"21 apocalyptic Christians arrested in raid, 9 more on the run"

by Nina Pinto ("Ha'aretz", October 26, 1999)

Police are hunting nine apocalyptic Christians in the wake of a pre-dawn raid on their Jerusalem headquarters which led to the arrest of 21 people, including five children. Those still wanted by the police belong to the "Sons of Prayer" and "Solomon's Temple" groups based at Al Azzariya.
All the members of the groups have been ordered to be deported. This is the third deportation this year of apocalyptic Christians whom Israel fears may be planning violent action in the Christian millennial year in order to hasten the arrival of the messiah or the construction of the Third temple.
One of the detainees, Brother Raymond of Sacramento, California, said the arrests were the "work of the devil." Another, Brother David, speaking from behind the wire mesh of a police van, said the Christians were arrested "because we speak the truth and Israel is about to hear the truth in a greater way than ever before."
In the pre-dawn roundup yesterday, police said they did not find any weapons. Some of those arrested expressed surprise at the government action against them, claiming they "love Jews because Jews are the purest religion."
For the past year, a special committee headed by Police Inspector General Yehuda Wilk and including representatives from the police, the Shin Bet, the Mossad and the Foreign Ministry, has been convening whenever necessary to deal with the issue of Christian groups making pilgrimages to Israel with plans for messianic action.
Relying on intelligence cooperation from foreign police forces and Interpol, Israel is trying to prevent extremist Christian groups from reaching the country during the millennium, when many of the groups anticipate Jesus' imminent return or an apocalypse to devastate the Holy Land and usher in the Second Coming.
Israeli police fear some of the end-of-time Christians will carry out violent acts to hasten the Second Coming or commit mass suicide if the prophecies don't come true.
Police said they suspected that the 21 had planned to disrupt public order, but dismissed Israel radio reports that they had plotted to commit acts of violence. The police said they were mainly concerned that the two groups were helping other foreign Christians to settle illegally in the Holy Land.
Brother David, leader of the House of Prayer, has told reporters in the past that he is in correspondence with scores of Christians preparing to sell their belongings to move to the Mount of Olives. His group has helped newcomers find apartments, and has also distributed food and clothing to needy Palestinians.
David, who like the others does not use a last name, came to Israel nearly 20 years ago, after having run a trailer park in Syracuse, New York. David, a mild-mannered man with a neatly trimmed goatee, has said he opposes violence and would not change his life if the end-of-time prophesies are not fulfilled. He has been open about his activities, talking freely to reporters and inviting them to his weekly prayer meetings. This is in sharp contrast to the more secretive followers of the Denver-based doomsday cult, "Concerned Christians." More than a dozen followers of the Denver group moved to Israel last year, and changed apartments when they felt Israeli police were learning too much about their whereabouts. They were deported in January.
The Christians rounded up on Monday have three days to fight the deportation order. One of them, a woman with a plane ticket home next month, was released from custody. Thirteen of the remaining 20 are Americans, three are British nationals, three are Jamaicans and one is Australian, the Interior Ministry said.
United States Embassy officials said they were told by Israeli authorities that 16 Americans were in the group. The discrepancies could not immediately be explained.


"Israelis arrest 16 from US in roundup of Christians"

by Charles M. Sennott ("Boston Globe", October 26, 1999)

JERUSALEM - Israeli security forces in full combat gear carried out a predawn raid on the Mount of Olives yesterday, detaining 16 Americans and four others from a Christian evangelical group and preparing to deport them for ''endangering public safety.''
It was the third such move in recent months by Israeli officials against Christian groups who interpret the Bible's more apocalyptic passages literally and believe the second coming of Jesus is at hand on the eve of the new millennium.
Police said the 20 people, including four children, members of two organizations called the House of Prayer and the Temple group, were arrested for overstaying their visas.
''Every one of them believes he will be given a certain role at the `End of Days,''' said police spokesman Rafi Yaffe, who said deportation proceedings were underway. ''We are fearful that their presence in the country could lead to the endangering of public safety.''
It was unclear whether they had been charged with anything except overstaying their visas. US Embassy spokesman Larry Schwartz said the names of those detained would not be released under privacy laws, but confirmed that 16 were US citizens.
Israeli security forces have been bracing for what they fear will be a rash of violence and possible mass suicide attempts tied to millennial prophecies. Dozens of undercover agents, police sources say, have been penetrating a network of evangelical organizations that have been gathering in Jerusalem, and specifically at the Mount of Olives, where Christian faith holds that Jesus ascended to heaven after being crucified.
Many of these groups cite passages in the New Testament that refer to ''the End of Days'' as a time when the Messiah will return to the Mount of Olives to judge the living and the dead.
The tactics used by Israeli security forces and border police yesterday, which eyewitnesses said involved strip-searches of both men and women, troubled many Christians living in Israel as well as Israelis who follow the Christian community closely.
''I worry if this means they are going to go around arresting anyone who believes in the Christian theology of the return of Jesus Christ,'' said David Bogenrief, a member of a Baptist parish who had joined prayer services with many of those arrested.
''I think the Israeli authorities have no understanding of these Christian groups. I think they are acting out of fear, and not acting rationally,'' said Bogenrief, an Iowan who has lived in Israel on and off for more than a decade.
One witness, Charle Homan, a nondenominational minister from North Carolina, was in an apartment shared by the Prayer group when it was raided at about 1:30 a.m.
She said more than 40 Israeli border police in bullet-proof vests and wielding machine guns burst in. She said she was strip-searched by a female officer while others tore the apartment apart and seized bags of full of Bibles, prayer cards, and documents. At least three of her housemates were taken away in manacles, she said.
''I was petrified. The soldiers seemed to be working off a list, and my name was not on it, thank God,'' said Homan, a mother of four and a former computer technician who arrived in Israel last week.
One of those detained was ''Brother David,'' a New York native who two weeks ago led the nightly services of the Prayer Group on the Mount of Olives and, in interviews, described his colorful and sometimes apocalyptic theology.
Brother David, an evangelical, nondenominational Christian, said he had come to Israel 15 years ago. He earned a reputation in Bethany, where he lived, as a pastor who cared for the poor and helped Christian pilgrims settle in the Mount of Olives.
During the Wednesday night prayer service, about 20 people sat in chairs in a circle and read Bible passages that included Revelations and Ezekiel and Zachariah. They sang hymns, shook tambourines, and praised the Lord. All use only first names, such as Brother Raymond, who told how he became a ''born-again Christian'' after spending 12 years in American prisons. And Sister Sharon, from Iowa, who said, ''God dispatched me'' to carry out a ministry in the Mount of Olives. They prayed, but there was no discussion of violence or suicide.
Raymond and Sharon, neighbors said, were arrested yesterday along with Brother David.
Brother David said he had ripped up his passport and would refuse to leave Israel.
Gershom Gorenberg, a writer who follows religious extremists and millennialist trends for the Jerusalem Report, Israel's leading English-language magazine, said he believes that, in the absence of hard evidence against the group, the police may have overreacted. ''There was a clumsiness in the handling of this that should raise questions,'' said Gorenberg.


"FBI helping ID millennial fanatics - Ben-Ami in Washington meetings tells Reno of concerns about millennial cults"

by Nitzan Horowitz ("Ha'aretzt", October 26, 1999)

WASHINGTON - The Federal Bureau of Investigation is helping Israel identify extremist Christian groups that may have apocalyptic plans for pilgrimages to Israel in the coming year's 2,000-year anniversary of the birth of Jesus of Nazareth.

At meetings here yesterday between Internal Security Minister Shlomo Ben-Ami and U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno, the minister asked Reno for more cooperation between U.S. law enforcement agencies and the Israeli police on Christian groups that have declared their apocalyptic intentions.

The minister briefed Reno on the latest deportation moves against a Christian cult group in Israel.But Ben-Ami emphasized that Israel is not interested in creating "a special drama" around the issue. "It's not a good idea to talk too much about millennial dangers because we'll end up scaring tourists away," he said.

Meanwhile, the FBI is cooperating with Israeli efforts to identify Christian cults that may have apocalyptic plans for the millennium in the Holy Land.

U.S. federal law prohibits collecting information about citizens without probable cause, but the FBI has briefed top Israeli law enforcement officials, including Hezi Ladar, police attache in Washington, on various Christian cult groups that have been identified as potential troublemakers during the events surrounding the turning of the millennium.

Ladar said other U.S. law enforcement agencies are also helping the Israeli effort .


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