"Police and sappers were once again dispatched to Ariel's IDF Street during the Purim holiday Friday morning. A few minutes earlier, a man had knocked on the door of the Leibovitz family home and left a cardboard box with the boy who answered the door. "It's mishloach manot, a Purim gift basket," explained the visitor before disappearing.
The boy and his older brother trembled with fear. Their parents, who were out of town, ordered the boys by phone to get away from the package and call the police. In another residential building, 50 meters away, a bomb planted in a Purim gift basket had exploded the day before.
"This is not hysteria; it is alertness," police told the two boys after they finally opened the box to reveal candy and other treats from the ultra-Orthodox Chabad movement in honor of the holiday.
This is only one example of the tension that has gripped city residents after the booby-trapped gift basket injured a boy on Thursday. Those who were most frightened were members of a tiny, almost secretive community that operates in that Ariel building, among other sites in Israel; the "Messianic Jews." The group had experienced occasional harassment in the form of hostile fliers and demonstrations against Christian missionary groups. But the police investigation into the explosion indicates that they now must also fear religious-based terror.
While sappers dismantled the Chabad package in the neighboring building, several members of the Messianic Jewish community were cleaning up the apartment where the bomb had gone off a day earlier: shattered windows, a splintered dining room table, holes in the walls and the ceiling, and dried blood stains. They refused to speak to the press, and only one person agreed, despite his friends' protests, to permit Haaretz to enter the scene of a crime motivated by untold loathing.
"The same people who hounded that family might find me tomorrow," one man said, describing his fear and reluctance to be identified. He comes to this home weekly to meet and pray with about 20 other men and women. Most are from the United States, but some are from the former Soviet Union and others, like the man who spoke to us, are native Israelis. He said he was a member of several religious cults before he "saw the light" while reading the New Testament seven years ago.
Only half of the local community is from Ariel, he said, adding that there are a few thousand Messianic Jews in Israel who "believe in the Torah of Israel and the God of Israel, and that Jesus, who was a Jew, had no intention of creating a new religion. We accept Jesus as the Messiah. We accept the Old Testament and the New Testament as its continuation."
The parents of the boy who was wounded in the explosion immigrated to Israel under the Law of Return; as Jews; before they founded the congregation in Ariel. The congregation meets weekly on the two upper floors of a typical residential building. But surveillance cameras, installed two years ago after antagonistic fliers were distributed in the area, bear witness to the threat the members feel. The family that received the bomb in a gift basket lives in one wing of the complex. Another wing, which has a wooden floor, plastic chairs and tables, and locked shutters, is dedicated to the group's weekly meetings. A wall hanging embroidered with the phrase "Peace in Israel" is flanked by a bulletin board and a schedule of events.
"The events that take place here are not underground; it's an open thing," the speaker explained.
Is it a mission?
"That depends on the nature of the people involved. Some tend to tell others about their beliefs, and others don't. I think it's very positive to tell, but I can't persuade you to accept our belief. This is an intimate, family place."
"As a congregation, it was nice to remain anonymous until now. But here you can see how many people hate and fear us," he said. "We are not a cult. We see ourselves as law-observing Jews and Israelis. One of our most important values is loyalty to the state of Israel, obeying the law and serving in the army. Many congregation members, including the brother of the boy who was hurt, serve in elite combat units."
The Ariel congregation had intended to celebrate Purim on Saturday, the day of their weekly meeting. Instead, they held a prayer service at the Schneider Children's Medical Center, where the wounded boy is hospitalized. "People from other congregations came and brought food. We sang and prayed together. While this is very difficult and unpleasant, hardships strengthen and unite people. It strengthens the parents to continue fearlessly. We told them that hate is vanquished by love."
Anti-missionaries suspected in attack
"Police investigating the sending of a package which exploded in the home of a Christian pastor in Ariel are leaning toward the theory that a Jewish anti-missionary was behind the attack, the preacher told The Jerusalem Post on Sunday.
David Oritz's 16-year-old son, Ami, sustained serious injuries in the blast, after opening the package, which was made to look like a Purim gift.
"They [the police], as far as I understand, do not suspect Palestinian terrorism. They suspect a Jewish anti-missionary motive," Oritz told the Post by phone from his Ariel home, minutes after returning from the hospital.
"At the start of the investigation, they went in the direction of Palestinian terrorism. Now they're going in the other direction," he added.
Judea and Samaria Police spokesman Ch.-Supt. Dani Poleg said he could not comment on the investigation due to a court-imposed media blackout, in force since Friday.
Ami's life was no longer in danger, his father said, but he was still suffering from serious injuries all over his body.
"His neck had an eight-inch [20-cm.] gash like someone slit his throat. He has a ruptured lung. Doctors had to operate on his tongue. He has second-degree burns to his chest and arms, and there is no flesh on the thighs," Oritz said, adding that doctors were forced to amputate two toes. "They're trying to continue to make sure that he won't lose his arms and legs. His whole body is full of fragments of shrapnel," he said.
Oritz described the moments after the explosion when the teenager's mother, Leah, "saw flames coming out of the windows after going downstairs to throw out the garbage." After running upstairs, Leah saw "her son on the floor. She held his neck and she kept the wound closed with her hands." Using her paramedic training, "she made a hole so he could breathe. Then the ambulance driver who arrived kept him alive. When we got to hospital, he was operated on in five places," Oritz said, adding that he considered his son's recovery to be "a miracle." Oritz's Jewish-born wife, Leah, is a member of Jews for Jesus. The pastor says dozes of families in Ariel have been influenced by his teachings. "We have about 50 families," he declared.
He described a long history of tensions with anti-missionary activists in Ariel, which included flyers and a petition calling for the family to leave the city.
"My neighbor said he had been told by religious Jews that if we were the only ones living in this building, they would have bombed it," Oritz said. "When we first came into this town, the rabbi visited us and told me I was not allowed to talk about Yeshua [Jesus] outside of my apartment. I told him that as far I know, this is not a crime in this country. This is a democratic country, people can say whatever they want outside their house," Oritz said.
"They put posters all over town warning residents to keep away from us and calling for us to be excommunicated, and there was a demonstration in front of our house. If all my neighbors had signed the petition calling on us to leave, I would have to leave by law. Some of my neighbors refused to sign," he added.
Four of Oritz's children have completed their military service in the IDF, he said. "I have served in the reserves for 15 years. I was shot at and stoned in Nablus. All of my children went to school here, they are normal children, we are normal people. Ami is the captain of his school basketball team."
Rabbi Dov Lifshitz, chairman of the Yad L'Achim anti-missionary organization, said he doubted that Jews were behind the bombing.
"Someone who thinks logically will not do this. It just harms the struggle. I'm sure this is not connected to the anti-missionary cause," he told the Post.
If the culprit is Jewish, the bomber "is either crazy or does not understand the struggle," Lifshitz added.
He estimated that Christian missionaries have succeeded in converting around 15,000 Jews to Christianity in Israel, adding that the missionaries target those "without defense - people ignorant of Judaism, such as Russian immigrants, and the lonely. This is why they succeeded, in a Jewish state, unbelievably. They have 120 branches in Israel," he said, blaming the Jewish Agency and the government for failing to provide a Jewish education to new immigrants.
"We are now pushing for legislation that would make it illegal for members of any religion to try and convert others to their faith," Lifshitz said. "Our struggle isn't against anyone. What we're saying is, we are Jews. Let us be Jews. Christians should remain Christians. In our 50 years of activity, we've never had any violence. We have a big argument with messianic Jews, but that doesn't include violence," Lifshitz said."
I don't know how anyone could read the last two paragraphs above without having an uncomfortable chill creep down their spine.