Maghar (AsiaNews) Next Sunday, Mgr Michel Sabbah, the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, and Mgr Pietro Sambi, the Apostolic Nuncio to the Holy Land, will visit the village of Maghar, in the Galilee, where Druze residents recently attacked local Christianswho did not react in kindforcing some 2,000 of them to flee their homes.
At 10:30 am, the Patriarch and the Nuncio will celebrate a festive liturgy as a token of solidarity towards Maghar Christians. Leaders from other Christian Churches in the Holy Land shall also take part in the event. Foreign ambassadors have been invited.
Maghar is a village of about 18,000 residents 15 km from the Sea of Galilee (aka Lake Kinneret or Lake Tiberias) and 40 km from Nazareth. Half of its population is Druze*, Muslims are 35 per cent and Christians, largely Melkite Catholics represent the remaining 15 per cent.
The violence was sparked by a false rumour, namely that a Christian schoolboy had posted photos of naked Druze girls on the internet. For two days Druze youths rioted in the Christian neighbourhood under the indifferent eye of Israeli police and without any violent counteraction by Christians.
In a letter to Israeli President Moshe Katzav, Archbishop Michel Sabbah and Catholic leaders in Israel placed the responsibility for what happened to the Christians on Israel's security forces.
In an interview with Israeli daily Haaretz, Sabbah said that while Israel stationed almost an entire army to guard a tiny group of settlers in Hebron, a neighbourhood in Maghar was almost destroyed without any reaction from the police. Only the intervention of Nuncio Sambi did lead to the police re-establishing control over the village.
Fr Maher Abud, the parish priest of St George's Catholic Church in Maghar, spoke to AsiaNews about the incident.
"The Druze attacked us four times. The first two times with the Israeli police looking on, actually withdrawing from the village. I called the nuncio to tell him about the situation. Mgr Sambi then called the authorities demanding that they intervene." Only on Sunday, three days after the unrest had begun, did 300 police officers arrive.
Thinking about what happened on Friday and Saturday, Christians are simply dismayed at the inaction of the Israeli police, Father Maher said.
The violence left "seven people injuredtwo from gunshot woundsand 70 stores and homes looted and burnt," Father Maher said. "The façade of the church is damaged from stone throwing, 155 cars were torched and 2,000 Christians fled to nearby villages."
After intervening the commanding officer of the police unit sent to the village called what he saw a 'pogrom'.
The police arrested 26 Druze; 18 of them are still in custody waiting trial, including four Druze police officers.
Father Maher pointed out that Maghar Catholics "have been bearing the brunt of the idea that might is right. It is not the first time that the Druze have targeted them."
"I do not mean to accuse all Druze," the priest stressed. "There are among them people of good will but they cannot keep in check those who are violent".
Eyewitnesses said that in this attackothers took place in 1990Druze "went after Christian homes and businesses". And what's more, in spite of several calls, the local fire department did not intervene to put off the fires.
Maghar Christians now fear for themselves and their children. "Our students," Father Maher said, "don't want to go back to school in the village because they are afraid that the humiliation Druze students were already inflicting upon them will just get more violent."
Even before the latest violence, some 200 Christian students from Maghar attended school in nearby villages to avoid being pestered by Druze.
"I am not a Saint, but neither am I afraid," said Father Maher. "If the road to sainthood requires martyrdom I am ready."
At the end, he asked Christians around the world to "pray for us!" (LF)
* A distinct religious community born within Islam but considered heretical and therefore not Muslim by most Muslims in the region, though some Druze believe their religion is Islamic.