Dear Friends of Israel:
Greetings from Arkansas where Marylois and I are spending our summer. We have high hopes though that we will be spending fall and winter in Jerusalem. The COVID-19 virus and its high rate of infection and transmission has caused Israel to seal its borders. No one other than Israelis is allowed to enter, without a special visas and/or permission. The government has kept a firm hand on what its citizens can do. Schools were opened, but then many of the students and teachers started testing positive, prompting a new round of closures, and quarantines. Ben Gurion airport is all but shuttered, with less than 5,000 people a month arriving and departing. EL-Al airlines is in serious financial trouble, and may well collapse unless the State steps in. Over 90% of its employees are laid off. Some 300 people have also died in Israel during this world pandemic. Lock-down measures are gradually being lifted, with malls and restaurants being opened. Prime Minister Netanyahu is concerned about rising Corona-19 virus cases, within the country and has said that he will not hesitate to re-institute a nationwide lockdown again if the virus numbers start increasing.
Three Drug Anti-Virus “Cocktail”
Israeli scientists and labs are in a race to develop a working vaccine to protect against this virus. Israeli labs have made progress in developing a passive vaccine. Hong Kong scientists also have claimed success against the Corona virus by mixing a “cocktail” of three different anti-viral medications and giving it to patients. The three-drug anti-viral cocktail is made up of the HIV medication lopinavir-ritonavir, the hepatitis therapy drug ribavirin, and the multiple sclerosis treatment interferon-beta. Israeli scientists as well as those in other nations are still months away from releasing a vaccine to test on the general public. (www.jpost.com )
Finally, after three elections, Israelis have a working government! Prime Minister Netanyahu according to agreements with the opposition Blue and white Party will serve the next 18 months. Deputy Prime Minister Gantz will then serve for another eighteen months. Now, they have to get down to the business of governing and work together to pass a budget.
Israel, a Falafel Sandwich
Everyone’s eyes and interests this past two weeks has been turned to America and the turmoil there. The unjustified killing of George Floyd, followed by riots, lootings, mayhem, and lawlessness has left many Israelis amazed, and shaking their heads. America has always been seen here as the second land of milk and honey.
Israel though as a nation, also has serious underlying issues of discrimination. This is after all a mixed society. A popular saying here is that “Israel is like a falafel sandwich!” You throw in every kind of salad, vegetables over hot fried chickpea balls and put them into a pita and drizzle it with salad dressing then eat! It is the most wonderful, colorful, tasty mess you have ever seen, and had the pleasure to consume.
Separation here is more by religion than race. The question here is whether you are Jewish or Islamic or Christian or a non-believer? The way you dress tells others about your beliefs. And if you are Jewish, well; “How Jewish are you?” “Are you Ultra-Orthodox?” If so, “What Rabbi do you follow?” or “What Synagogue do you attend?” Or “are you Religious?” (observant) “or Reform (not recognized)?” “Or secular (non-observant), or Messianic?” (Jewish believers in Jesus who are discriminated against), Many Messianic serve in the IDF. And of course, there is Gender separation. Women serve fully in the IDF and in society, yet many Ultra-religious men, have “issues” with secular women.
In between these barriers are the Arabs. The question here is whether you are Islamic or Christian? “Are you Palestinian or live on the Israeli side?” There are one million Arabs that have full Israeli citizenship, and another sizable number that have rejected Israeli citizenship but have “residency cards.” You have other minorities, such as the Ethiopians who now speak fluent Hebrew and serve in the IDF. They are a vibrant part of this society but not fully accepted. Druze Arabs are also in the IDF and loyal to the State. There are the “Settlers” to consider also. They live in the territories and are divided up into religious and secular towns. Then there is Tel-Aviv, Israel’s working city. It is pressing hard to be a gay-friendly city and is home to Israel’s largest LGBT following.
Besides cultural and religious differences, Israelis have ideological, and political separations. The current Knesset has seven political parties represented. During elections, there were some 35 parties vying for your vote. The running joke here is “Two Israelis, three opinions.”
In the midst of this “falafel mix” are the millions of tourists who visit every year, except 2020! I have seen over 50 buses parked by the Garden of Gethsemane, waiting to pick up their tour groups after visiting the holy sites. On any given day, when I am in the Old City, I can hear a babble of languages, some I recognize as being French, Russian, Greek, Arab, Hebrew, Spanish, English, Polish, African tongues or whatever nation is in town that week. All the nations come to Jerusalem., even the United Nations! Its headquarters is not far from the House of Peace.
Disturbances” occur also where the police have had to use “water cannons,” “tear gas”, rubber bullets, “stink water” and batons. Mostly these “protests” are over the draft law, which is not accepted by the Ultra-Orthodox, or perhaps the Arabs riot on the Temple Mount. I know, Marylois and I got caught in one on Saladin Street some years back. We have gone through two “intifadas” (uprisings) by the Arabs, experienced terrorist bombings and two missile attacks. Life here is not for the faint hearted. But we and all Israel know that during these times of trouble and in peace, the LORD God is our Sun and Shield. It is He who watches over Israel, who neither slumbers, nor sleeps.
Most of the time, living in this land is peaceful, although the dove of peace gets its feathers tattered at times. Yet, what is amazing is, that despite all the differences, Israelis love their country and this multi-cultural society works! It is the only democracy in the Middle East and the only nation that is a Jewish State, which recognizes the One True God. I believe when all know and recognize the Messiah here, they will find a unity in His kingdom and rejoice. And that’s why I ask you to “Pray for the peace of Jerusalem!”
Lebanon and Syria in Trouble
Israel’s “neighbors” to the North and East are currently in the midst of a severe financial collapse. Both the Syrian and the Lebanese currency are rapidly losing their value. The “pound” as it is called, is in “free-fall” leaving many families unable to buy food, pay their bills or take care of the rent. Prices are soaring and protests are being held in the streets. People are trying using dollars as currency for protection. The local moneychangers are limited in how many dollars they can sell, leading to shortages. Syrians are buying dollars to protect against raging inflation and as a hedge against the effect of impending U.S. sanctions.
The current Lebanese and Syrian financial crisis is causing concern in Israel. It could lead to another civil war, or conflict with Israel. Lebanese Hezbollah “operatives” have been approaching Israel’s border, trying to provoke the IDF into responding. Also, Hezbollah has about 150,000 short and long-range missiles aimed at Israel.
Syria also has been through months of civil unrest, with Russia, the U.K. Israel, Turkey, the U.S., Iran, the Kurds, and remnants of ISIS as well as Jordan involved. President Assad of Syria still maintains some control but with his nation now in a financial crisis, there is even more danger of warfare.
Pray for these two countries, as the Holy Spirit leads.
Israel’s Helping Hand
Yesterday in Israel, a special medic-vac flight arrived from Cyprus. On board was a ten-day old baby boy and his father, a Syrian refugee. Israel has some of the best hospitals and doctors in the region. Politics, the COVID-19n virus and religious differences were laid aside. The only mission here was to save a life. The baby was born with a serious heart defect. Israeli doctors volunteered to do open heart surgery. Despite all the problems in this little nation, it still is a bright shining light to the nations.
“Od yishama” (The Song of the Bride)
The Israeli government is allowing more guests to attend wedding celebrations. A Cabinet decision approved wedding halls to be re-opened on June 14th. Guests are limited to 250 celebrants. Hearing this good news, some 25,000 couples registered to be married in the next few weeks (www.jpost.com) A popular song here is “Od Yishama” taken from Jeremiah 33:10-11.
Od yishama be’arei Yehudah u’vechutzot Yerushsalim
(It will yet be heard in the cities of Judea and the parts of Jerusalem
Kol sason vekol simchah, kol chatan vekol kalah.
(Sound of joy and sound of gladness, voice of groom and bride)
There is an even greater wedding event in our near future, which we are invited to: The marriage feast of the bride and the bridegroom, Yeshua Hamashia (Jesus Christ). We will all be singing these words in joy and celebration. Now is a great time to start rehearsing this song!