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Pentecostals are quietly thriving in Jerusalem

The Alliance Pentecostal church is acquiring new converts each month

By on Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Icons are displayed in a shop window in Jerusalem's Old City (Photo: AP)

Icons are displayed in a shop window in Jerusalem's Old City (Photo: AP)

The Alliance Church rings no bells in the backstreets of the Christian Quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City. But the joyful singing of hymns by its congregation, accompanied by a drum and a guitar, echoes through the narrow alleys on Sundays and Thursdays. Inside, Arab Christians, mostly young families, pray fervently. They have turned from being Catholic, Greek Orthodox or members of other older Christian denominations. So far, this Pentecostal church has around 120 to 150 members, but, as in Brazil and other countries, converts grow each month. “We are born-again Christians,” says Pastor Jack Sara. “We believe in changing the heart so that people are renewed by God himself.”

As a member of the Christian Missionary Alliance, the Alliance Church has to keep within Palestinian political boundaries and Israeli legal boundaries. As its members are Palestinian and Arab it does not compare biblical Israel to modern Israel or support settlements – unlike most Pentecostal churches.  And although it is a missionary church it cannot seek to convert. In Israel any inducements to change religion and give material benefits such as offering a job or an apartment are an offence. Under the Enticement to Change Religion law of 1977 – the “anti-missionary” law – attempts to proselytise are punishable by up to five years in prison or a fine of up to £50,000.     

Paradoxically, although Evangelicals here must refrain from recruiting new members, Israel benefits enormously from Evangelical communities around the world. In the past 12 months one stream of evangelical Christians in the United States gave over $100million (£63million) to Israel. Donations stay high because in spite of the recession there is a worldwide explosion in the number of converts.

Conversions in Jerusalem are, on the whole, rare and usually only take place before weddings. Marriage between men and women of different faiths and denominations – even between Catholics and Anglicans – is also against the law. One famous Catholic who converted to Islam was Suha Daoud Tawil. In 1990, when she was 27, Suha, who had been educated in the best convent here in Jerusalem, married Yasser Arafat, who was then 61. A few years after his death in 2004 she moved with their daughter to Tunisia. In 2007 the president revoked her Tunisian passport and since then her home has been a lavish villa purchased for her by Muammar al-Gaddafi of Libya near her Orthodox mother in Malta and frequently goes to Italy.  

The Israeli government has recently been reproached by some Palestinians for cashing in on Christian pilgrims and tourism. In November, the Palestinian Authority announced that it was displeased by the Greek Orthodox Church’s decision to attend the opening of the road built by Israel to ease access to fifth-century St George’s Monastery near Jericho in the West Bank. Dr Bernard Sabella of Bethlehem University said: “This area is part of the topography of Palestine. It should have been a Palestinian project.”

After 42 years as a closed military zone al-Yahud has been revamped and will soon be permanently open to the public. Visitors, though, will have to pass through a fenced-off road until all the landmines have been cleared.  The Israeli army were against opening the site as the river is the official border with Jordan. Water there is so shallow that anyone can wade across from Jordan without going through security or passport control. Controversy from many angles certainly courts much that happens to Holy Places here. 

  • Anonymous

    Why would they not be, Israel is a democracy, and in a democracy religious freedom is law. No matter how many times the Do good phony Liberals and the arab sqautters tell hateful lies about Israel being an aparthid state it does not make it true. There is no muslim country in the world that is a democracy and yet Obama and Hillary Clinton keep trying to sell this world view. In vietnam they said win the hearts and mind of the people. Who were the people? Some poor shmuck hoping he could farm enough rice to feed his family.

  • LeFloch

    Democracy and religious freedom are contrary to the traditional teaching of the Church. As for the Zionist regime, it is a disgusting blot on the landscape of the Middle East.

  • Anonymous

    The Zionist Regime is to be refered to the nation of Israel. There God Is the God for both the jew and the gentile. You are a squater on land that is not yours. It is only thru the kindness of the jews that you are allowed to stay. Have a nice day.

  • LeFloch

    I had no idea that it was due to the kindness of the Jews that I lived in England! How decent of them to allow me to live in my own country!

  • Anonymous

    It makes sense, in one of the Muslims country’s you ran away from there is no freedom of Press. Regretfully England is a European nation that in a few generation will be fighting to keep from being overrun by Muslim rule. Last year the most popular males name born in the UK was Mohammed. Why do you curse Israel and yet you choose to live in a democracy? Why are you not doing your part? Or do you work and live among the general population for the very type of society that affords you the freedoms you have?And behind closed doors you seethe and spew your poisons? Do you pay taxes or do you feel it is Illegal? Are you or do you have any children that are Military age that are willing to die in service to the kings crown to preserve the UK and her allies freedoms. It does not sound that a person could have so much bitter vile hatred for a democratic country as Israel and respect democracy,.

  • LeFloch

    Ha ha! I think you are barking up the wrong tree there my friend. In fact you are barking, full stop.

  • Jeannine

    I have been reading that Evangelicals & Pentecostals have been converting many people in the Middle East, not just name-only Orthodox & Catholics but Muslims too.(Although w/the Muslims we may never get an exact number until there is true religious freedom in that region.) I would like everyone to be a reverently joyful Catholic, but I would settle for Christians having a personal relationship w/Jesus.