence. Orthodox Christians and Roman Catholic have fled from major Christian sites like Bethlehem because of assaults. The Middle East is quickly emptying of a significant Christian presence due to the religious wars. Most of the violence is not centrally planned and comes from spontaneous expressions of anti-Christian animosity that extend back to the period of Colonialism.

The list goes on and on.

In this season of Lent when the Christian community ponders the Crucifixion, the Christian world might remember that during the first 300 years of their existence, Christians were pacifists and refused to participate in killing. A standard was set that ultimately impacted the Roman Empire and finally brought an end to the killings in the Coliseum. A new standard with a higher global ethic must be set again.

The world must wake up to the fact that its population will inevitably have different opinions and beliefs and it is still possible to be hold varying viewpoints without resulting animosity.

We can differ without destruction.

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