Trouble in Arad, Israel – Part 2

Hi Again,

About three weeks ago I sent a letter out to a bunch you, in which I told you of the major persecution of Messianic Jews in Arad. Although I myself am not a believer, this issue had been weighing heavily on my mind, for the simple reason that one of the victims of this persecution is my sister Debbie, her husband and my brother in law Yakim Figueras, and their four adorable children who are my little nephews and niece. I had heard stories of this persecution on many occasions from my sister, and witnessed a small event once when I came to celebrate my oldest nephews 9th birthday back in January. As we celebrated, a couple of these Gur Hassidim gathered outside, unbeknownst to us, and when I went out to my car they started shouting to me, “these people are dangerous missionaries! They are not really Jewish, they’re Christians, they want to convert you to Christianity” etc etc. When my sister came out to the car they broke out into total screaming, cursing and insulting Jesus. It took some effort for me to control my irritation with them. To see these men standing there, burning with a potent mixture of ignorance and hate, and shouting at my sister like that, right outside their home, was really disturbing, to say the least.

In my letter, I asked you not just to forward this email to other people, but to actually write Israeli government ministries, the Chief of Police, Israeli Ambassadors in your country, and your senators and government members who may be able to raise attention to this issue and cause the Israeli police to start fulfilling their role and enforce the Democratic basic right of Freedom or Worship in Arad. Within a couple of hours of me sending the letter out, It seemed to have worked its way around the globe, as my personal friends and family members who had received it from me started forwarding it. By the next day letters already started to flow into different Government offices both in Israel and abroad, and this flow must have quickly turned into a flood. I was very encouraged to see the response the letter had, and how many of you took action and wrote. Thank you all, so much. As you will see, your efforts are already making a difference over here.

At first we couldn’t quite see a change. Some of you forwarded me the strange replies you initially received from the Government offices in Israel, which in some cases seemed rather badly written and confused. However, last week one of you forwarded me a response you got from the Ministry of tourism (thank you, Carol!), which was clearly an effort to face this entire issue head on and put forward an official response. The letter was very well written, obviously by a public-relations and legal-aspect knowledgeable person. It was also rather evasive and tried to tone down the significance of the events in Arad, suggesting there was not really much substance to the reports of the persecution there. However, there was one thing that was clearly encouraging to me in it: A line that mentioned “the recent, well orchestrated campaign on behalf of the Messianic Jews of Arad”. I was encouraged by this line, because I understood that obviously there had been so many of you taking action and writing about these persecutions, that the Foreign Ministry deemed it necessary to take up the matter seriously (if any of you wish to receive a copy of that letter, simply write me and ask for it). This had to mean that, while they were busy denying any much wrong was really happening to the believers in Arad, they understood they had a huge number of indignant Christians on their hands, all around the world, who were not going to go away quietly while this pattern of abuse continued being ignored by the appropriate authorities. I knew this had to be good news. And, as it would appear, it was.

Last Friday, my sister Debbie, her husband Yakim and their kids came to attend a Messianic conference near where I live, just outside of Jerusalem. It was great to spend some time with them and to see the children laughing and enjoying a stress-less time. On the next day, Saturday, Debbie called me and said there was a major riot going on in Arad right then; a bus had been chartered by the believers who were intending to go on a day trip to Nazareth. The Gur-Hassidim had found out about this, and in a typical fit of absolute hysteria, worked themselves up into a frenzy, claiming that the bus was on its way to baptize more innocent Jews somewhere. This is a very typical accusation they make against the Messianic Jews, a close runner-up being that they kidnap children. Needless to say, both are entirely false.

A mob of around 200 Hassidim surrounded the bus, and started rioting out of control. The police arrived, and quickly ascertained that there was a clear and present danger to the Messianic believers in the bus, so they were ordered out and into the recently burned-down chess club center, for their protection. A newspaper article in the local paper later showed pictures of this riot and quoted police as saying there was a definite danger of the Hassidim toppling the bus onto its side, because they were going crazy and rocking it dangerously. Rebekkah Frei, whom you will remember from my first letter as being the mother of the 5 year old girl, who is constantly surrounded and shouted at that she is a whore, wrote me that the whole event was incredibly violent and very frightening. Those who were not physically attacking the bus were laying on the road in front of it, preventing people from getting on, and the bus from leaving the area. Frei said the policemen seemed stunned by the amount of hatred displayed by the Hassidim, and embarrassed that they had let things escalate to this point.

Police reinforcements were then brought in from Beer Sheba, because the riot was so bad. And here is where we see the results of your busy letter writing over the past few weeks:

The Head of the Arad Police, Moshe Ivgi then arrived on the scene. Mr. Ivgi, who until now – how can I put this mildly – lacked the motivation to do anything much about the persecutions of the believers in his city, manifested an entirely new attitude; he grabbed a microphone and ordered the ranting Gur Hassidim to disperse immediately or he will start making arrests on the spot. He also instructed the policemen to be tough on them. It wasn’t long before the crowd was forcefully dispersed and the area calmed down – but not before the police displayed a further amazing development in their new-found dedication regarding the enforcement of the law and protection of the believers in Arad: They had taken plenty of pictures of all the demonstrators, so they can identify them later. Mr. Ivgi gave instructions not to make any arrests before the Sabbath ended. It’s the holy day of rest for the Orthodox, you see. They won’t even cut toilet paper on the Sabbath – seriously – but it’s ok to go on a riot. Go figure

Just as a reminder – the policemen in Arad had been spotted on several occasions in the past, standing and laughing around with the protesters, as they shouted lies at the believers, hurled insults against Jesus and members of the local congregation, and threatened real violence in very explicit words. This new attitude was amazing. Once the crowd had been dispersed, the believers, now back on their bus, were able to leave the city – escorted by police cars, who were now mysteriously interested in protecting them.

And if you find this encouraging, wait, there’s more: Within a day police had arrested 10 of the Gur Hassidim, and opened criminal files against them. This is after 18 months in which they were basically allowed to do whatever they wanted with no real consequences to their actions. It gets better: One of the people ordered to the police station and interrogated, is a man by the name of Shmaya Tanenbaum. Remember in my last letter I mentioned that the mayor of Arad was unwilling to do anything, possibly because he was very dependent on the Gur Hassidim in his shaky coalition? Well, Mr. Tanenbaum is a Gur Hassid and a member of the city council – and he was taken in! As the newspaper and radio station reported, he was charged with inciting and disturbing the peace. He was released on bail which he paid himself, and in answer to reporter’s questions, he said “I don’t know what the police want with me I’m a law abiding citizen and I would never incite”. The poor man must have been in shock, seeing the police getting on his case, for a change. Furthermore, in the title of that newspaper report, Mr. Ivgi was quoted as saying “violators of the peace will be dealt with – with a heavy hand”. Way to go! We’ll be watching

Guys, this is a completely new attitude displayed here by the local police. This behavior, as displayed by Mr. Ivgi is so far removed from his previous conduct, it is tantamount to him breaking out and singing “I’m a new creation, I’m a brand new man”

We knew a lot of people were writing. We knew my letter had circled the globe several times over and believers world-wide were mobilizing on behalf of their brethren in Arad. But I guess none of us really knew the extent of just how many of you wrote and what an effect you were having – until we started to see the results. It seems that – although their troubles are still far from over – at least from the police’ point of view, someone gave the order for the free-for-all period against the believers in Arad to be curbed. That alone is great news. Read on, there’s more:

Two days later, the weekly free meal for the poor and homeless was about to be served, as it is every Monday. This meal, as I understand it, is organized by Eddie and Lura Beckford (you saw Eddie in the news clip I attached to my last email and will attach again to this one), but is served in a restaurant that is owned by secular people. Every single week the Gur Hassidim throw a big fuss there and harass anyone who tries to go into the restaurant, every week the restaurant owners call the police and ask for their help, but there was never any serious action or response from the police, who in at least one case, basically continued harassing the believers and their guests themselves. It’s been unbelievable. But this Monday was Different. And how was this night different from all other nights? Well, as the meal started, sure enough a bunch of Orthodox turned up and started harassing – when all of a sudden several policemen practically materialized out of the blue and just kicked them all out of there. It was amazing. Israeli police were finally protecting the believers! And it seemed they just appeared, out of nowhere, totally prepared to keep the peace.

The change is unbelievable. I can’t thank you all enough for taking action and writing letters to officials on behalf of the believers in Arad. This situation had gone on for so long it’s absolutely shameful, and it’s really terrible to think that people are actually going through this for so long. It’s one thing for me to write a letter about it, and for you to read it and be horrified: It’s quite another to live this, day in and day out, for 18 months, as the believers in Arad have been The strain of this on-going abuse is really horrible, and I could see it all over my sisters face, as they got ready to go back home after that conference last week. When I asked her, she plainly said she was not looking forward to going home. That is so sad

Now, although this is an encouraging report, please don’t misunderstand me: It’s not over yet, by any means. I think we need to stay on the case and ensure that the government realizes this was not a momentary intervention by Christians, but rather that the people who wrote all these letters are still watching. It’s unfortunate, but the plain truth is that our government and police force need to be pressured in order for them to even consider protecting these believers. Let them know you’re still there, keeping a tight watch on the situation from whatever distant country you live in. Let them know that in the age of information, Internet and Media coverage, people all over the world know what is going on, even in a small city like Arad.

And I think we should set some goals: For instance, that police take whatever action is necessary in order to ensure that Rebekkah Frei will be able to walk in the street without being shouted at that she’s a whore, as her little daughter watches in her arms. This behavior in no way can be upheld as their right of “freedom of expression”, as was suggested in the past. It is entirely unacceptable, but is still going on. Let them know that you find this pattern just as unacceptable as you would if someone was called a dirty Jew in your country. They also alternate sentences with my sister, Debbie Figueras: Sometimes they shout to her that she’s a filthy Christian, other times they shout that she’s a filthy Jew(remember I said these were Nazi Jews? Need any more proof?!) I really can’t make sense of this, but find it totally inappropriate and unacceptable. She is currently expecting again, and I would very much like for all this to calm down before she gives birth. The strain of all this is clearly seen on her by now. As long as our authorities know you are watching, and receiving very specific information about what is going on, where there are improvements and where further supervision and action are necessary, I believe we will be able to protect the believers. Until now they were a tiny forgotten minority. We need to change that and show the authorities they are not forgotten by any means.

Furthermore, our authorities need to be reminded that Messianic Jews are very honest, upright citizens; they don’t drain the State for budgets, like the Orthodox do, they serve in the Israeli Defense Forces – which the Orthodox don’t, and they create no trouble. If they serve in the army that protects Israel, the least Israel can do is protect them! Israel is obliged to – by its very nature as a democratic state. And yes – my sister served in the Army. She’s not a dirty Christian, but a good Jewish Israeli citizen.

On the other hand, our Orthodox have been wreaking havoc all over Israel, all summer: Blocking roads all over the country and attacking policemen in an effort to prevent the disengagement program, stabbing gays in Jerusalem, and attacking Messianic Jews in Arad These people have simply become a menace, while all the Messianic Jews in Arad are trying to do is live their lives quietly. Israeli society in general is tired of the Orthodox, but few of them realize that they are the real danger to the Democratic nature of the State of Israel: If we don’t curb their power and come down on their rantings, they will gladly take over the country and turn it into their version of a Theocratic Religious State – and Israel will quickly become a Jewish version of Iran, with no tolerance and a strict religious regime, complete with dress code and all. Secular freedoms will be next on the chopping block, right after those of the Messianic Jews. We don’t want that. We have enough trouble with the Muslim fanatics in the Middle East, we don’t really need the Orthodox ones too.

There are other issues you need to know about, like the issue of Polly Sugulim, a lady who has fostered children and who is severely persecuted by the Orthodox in Arad, still. They recently petitioned the Supreme Court in Israel for permission to have a huge, 700 people demonstration outside her house. The court still needs to decide on this, and it does not look good for the believers. You can read a bit more about this at http://www.compassdirect.org/en/lead.php#top.

I am not sure what we can do about this – obviously I wish the believers would get a really good lawyer and take their matters to court, not just being on the defensive. But it’s a matter of budget and internal decisions, I suppose. I am not a believer and can not have an influence on these decisions. You could try writing the Ministry of Justice again, about the situation in general and this one specifically. It can’t hurt – at least they’ll know they are being watched and people are expecting justice. Polly is another lady who has been dealing with lots of stress under these circumstances. Eddie and Lura Beckford, too (I know you want names, so you can pray for them. But please don’t just pray – write! Take action. I’ll make a deal with you – you write letters on behalf of the believers, and I’ll do my best to get you names and keep you updated).

It would also be great if there was some website where local believers could post live updates and reports, along with video clips and pictures of the harassments, which they are taking constantly, for evidence. There must be some way they can put these videos online so you can all just go to the website and see actual events for yourselves – and also refer our Foreign Ministry to it, when they write you and insinuate that there isn’t really much substance to the reports of the persecutions in Arad. If any of you feel you can help them with this (I doubt any of them know anything at all about how to do it), let me know and I’ll do my best to put you in touch with Yakim Figueras or anyone else they decide on in their congregation. They need to get the word out and keep coverage flowing, in my opinion. A picture is worth a thousand words.

Once again, I want to sincerely thank all those of you who wrote. On behalf of my sister and brother in law, Debbie and Yakim, my parents and our family – thank you so much for intervening and taking this matter personally as you did. A big thank you also to the group of police men in Holland who wrote directly to the Arad police. I don’t know what you wrote, but thanks a million! That was a great idea. To all of you in Germany, England, Singapore, Canada, the United States, Australia and so many other places, to all my tourists whom I guided in Israel and who were so faithful to respond to this need – I can’t thank all of you enough! You are all incredible… It is absolutely amazing to see what you have all done, and we are so grateful and happy to see people do care. You Christians have a lot of power when you act together on something – and hopefully the believers in Arad will be breathing a sigh of total relief soon, thanks to your intervention.

Again, thank you all very much.

Sincerely,

Shmulik Eitan.

Here again are the links to the different government offices. I know some of you found your letters to the chief of police bouncing back as undeliverable. If this continues to happen, I suggest writing the Ministry of Public Security, the Prime Ministers office and the Ministry of Justice. In any case, your letters have clearly found their way and caused a marked improvement already, and please let them know you see an improvement, but would like to see more. They need to know you’re out there, closer than they may have thought.

The fax number for the Police Spokesperson is (+972-2) 530-9666. I bet they’d you’d have their attention if they were so flooded with faxes they had to keep adding paper

The police website http://www.police.gov.il/english/default.asp

The list of Government Ministry email addresses – http://www.gov.il/FirstGov/BottomNavEng/Contact

The original news clip filmed last month showing some of the persecutions – http://news.walla.co.il/?w=/3807/770929

Report on Polly Sigulim and the Supreme Court case: http://www.compassdirect.org/en/lead.php#top