Christians in Arad under pressure


By our correspondent Alfred Muller


ARAD - Ultra-orthodox Jews have asked permission to the police in the city of Arad in the Israeli Negev-desert to hold a large demonstration in front of the house of Polly Sigulim, a Jewish believer in Jesus Messiah. When permission was denied, the organizers of the demonstration went to the High Court.


This is according to Messianic Jewish and Christian sources in Arad. According to them, it will be a demonstration in which five to seven hundred people will take part.


Ultra-orthodox Jews demonstrate already for more than a year against the presence of the Messianic believers in their city. Usually these are small demonstrations of 15 to 20 people, who are being kept at a distance of some tens of meters from the homes of the believers. In this case, however, it will be a large demonstration just in front of a house. Permission is needed for this.


The Arad police referred the request for the demonstration to the bureau in Beersheva, according to Yakim Figueras, pastor of the Hebrew speaking congregation in Arad. The police banned the planned meeting because it would be in front of a private home. The head of the High Court, Aharon Barak, is now studying the issue. "They appeal to the freedom of expression. But that is not the issue here. It is about expressions of hatred, lies and curses", Figueras says.


Problems started after it became known that a girl started to believe that Jesus is the Messiah. She only had herself baptized once she was 18 years old. The first big demonstration at the House of Polly Sigulim was held in March 2004.


Sigulim came to California to Israel in 1982. Her husband lost his life in a traffic incident. One of her three sons is in the army and the other two are on secondary schools which prepare for military service at the navy and the air force. She also has five foster children, all from families of Christians or Messianic Jews.


"The foster care department of the social services knows that I am a believer in the New Testament", she says. The big question was: which holidays do you celebrate? I told them that I celebrate the seven Jewish feasts God commanded us. We do this in almost the same way as all other Jews in the world. And we keep Sabbath with a Sabbath dinner. And on Sabbath we come together as believers.


Ten of Sigulim's neighbors have been asked to submit a declaration under oath to the court. "As far as I know, they are all on my side. That is not because of my religion, but because I am a good neighbor. They say: she has done nothing wrong to us and we didn't even know what she believes."


Every Saturday morning a small group of Hebrew speaking believers comes together in a residence where one person lives permanently, said Figueras. In the same house, a group of Russian speaking believers gathers in the evening. In the town there is also an American Christian couple that manages a chess club. Most of the demonstrations are near their house.


Every week the believers also gather for a prayer meeting. The demonstrators come with a camera and take pictures of everyone who comes in and out of the prayer meeting. The believers are also called names and blasphemous slogans are shouted against them. "The most important mantra, which they keep repeating, is that we take innocent Jewish children and baptize them into Christians", said the pastor. "That is a pure lie. We do not even baptize our own children. We wait until they have reached the age that they can decide for themselves."


Figueras says he may contact the American embassy. The American State Department has a department for international religious freedom, which wants to promote freedom of religion worldwide.


According to a police spokeswoman of the Negev-district, it is not about a demonstration against Christians, but about protests once a week for an hour against 'missionary activities'. That is legal, she says. According to her, there is also no objection against demonstrators standing before the homes of believers with placards or taking pictures of them or filming them in the street.