How Israeli Christians Are Coping With the Wave of Terror
JNS.org – For two of the three major monotheistic religions, the connection to Israel’s current wave of terror — whose latest and 29th victim was Dafna Meir, a mother of six stabbed to death in her home — is clear. While Jews like Meir have been targeted by numerous stabbing, shooting, and car-ramming attacks, the Israeli government points to Palestinian incitement over an Islamic holy site, the Temple Mount compound’s Al-Aqsa mosque, as a root cause of the violence.
But how do the 166,000 Christians living in Israel fit into the picture?
Comprising 2 percent of the country’s population, Christians are fully integrated members of Israeli society — including their rising voluntary enlistment in the Israel Defense Forces — standing in stark contrast to the widespread persecution of Christians elsewhere in the Middle East. For the following Israeli Christians interviewed by JNS.org, daily life during the terror wave essentially goes on as normal, but with extra vigilance and a little more faith.
Callie Mitchell, a mother of two, says she has needed to re-map the daily route she takes to her son’s kindergarten near Jerusalem’s Damascus Gate, an area where many of the recent terror attacks have occurred.
“The new route has added 20-30 minutes of travel both in the morning at drop-off, and the afternoon at pickup,” she says. “That’s nearly an hour more on the bus each day, and I feel that difference — emotionally, in our patience levels, since little children do not love sitting on a bus, and very practically in simply having a little less time to care for our home.”
Other Israeli Christians are trying to maintain normalcy.
“Israelis are quite used to threats in many different forms. I have learned from them to embrace every day and to live it to the fullest. This generally means going about life as usual…but with some precautions,” says Kasey Barr, a political psychology researcher who lives with her husband and newborn baby in Kfar Saba.
For Barr, “precautions” range from praying for protection to being more alert, or even avoiding certain areas on her daily stroller walks with her son at road crossings, especially because of the threat of car-rammings. She feels particularly vulnerable because she’s a new mother, but also because of the realization “that attacks are just as likely to happen even in so called ‘non-disputed’ areas such as central Israel, where I live.”
Leora, a Christian mother of three who asked that her last name not be published, was born and raised in Israel and believes that “life goes on.” She’s careful to not let her girls play outdoors unsupervised, but is determined not to allow fear to grip her.
Besides avoiding the gruesome news headlines, Leora focuses on scripture, praying, and making wise choices.
“Although I make situation-related decisions about where I go and what I do, I’m calm about it. I still haven’t ventured to my mechanic in an Arab neighborhood, even though I need to get the car fixed, but I have ridden buses and the light rail and I’ve been to the Old City [of Jerusalem]. Life goes on, and these [attacks] aren’t happening 24/7,” says Leora.
Daniel, who works in the media and also asked to remain anonymous, has lived in Jerusalem for seven years with his wife and toddler son. He has made practical adjustments as a father to try to protect his family.
“I don’t let her (his wife) and the boy go anywhere without me if I can help it. I started carrying pepper spray and a collapsable baton, in addition to the pocket knife I’ve been carrying for years,” he says.
In many Israeli apartment complexes with secure entrances, doors are propped open with a stone, especially on hot days. But Leora says her building’s management recently put up a sign telling residents to keep the door closed. After she heard about the murder of Dafna Meir, Leora found it wise to heed that advice.
“We can’t live in fear, but we have to be sensible and not take unnecessary risks,” she says.
For Israelis who don’t actually experience or witness a terrorist attack, they’re certain to be nearby or know someone who was there.
“On one occasion, my husband, children, and I were sitting at a bus stop in the evening, in the dark,” recalls Callie Mitchell. “While waiting for the bus we heard the sirens, then we saw them pass and stop at the central bus station…while we waited, my head filled with worry about whether or not the terrorist had been apprehended, or if he or she would show up at our bus stop….Once we finally got on the bus, I started singing with my son, ‘Do not fear for I am with you, do not be dismayed for I am your God,’ out of Isaiah 41:10. It made a huge difference on the ride home. The kids and I took the next day off to re-gather and feel physically safe.”
Daniel has also found himself near terrorist attacks.
“I’ve seen blood splattered on the ground and concrete walls pocked by shrapnel, and all that stuff. The first time is the hardest and has the most potential to make one freak out. After that you don’t ‘get used to it’ exactly, but your system doesn’t go into shock and you’re generally calmer about the whole thing,” he says.
On a recent walk home, Daniel heard shots and sirens only a few blocks away. It wasn’t until later that he discovered police had shot a terrorist who stabbed an 82-year-old woman. “I just continued walking home. What else was there to do?” he says.
Indeed, many Israelis like Daniel must be quick to move past the shock of witnessing a terror attack. But according to a study by the Israel Trauma Coalition, 8,000 Israelis have been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as a result of the current terror wave.
Chad Holland, senior pastor of the King of Kings Community Church in Jerusalem, says the church has a “channel of help ready should someone need it. We would recommend them to our counseling center, called Anchor of Hope, right here in our building in Jerusalem.”
While they may deal with fear and anxiety in different ways, the common thread among the Israeli Christians interviewed by JNS.org is the belief that ultimately, they are safe in Israel.
Kasey Barr focuses on trusting God, but she doesn’t believe Christians “are guaranteed to be protected.”
“In fact, Christians throughout the Middle East are suffering incredible persecution,” says Barr. “Israel is the only nation where the Christian population is growing and not shrinking, and where there is religious freedom. But even though there is religious freedom, and we know we are under God’s sovereign care, we also realize that none of us are guaranteed tomorrow and we need to keep our house in order.”
Daniel believes that safety in Jerusalem is a matter of trusting God, but also a matter of math.
“Yes, I feel safe. I’m a great student of statistics and I know I’m statistically safer in Jerusalem than almost any city of comparable size anywhere else on Earth, including several I’ve lived in and/or visited in North America and Europe,” he says.
Leora, who works as a travel coordinator, says Christians shouldn’t be afraid to visit the Jewish state.
“Israel is doing everything in its power to protect tourists and tourism sites around the country….Our organization has had [tour] groups cancel, but we also had groups come despite the situation and have a blessed and spiritually enriching time with no incident,” she says.
Pastor Holland explains that if someone is “waiting for a time in which there was no conflict in Israel, they may never be able to visit. At this point, we have not discouraged anyone from coming, but just encourage them to have security measures in place, for groups to stay together and for everyone to be on alert for those around them.”
Mitchell calls it “encouraging for us to see tour groups present, and it stimulates our economy.”
“Coming on a tour is definitely a way to bless Israel,” she says.
“As we see, lone-wolf terror attacks are becoming common even in the U.S. and Europe,” adds Barr. “It is important to stand with Israel right now, and one major way to do that is by expressing solidarity by visiting the country….It is also an incredible opportunity to begin to understand the facts on the ground here. And even with the increase in terror attacks, life here is full of beauty and joy, and even peace most days. If people feel God is opening the doors for them to come, I say don’t delay and book the ticket!”