INTOLERANCE IN THE HOLY LAND
Christianity, Islam, Judaism in conflict
in Jesus' home town
Since 1996, a conflict has existed in Nazareth where Jesus
Christ (called Yeshua of Nazareth at the time) lived as a boy.
The Roman Catholic church operates the Basilica of the
Annunciation on the location where they believe the Angel
Gabriel informed Mary that she was pregnant through the action
of the Holy Spirit. Nearby is a plot of land owned by a Muslim
trust. The Christian mayor of Nazareth, and many other local
Christians, favor the conversion of the land into an open plaza
where pilgrims might gather prior to visiting the basilica. The
Muslims wish to erect a mosque on the site. The occupying
authority, Israel, wants to encourage tourism and to keep this
and other disputes from escalating into violence.
Religious buildings in Nazareth
According to the Bible, Luke 1:26-38, the Angel Gabriel told
the Virgin Mary that she would shortly become pregnant with
Jesus. Mary was living in Nazareth at the time. No records
survive from the 1st century BCE that might
shed some light on the exact location in Nazareth where this
event took place. However, there are two churches in Nazareth,
each operated by a different Christian group, each believing
their church to be the location of Gabriel's visit:
||The Basilica of the Annunciation: This is "the
most impressive architectural and artistic monument in the
town" of Nazareth. It is a Roman Catholic basilica,
built over a crypt which encloses the Grotto of the
Virgin where one tradition states that the Annunciation
occurred. It is the latest of five churches on this site.
The first was built in 365 CE by Helen, the mother of the
Emperor Constantine. The fifth, a Franciscan church, was
dismantled in 1955 to make room for the present basilica
which was completed in 1969.
||Church of St. Gabriel: This complex is composed
of a church, and Mary's Well. Some of the apocryphal
gospels state that the well was the actual location of the
Annunciation. The church was completed in the middle of the
18th century by the Greek Orthodox Church.
The Church of St. Joseph which belongs to the
Franciscans, is also located in Nazareth. It is believed by some
to have been built on the location of Joseph's workshop. Others
believe that the worshop is under the convent of the Dames de
Nazareth; still others say that it was at the Church of
St. Joseph. Nazareth is also home to Marionite, Nazarene,
Anglican, Coptic, Baptist and Salesian churches, as well as a
mosque and a number of convents.
Of all of these religious buildings, the largest is the
Basilica of the Annunciation. Some 100 meters (330 feet)
away is a plot of land containing the burial place of Shehab
el-Din, nephew of the famous Muslim hero, Saladin (1138 to 1193
CE). He was the military leader who forced the Christian
Crusaders out of the Holy Land in the 12th century.
The Muslim trust which owns of the land decided to build a
mosque there. The mayor of Nazareth, Ramez Jeraise, a Christian,
wanted to convert the area into an open square, to handle the
expected flow of Christian pilgrims. The mostly Muslim
representatives on the municipal government were in favor of the
The Muslims opened a protest tent on the land where they
wanted to build the mosque. It became the focal point of
continuing tensions and violence. In 1998 the Israeli Public
Security Ministry established a committee to resolve the
The Israeli government decided on a compromise: two thirds of
the area would become an open plaza; a mosque would be built on
the other third.
Reactions to the conflict
The Israeli decision appears acceptable to the local Muslims.
It was unacceptable to many the Christians in the area.
||In 1999-APR, after two days of religiously motivated
violence in Nazareth which injured 12 people, the mayor
agreed to not block the building of the mosque.
||In 1999-OCT, Monsignor Pietro Sambi, the Vatican's envoy
to Israel criticized the Israeli decision. He said that it
jeopardized the pope's visit in the year 2000. He said that
the plans to build a mosque were a "provocative" act.
"The Vatican has expressed its opposition. If a mosque is
needed, very well. But not in that place." 4
He commented further: "The Holy Father has a position of
strong solidarity with the Christians of Nazareth and with
the Christians of the Holy Land. He would like to see them
duly protected in their rights and in their dignity."
||In 1999-NOV, Bishop Joseph Fiorenza, president of the
U.S. National Conference of Catholic Bishops,
protested the decision by the Israeli government to allow
the mosque to be built. He wrote that the Christians in
Nazareth are "fearful that the building of the mosque
will only worsen their already insecure place in the
||In 1999-NOV, the leaders of the Greek Orthodox, Roman
Catholic, and Armenian Churches in the Holy Land and the
Franciscan ''Custos of the Holy Land,'' released a
declaration that stated (in part) that ''all Sanctuaries
of the Holy Land will be closed on 22 and 23 November 1999."
They felt that the Israeli decision was ''clear
discrimination against the Christian community in Galilee.''
Suleiman Abu Ahmed, a local Muslim leader, commented: ''I
can't believe what I am hearing. I thought that religious
people were supposed to be more forgiving."
||On 1999-NOV-8, the mosque's cornerstone was scheduled to
be laid. This was postponed until NOV-24.
As the millennium ends, Nazareth has two major churches operated
by different faith groups: Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox.
Each claims to know the true location of the Annunciation. We
hope that in the future, people might view the proximity of the
Muslim mosque, Roman Catholic basilica and Eastern Orthodox
church as symbols of cooperation among the three of the world's
largest monotheistic faith groups. But, for now, this marvelous
opportunity to demonstrate religious tolerance remains
Various news items from Reuters Group PLC on
1999-NOV-3, The Boston Globe, on 1999-NOV-5, Page A02
and Religion Today for 1999-NOV-24.
Tom Harpur, "Holy Land lockout a scandalous affair:
Churches close doors to protest mosque being built in
Nazareth," The Toronto Star, 1999-NOV-28, Page E7
"Christian worship church guide: Nazareth at:"
"Vatican critical of plans for Nazareth mosque,"
Israel Wire, 1999-OCT-5, at:
"Vatican says Nazareth mosque plans 'provocative'
" CNN, at:
Copyright © 1999 by Ontario Consultants on
Originally written: 1999-DEC-02
Latest update: 1999-DEC-02
Author: B.A. Robinson