Israel and Jordan
The land that is now the modern nations of Israel and Jordan is of special interest to Jehovah’s Witnesses. This is because most of the people spoken about in the Bible lived here, and the events in which they were involved occurred here. Yet our interest is not only in what happened to ancient servants of Jehovah who lived in this land; it is also in connection with the activities of Jehovah’s modern-day Witnesses. What has been the situation with this land and its people in the years since Jesus Christ and his apostles walked and taught here?
In Jesus’ day and afterward the land was under the control of the Romans, and was called Palestine.* As a result of conflicts with the Romans, most of the Jews fled Palestine by the early part of the second century. The land, however, remained a part of the Roman Empire until the 600’s, with most of its inhabitants professing Christianity. Then the Arabs swept over Palestine, and the land came under Moslem rule.
Eventually, beginning in 1096, crusades were organized by professed Christians from Europe to seize the land from the “infidels.” In that first crusade, Jerusalem was captured in 1099. However, the city was taken back from the “Christians” by the Moslem ruler Saladin in 1187. More crusades followed, and the land was drenched with blood as barbarous atrocities and cruelties were inflicted on countless thousands while Moslems and professed Christians fought to control Palestine.
In 1517 the Ottoman Turks took possession of Palestine and held it for 400 years. During the latter part of the 1800’s Jews from Europe began to migrate to Palestine. By 1914, out of the land’s total population of nearly 700,000, about 85,000 were Jews. Then, in 1917, during World War I, the British forces under General Allenby defeated the Turks and ended their long rule of Palestine.
In the years following World War I a new political state east of the Jordan River came into existence. It was called the Hashemite Kingdom of Transjordan and more recently was known as the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. Yet most of Palestine was a mandated territory of Britain. On May 14, 1948, however, the new nation of Israel came into existence, and the next day war broke out between Israel and surrounding Arab nations. In this war most of Palestine west of the Jordan River came under the control of Israel, although about 2,165 square miles (5,607 km2) of this territory became part of Jordan.
From around the world Jewish refugees kept coming to Israel. By 1951 over 600,000 had arrived in the land. By the early 1970’s over 3,000,000 Jews lived in Israel, forming a majority of the population. Thus what a few years ago had been an underpopulated and neglected corner of the earth has become a well-developed, very fruitful land.
Large cities and varied industries have transformed Israel into a modern community, yet the old remains in evidence outside the modern cities. Scenes from Bible days are still visible in the villages as womenfolk carry water jars and other goods on their heads, donkeys carry produce to the market, camels are traded, goats are shorn for their black hair, bullocks tread the corn to thresh it or pull the single-furrow plow. It is a land of contrasts where the old meets the new and East meets West.
Orthodox Judaism has reasserted itself and, in large measure, controls the way of life of the modern nation of Israel, even as Judaism did in Jesus’ day. It does this through its religious leaders and by participation in the coalition government. But God’s true Witnesses have also reappeared in this land in modern times. How did their activities begin? What fruit have they borne?
RAMALLAH—WHERE IT BEGAN
The Watch Tower Society’s first president, Charles T. Russell, visited Palestine in 1891 as part of an extensive world tour. But apparently the first seeds of Bible truth to take root in the country were sown in 1913. In that pre-World War I year a young man who was interested in the truth moved from New York to his family’s hometown, Ramallah, located about 10 miles (16 km) north of Jerusalem. Ramallah is close to the remains of the ancient city of Bethel, one of the cities most frequently mentioned in the Bible.
Interestingly, before this young man, Hanna Hechmi, left the States he was warned that war was coming, and that he would be walking right into difficulties. True to the warning, World War I broke out the following year, and the Turkish government controlling the area immediately began drafting young men. Hanna fled back to New York, leaving by ship from the port of Haifa. However, he left a full set of the Studies in the Scriptures at the home of the Kadura family, where he had been staying in Ramallah.
After the war six young Arabic Witnesses, who were associating with the congregation in Brooklyn, New York, moved back to their hometown of Ramallah. Thus a congregation was organized there in 1920. That year the Society’s second president, Joseph F. Rutherford, visited them. A branch office was established, and during his visit Brother Rutherford gave public lectures to capacity audiences in the Ramallah Municipality Hall. He also spoke to a sizable crowd in Jerusalem.
At first the young Arabic Witnesses did not organize house-to-house preaching. Yet they were zealous in witnessing to others; they visited friends and acquaintances, and talked at the coffee shops where the menfolk gathered to discuss the affairs of the day. In time, they met the Kaduras and encouraged the father of the family to read the books that young Hanna had left with him before he returned to the United States. Mr. Kadura became a strong brother in the congregation, and, in turn, he interested a relative of his, a Mr. Saah. Four of Brother Saah’s granddaughters became full-time pioneer publishers, and others in his family also became Witnesses.
Another neighbor of Brother Kadura, Awwad Faramand, responded to the good news. Awwad and his wife rendered many years of faithful Kingdom service. Their daughter served as a special pioneer, and their home was used for many years for all the congregation meetings. During the early 1920’s the Ramallah Congregation reached about 12 publishers, all men.
From Ramallah the small group of brothers would organize witnessing campaigns into the surrounding territory. They went to Jerusalem, Nazareth, Haifa and many other places, preaching the truth in the same territory that Jesus and his apostles had covered in ancient times. Having very little Bible literature in Arabic, the brothers took the initiative and published in the Arabic language a tract explaining basic Bible truths. Later it was pointed out to them that before publishing such material it should be checked first with the Brooklyn headquarters office, but the tract bore fruit.
A tract that was left in Haifa found its way into the hands of an interested person from Beirut, Lebanon, who was visiting in Haifa. This man wrote the brothers in Ramallah, and arrangements were made for his interest to be followed up by Brother Michel Aboud in Lebanon. Thus the energetic efforts of the brothers to spread their faith enjoyed success.
The only Arabic study textbook those early Witnesses had was The Divine Plan of the Ages. However, during those years the Watch Tower Society’s motion-picture, slide and sound production, the “Photo-Drama of Creation,” was presented with Arabic commentary to large audiences in Palestine. Some brothers from New York city brought the showing to the Middle East, where it was put to good use. Many Arabic copies of the Photo-Drama Scenario, a book containing pictures along with a summary of the script, were placed with people throughout the land.
In those early days travel across borders was difficult. However, on occasion brothers from Ramallah traveled to Beirut and Tripoli in Lebanon to attend assemblies and to have association with other Witnesses.
From about 1924 The Watchtower was published in Arabic, and the magazine was studied in congregational meetings held in private homes. During the second world war the supply of Watchtowers was cut off, but meetings continued to be held using publications already on hand.
If you look at a map of Israel, you will note where the Carmel mountain range juts out into the Mediterranean Sea, forming a pointed irregularity on the otherwise straight coastline. Haifa is located right on that point. Unknown to the Ramallah brothers, a small group began to be built up here in the mid-1930’s. This came about as a result of the witnessing of Brother David Farjini, who transferred to Haifa temporarily from Egypt in connection with his work with the railway company.
David rented a room in Haifa from Ibrahim Shehadi, an ardent Catholic. Of course, the subject of religion came up in their discussions, and Brother Farjini was quick to expose the falsity of certain church doctrines and practices. The first discussion was so interesting that Ibrahim stayed home to talk instead of attending the regular church service as was his custom. He took literature in Arabic to read. From then on Bible discussions were held every day, and Bible reading went on till midnight, night after night.
The first one that Ibrahim approached with his newfound faith was his brother, Atallah. Though reluctant to get involved, due to his love of religious tradition, he eventually investigated. Troubled with poor eyesight, Atallah picked up a large-print Bible at a ‘give-away’ price and started to check for himself what his brother had been telling him. He began to see that it was the truth. Matthew chapter 23 made an especially strong impression, as he noted that what it says applied to the clergy with whom he was acquainted.
In due course, David Farjini completed his work in Haifa and returned home to Egypt, leaving Ibrahim and Atallah on their own. Pressure and opposition that began to build up against them were prompted in part by their own outspokenness in criticizing the church. Ibrahim was a kerosene delivery man and wherever he entered a home and saw religious pictures or images he would write a scripture citation right on the picture. Then he would tell the housewife to have her husband look up the text when he got home from work. Nor were the brothers very tactful in dealing with their own families, and this contributed to the opposition they experienced.
For example, Atallah walked into his own home one day with a hammer and smashed every image and picture in sight. He did this without explanation or warning, much to the consternation of his wife and young children who just stood dumb-founded watching the performance. However, several of his children came into the truth, and today grandchildren of his are active Witnesses.
When the time came for Ibrahim’s daughter to be confirmed in the church, he took the special dress that had been made for her and hid it on the roof of the house. The nuns, priest and even the bishop were told about this. Thus, the following Sunday morning the bishop himself declared a boycott on Ibrahim. In fear that, as a result, violence might be precipitated against the whole family, one of Ibrahim’s brothers pleaded with the bishop to cancel the boycott decree.
“If he’ll kiss my ring and cross, I’ll cancel the decree,” offered the bishop.
Ibrahim’s reply was: “All right, if he’ll let me discuss these matters from the Bible.”
The bishop would not hear of it! “I’m a bishop!” was his response.
The boycott worked a hardship on Ibrahim, as all Catholic customers stopped buying kerosene from him. Efforts were also made to turn the local Moslem population against him. On one occasion a group of Moslem men angrily accused him of cursing Muhammad and threatened to kill Ibrahim on the spot. They said that the “Christians” had reported this to them.
“They lied,” Ibrahim declared. “I spoke against their using images and pictures and their belief in a Trinity, so they lied to you to make trouble for me.” Ibrahim’s belief in one God thus saved his life.
As a result of the bishop’s boycott decree, no one would speak with Ibrahim and Atallah, thus calling attention to their newfound faith. In due course, nearly all of Ibrahim’s large family became Witnesses, and, in recent years, two of his sons and one of his daughters have tasted pioneer service.
Meanwhile, in the early 1940’s, a small group of three or four met in Haifa each week for meetings in one home or another. Thus, right through the period of World War II, a tiny group continued to study and to preach enthusiastically to those around them. Occasionally brothers from Beirut visited them. By this means supplies of literature were received, and practical instructions were provided regarding carrying on the ministry. After World War II, supplies of literature came direct from Brooklyn, New York.
Soon after World War H, Brother Joseph Abdennour returned to Haifa from Cuba, where he had become a Witness. Having wider experience in congregation matters, he was able to be a real help to the small group. Afterward, because of business reasons, Joseph moved to Nablus, the location of the ancient Bible city of Shechem. There he remained an isolated publisher until his death in 1968.
One evening during their meeting shortly after the second world war, the little group of five or six Witnesses suddenly heard a loud voice in the street below preaching a recognizable Bible message in Arabic. Who could it be? They went down to investigate and found two Witnesses who had emigrated from Russia. They had with them a phonograph and some records in Arabic so as to get started preaching to the Arabic-speaking community in their new land. Unknowingly they had chosen a street corner right at the location of the meetings, and had begun playing the records at the time of the meeting itself! These brothers were warmly welcomed to the small congregation.
THE MESSAGE REACHES TARSHIHA
The year was 1931. The place? The Palestinian village of Tarshiha located about 25 miles (40 km) north of Haifa, just south of the Lebanese border. Professor Khalil Kobrossi, a staunch Catholic, had been assigned by the government to teach Arabic and the Catholic religion in a school in this village. Upon arriving at his post, he observed that the Bible had been placed where students could read it. Immediately, Professor Kobrossi replaced it with a Catholic catechism, thinking this would do the students much more good.
In time, Professor Kobrossi came into possession of the book The Divine Plan of the Ages. When he read it he became incensed at its publishers because of what he considered their rudeness in speaking against Catholicism. Later, he obtained many of the Society’s publications, reading some of them several times. His objective? One day he would contact these people and put them right!
From a tract published by the Society, Professor Kobrossi obtained the address of the Witnesses in Tripoli, Lebanon, and wrote his long-planned letter. He gave the brothers what might be called “a good pen-lashing.” Surprisingly, he received a kind letter in reply, one that quoted many scriptures. This was the beginning of extensive correspondence with brothers in Lebanon.
In 1937 two brothers from Lebanon, along with Brother Ibrahim Shehadi from Haifa, visited Professor Kobrossi. When the brothers left, he was thoroughly convinced that he had found the truth. Soon he was teaching it to his wife and telling his many friends about it. In 1939 he was able to travel to Tripoli where he was baptized.
Now opposition began in earnest against Brother Khalil Kobrossi. At least three attempts were made to murder him, and these became common knowledge. As Khalil himself said: “If it had not been for this opposition I would not have become so well known, and there would not have been so many opportunities to preach the good news to those whose curiosity was aroused or whose sense of fairness was stirred to show sympathy.”
Correspondence with the brothers in Haifa and in Lebanon encouraged Khalil during this time of trial when he stood alone and isolated. His preaching in the village of Tarshiha bore some fruit, temporarily at least, when two or three others studied with him and sided with him. But finally the bishop influenced the local education authorities to transfer Khalil from Tarshiha, which was a Catholic stronghold, to the Moslem city of Hebron far to the south. This was in 1940.
A CENTER ESTABLISHED AT BElT JALA
In Hebron Brother Kobrossi spoke about his faith to fellow teachers. Two years later, in 1942, he was transferred again, this time to a small town on the outskirts of Bethlehem called Beit Jala. This is only four or five miles (6.4 or 8 km) south of Jerusalem. There were greater opportunities to preach in Beit Jala, as the majority of people here are nominal Christians. Soon a congregation was established in this area, and it exists to this day.
The first person to embrace the truth here after a number of discussions was a young man named Salameh Assoussah. A friend of his also joined in the study. Salameh was baptized at an assembly in Tripoli, Lebanon. While witnessing in Jerusalem, Salameh met Farah Bakhit, who, after their first Bible discussion, promptly destroyed all his images and pictures. Farah later became congregation servant (presiding overseer), and endured imprisonment and other hardships because of his faithfulness.
Eventually, in that area, Salameh’s father, mother, aunt, two brothers and three sisters all accepted the truth because of the fine example set by him. To this day they continue strong in the faith. Brother Kobrossi’s wife also started associating actively. Thus the attendance grew to 12 or more each week. Their meetings were held in Brother Kobrossi’s home, where they continued almost without a break for 26 years, from 1942 to 1968. Occasionally for meetings such as the Memorial, they got together with the group of brothers in Ramallah, a few miles to the north.
VISITORS FROM BROOKLYN
Shortly after the second world war, a few Jewish Witnesses emigrated from Europe to Bat Yam, a suburb of Tel Aviv-Yafo, Israel’s largest city. It is located on the Mediterranean coast, some 65 miles (105 km) south of Haifa. A Watchtower study was established in the German language here. Thus, in 1947, largely independent of each other, groups of publishers were meeting regularly in Ramallah, Beit Jala, Haifa and Bat Yam. That year the Society’s third president Nathan Knorr and his secretary Milton Henschel from Brooklyn Bethel were able to visit and strengthen the brothers in Palestine. In the August 15, 1947, Watchtower they reported regarding their visit:
“We had thought there were about a dozen interested persons in Palestine, but at the meeting 40 had assembled from various parts of Palestine. There were some Arabic brethren there and brethren of Russian, Ukrainian and German nationality. They all understood either English or Arabic and we used an Arabic interpreter. We learned from them that there are actually 55 interested persons scattered throughout the land who are studying the Society’s publications. Not all are publishers, but they believe the truth and they are being built up in the faith. It was a very joyful day. Speaking was done through an Arabic interpreter during the whole day and many questions were answered. Instructions as to organization were given and a brother was appointed to look after the Society’s interests in Palestine. Arrangements were made to order a large quantity of literature and have a depot organization at Belt Jala. Inquiry was made as to which of the brethren could be best qualified to be company servants [presiding overseers] in Haifa, Ramallah, Beit Jala, and other villages where brethren are assembled together. Appointments were made, and it is hoped that the work of preaching the gospel in the land of Palestine will continue to expand. This visit with the brethren made our hearts very glad, for it was a joy to see here some very active individuals who travel to various parts of Palestine every week-end distributing the literature and trying to arouse interest. The day passed rapidly, and it was necessary to get back to Jerusalem before the 6:30 curfew.”
Brother Khalil Kobrossi was given the responsibility of maintaining regular contacts with the various groups of Witnesses. He was assigned to collect service reports, and to see that supplies of literature were distributed to the various groups according to their needs. Khalil made several trips to visit all the groups and scattered publishers during the year. Later in 1947, an assembly was held in Haifa, and brothers came to it from Ramallah, Beit Jala, and Bat Yam. About 80 were present and enjoyed happy fellowship. It was the first opportunity for many of them to meet fellow believers from other cities. But these arrangements were not to continue for long.
The political scene was changing. In 1948, as a result of the Palestinian war between the Jews and the Arabs, the country was partitioned into two distinct lands. Palestine thus disappeared from the map. There were about 30 Kingdom publishers reporting field service at this time.
Part of Palestine now became the new nation of Israel, and part came under the control of Jordan. Thus the Witnesses living on the east side of the new border line—the groups in Ramallah and Beit Jala and individual publishers in Jerusalem and Jericho—were now in Transjordan, which, in 1950, came to be called simply Jordan. The rest of the Witnesses, in Haifa and Tel Aviv, lived within the boundaries of the new nation of Israel.
Apart from very brief visits, when border restrictions were lifted for two or three days at certain religious holidays, there was no direct contact possible between the Witnesses living in the two separate regions for nearly 20 years, or until 1967. In that year the war between the Israelis and Jordanians again changed the boundaries. The Jordanian territory west of the Jordan River the West Bank—was taken over by Israel. Thus the Witnesses in the West Bank congregations of Ramallah and Beit Jala became a part of Israel, explaining Israel’s sudden growth from an average of 114 Kingdom publishers in 1967 to 153 in 1968. Also, due to this political development, the number of publishers in Jordan decreased from 53 in 1967 to 19 in 1968.
DEVELOPMENTS IN JORDAN
How have Jehovah’s people fared in Jordan? Well, missionaries first arrived there in 1952 and a missionary home was established in Ramallah. The territory was well worked by the missionaries and others. Near Bethlehem the congregation also was doing very well. During a circuit assembly there in April 1952, a baptism was held. After the talk those to be baptized were taken to the Jordan River just below Jericho and were immersed in the same vicinity that some believe Jesus himself had been baptized by John. What a happy occasion!
When Brother Knorr was in Jordan during the winter of 1951-1952, it was decided that it would be good to send some relief supplies to our brothers in that land, many of whom were refugees after the Palestinian war of 1948. Eventually about 26 bundles of used clothing were shipped to Jordan and distributed among needy fellow believers. They appreciated these gifts very much. However, some people thought that this was a good material handout and began coming to our meetings and claiming to be Jehovah’s Witnesses. Of course, they did not stay long when they discovered that God’s people lay stress on spiritual matters and preaching the Kingdom message.
Observing the success of Jehovah’s Witnesses, the clergy of Christendom became quite incensed and began working very hard to get the government to expel Witness missionaries from Jordan. At first legal action prevented this. But the clergy persisted and in 1953 the missionaries were expelled. Since Jehovah’s Witnesses had not been banned in Jordan, other missionaries were sent into the country, only to be expelled some months later.
Early in 1957, due to the persistent efforts of the clergy in Jordan, an official ban was placed on Jehovah’s Witnesses and all our publications. This created new hardships for God’s people. A number of their homes were searched and their literature was confiscated. Brother Farah Bakhit was sentenced to prison for one year for possessing some of the Society’s literature. He also was dismissed from his position at the post office. This worked great hardship on Brother Bakhit’s family, but his spiritual brothers cared well for his large family while he was in prison. Actually, during the next few years a number of brothers were arrested. Some were released after being questioned and threatened, while others were held for some time.
During this period, meetings had to be held secretly at different times and locations to the extent possible. However, the brothers never failed to get together in order to enjoy spiritual food and to encourage one another.—Heb. 10:24, 25.
In 1959, during a legal case in the Supreme Court of Jordan, we presented proof showing that we are not Zionists working as spies for Israel, as falsely charged. Also during that year a letter-writing campaign was carried out as a result of an article published in Awake! Thousands of letters flooded the government offices, and King Hussein appointed a three-man committee to investigate Jehovah’s Witnesses. The committee made the investigation, gave a clear report to the government, and in March 1960 a governmental decree was issued recognizing Jehovah’s Witnesses as a religious community in Jordan having the right to practice their religion. This decree made it unnecessary for our court case to continue, though it had proved to be a great witness.
Things now began to change for Jehovah’s people in Jordan. The ban was lifted on The Watchtower and our other publications. Kingdom Halls were opened and meetings and assemblies were held freely. How delighted the brothers were to have this freedom!
BRANCH OFFICE IN JORDAN ESTABLISHED
Brother and Sister Alfred Nussrallah arrived in Jordan as missionaries in March 1961. Their first assignment was Ramallah, but some months later they moved to the capital, Amman, where a missionary home was opened.
In February 1962, Brother M. G. Henschel visited Jordan. It was his recommendation that two other Gilead School graduates who had been serving in another Arab country be assigned to Jordan. So in March of that year an American brother and sister arrived in Amman. In September of 1962 a branch office of the Watch Tower Society was opened there.
HAPPINESS, THEN HARDSHIP AGAIN
In 1963 a delegation of Jehovah’s people traveled around the world to attend the “Everlasting Good News” Assembly held in various cities. One these gatherings was to be held in Jordan. But the government refused to issue permission, saying that they feared for the safety of Jehovah’s Witnesses if they were allowed to gather publicly. Though the assembly plans were canceled, it was possible to have our traveling fellow believers visit Jordan as tourists. They saw many Biblical sites—Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Hebron, Jericho, the Jordan River, the Dead Sea and Samaria, all of which at the time were part of Jordan. Some also went to Petra, the ancient Edomite citadel. What a happy time local Witnesses had with their fellow believers from other lands!
Though the government had granted freedom to Jehovah’s people, the clergy were unrelenting in their opposition. Repeatedly they falsely charged God’s people with being Zionists. Each time, the government would investigate and find the accusations to be false. But in 1963 the government again put a ban on all our literature. Then, on October 27, 1964, the Jordanian government canceled its recognition of Jehovah’s Witnesses, and we no longer were considered a religious community in that country. Our Kingdom Halls were closed, much literature was confiscated, and problems again arose for God’s people in that land. Once again, Christian meetings had to be held in small groups in private homes and at varying times.
The branch overseer had received another assignment of service in December of 1963. But the Nussrallahs were able to remain in the country until the winter of 1965, when they were forced to leave. Before that happened, however, a great witness was given in government circles. As a result of efforts made to regain recognition, many officials were contacted and attempts were made to see the king, although this failed. An appeal was made to the High Court of Justice, but they refused to hear our case, saying that it was a security matter and out of their jurisdiction. Hence, the freedom that had been enjoyed by Jehovah’s Witnesses in Jordan dimmed, missionaries left, the branch office was closed, and our work in Jordan once again was directed by the Society’s Beirut office in Lebanon. Nevertheless, Jehovah’s people in Jordan continued to serve Jehovah faithfully.
Following the 1967 war, which saw the congregations in Ramallah and Beit Jala change from being in Jordan to being considered part of Israel, there was just one congregation left in Jordan itself, at the capital, Amman. Despite many difficulties and various disturbances in the country, Jordanian witnesses of Jehovah have carried on in their service to God’s praise.
The upheavals and changes in 1948, when the nation of Israel was born and war immediately broke out with surrounding Arab nations, brought difficult days for the Kingdom work in Israel. There was loss of communication with the Society’s Brooklyn headquarters. Also, a number of Witnesses, along with other refugees, left the country.
A climate of extreme nationalism developed, which also has been a hindrance to our preaching work. Many Israelis were full of pride at their own accomplishments. Others attributed the achievements of the new Israeli government to God and to the fulfillment of Bible prophecies. On the other hand, many turned bitterly away from all belief in God in view of the European holocaust in which six million Jews were massacred by the Nazis. To this day, an outstanding question in the mind of many Jews is: “If there is a God, how could he have permitted such a massacre to occur?” The failure of their religion to provide a satisfying answer has resulted in many also turning a deaf ear to our Christian message.
Further, the terrible example of the so-called Christian churches has caused difficulty for our preaching work. Christendom’s anti-Semitic campaigns down through the ages, including support for the Nazi system, have created an extreme aversion to anything brought in the name of Christ Jesus or associated with the Christian Greek Scriptures. The term “missionary” has become really obnoxious to almost every Jewish person in the land. The brothers constantly have had to clarify that they are no part of Christendom, and that they are not missionaries in the way local people generally conceive of missionaries.
BEGINNING AGAIN NEAR TEL AVIV-YAFO
In February 1948, Sister Frieda Susser, who had learned the truth in Poland in 1942, arrived in Israel. In time, she made contact with the remaining ones of the small group that had been meeting in Bat Yam, near Tel Aviv-Yafo, for a regular Watchtower study. Soon the rest of these all left the country, leaving only one interested lady and Sister Susser. So for a while there was just one lone voice witnessing in the Tel Aviv-Yafo area.
Sister Susser was so happy to be joined in 1950 by Fanny Mintzer. She and her family landed in Israel as immigrants from Poland. Frieda and Fanny had grown up together in the same village in Poland, but had not seen each other for many years. What a happy reunion, especially since they both now were in the truth! Regularly they met together for study.
But what about the territory for witnessing? The two sisters agreed that the one who lived in the north of the town would witness to the whole of Tel Aviv, and the other who lived on the southern limit would witness to the whole of Yafo! (Yafo is the Joppa of Bible times.) What an assignment! For a meeting location they had just their own homes, so the meetings were held alternately at these two locations.
Frieda and Fanny certainly showed fine zeal for the truth despite having very limited fellowship or direction from the Society. And they are still going strong! Frieda is a special pioneer and Fanny is a very active publisher. They have personally aided many to become a part of the congregation. Besides this, they have hospitably opened their homes to others who have arrived from other lands as immigrants or visitors. Jehovah has indeed blessed their faithful and diligent efforts.
GILEAD GRADUATES ARRIVE
It was a big day for the brothers in Israel when the first four Gilead graduates arrived in June 1951, Ben and Grace Wiens and Thomas and Mary Wayne. They settled in Jerusalem, which, it was hoped, would become the center for pure worship in Israel. However, after four years of hard work the response there was small.
Although meetings were held regularly, newly associated ones inevitably received either threats or material inducements in order to discourage them from continuing their association. At one time there were as many as 26 who attended Bible discussions, but few continued. In time, three interested ones dedicated their lives and were baptized. Among these was an elderly Arab. He remained a faithful brother to the end of his days, although suffering blindness, and enduring extended periods of isolation due to opposed relatives.
KNORR AND HENSCHEL VISIT AGAIN
A visit by Brothers Knorr and Henschel in January 1952 was an occasion to gather the brothers and interested persons together. In all, 24 assembled in Jerusalem. They put much effort into advertising a public lecture for the evening of January 24, and 51 were in attendance.
Up to this visit the Gilead graduates had confined their activities to Jerusalem. Now arrangements were made for Ben Wiens to make regular visits to the publishers and interested persons scattered throughout Israel. Most of the 24 who assembled in Jerusalem had published in the past, and they were all helped to get started again.
In 1953, Thomas and Mary Wayne were transferred to Haifa to aid the little group there, while Ben and Grace Wiens stayed on in Jerusalem for a couple more years. In 1955, the Waynes left the country, so Ben and Grace moved to Haifa. Haifa proved a suitable location from which to maintain contact with the brothers in the northern villages, as well as those in the Tel Aviv area.
The nucleus of the Haifa group was Ibrahim Shehadi, his growing family, and the two Russian brothers who had arrived following World War II. Ibrahim’s brother, Atallah, had in the meantime moved to a village near the Lebanese border, where he kept active in the truth. By now the younger Shehadi generation were growing up, and some joined the weekly study groups. Finally, in June 1956, the first full-fledged congregation was formed in Haifa. Included were two sisters who had learned the truth in Romania before moving to Israel as immigrants.
Also, the preaching work was bearing fruit in the Tel Aviv area. An interested Jew from Poland moved to Israel and continued his studies with the local publishers. After many detailed and lengthy discussions, he became convinced that Jesus was the Messiah and accepted the Kingdom hope. An older brother, David Cohen, arrived from Egypt. He qualified as congregation servant, and so in October 1956, a congregation with seven publishers was formed in Tel Aviv.
CYPRUS BRANCH OVERSIGHT
For a time all service reports were submitted and circuit visits were arranged through the Society’s Cyprus branch. The branch servant first visited the brothers in Israel in 1955. The following year the assembly in connection with such a visit was held in the yard of a brother’s home in Haifa, a lovely place for the gathering. The background for the speaker was the blue Mediterranean with towering Mount Carmel behind the listeners. Seeing 22 of the 51 who attended go out Sunday morning in the door-to-door service was a source of real joy. All attending were accommodated in the homes of brothers and interested ones in Haifa.
On another occasion some 20 publishers came from Cyprus for an assembly with their Israeli brothers. In turn, the Witnesses in Israel requested visas to travel over to Cyprus for one of their assemblies. However, the Interior Ministry would not accept the idea that a group of Arabic and Jewish persons wanted to travel together to a religious convention! So the brothers did not get their permits.
From the early days the congregations were encountering the problem of language. In the Tel Aviv Congregation, for example, one of the two original sisters could speak six languages (German, Yiddish, Polish, Russian, Ukrainian, Hebrew), and Brother Cohen from Egypt could handle seven (English, French, Italian, Arabic, Turkish, Greek, Spanish). But they could not find a language in common! Since then the sister has learned English, making it possible for them to converse in that language!
Thus all the meetings had to be multilingual, with someone translating from English and Polish into Hebrew, or vice versa. On one occasion the Memorial meeting was held in Haifa in five languages so that all the 18 attenders could understand! To this day, looking along the rows at the Kingdom Hall at the weekly Watchtower study, one sees the same article in such languages as Russian, German, French, Spanish, Turkish, English, Polish and Hebrew.
Due to immigrants arriving in Israel from all over the world, some 70 different languages are spoken here. This creates no little problem in the field service, and in being able to offer householders literature that they can read. But as a greater percentage of the population learn Hebrew, the problem is being resolved. All the younger generation speak Hebrew as their main tongue, and at most homes Hebrew is now understood.
PROGRESS IN TEL AVIV
In 1958 Gilead graduates, Alex and Athena Panis, and special pioneer Anita Seclenov from Uruguay, arrived in Tel Aviv. They set up a home that became a theocratic center for meetings and field service. From then on, particularly, things began to move ahead.
Anita Seclenov, who speaks Russian and Spanish fluently, began to see fruitage from her service right away. For example, she met a carpenter of Russian extraction at his workshop. He ordered a subscription for The Watchtower in Russian, which led to a study with his wife. She became a staunch publisher, and in due course a special pioneer. Another family, Bulgarian Jews speaking Spanish, responded. Although the mother did not continue in the truth, her son is now an overseer in the congregation.
Another lady from Bulgaria listened to Sister Seclenov with interest, but her way of life had been so far from Bible principles it seemed that it would be almost impossible for her to change. Yet she did! For some years she served as a special pioneer, and others in her family are active publishers. She turns to good advantage her ability to converse in over 20 languages, which is one of the greatest assets one could have in this multilingual country.
It is quite an experience to accompany this sister from house to house and hear the Kingdom good news being spoken in Spanish, then Hebrew, then Bulgarian, then Russian, then Arabic, then English, as immigrants from different places are met. And when she meets a deaf person it is not a problem, for the sign language of the deaf is one more “language” that she can handle! For quite some time the little kitchen of her small home served as the Kingdom Hall.
Through the years the Tel Aviv Congregation met in a number of private homes, as well as hired halls. A number of times the brothers wondered ‘Where can we go now?’ as their numbers grew and hall owners refused them further use of their premises due to neighborhood pressure and prejudice. But the meeting schedules were maintained without a break. In fact, in all the years only one meeting had to be canceled and that was when a violent storm took the roof off the room being used as a meeting hall just before the time of the meeting. Finally, in 1963, the Watch Tower Society financed the purchase of a Kingdom Hall for the congregation in a central location in Tel Aviv. Here attendances grew and grew until it was necessary to form two congregations. Looking back over the years it is clear that Jehovah’s hand directed matters in such a way that there was always some provision made.
Often new immigrants are supplied with housing and work in distant settlements so as to spread out the population. Thus Brother and Sister Klufinski from Poland, who arrived in late 1957, found themselves very isolated in the northeast corner of the country near the old Bible city of Hazor. But after six months they arranged to move closer to Tel Aviv, near to Lod, the location of the Bible city Lydda. Since 1959 their home has been a congregation book study location, and also a Polish-language Watchtower study is conducted there for local interested ones, as it is some 14 miles (23 km) from Tel Aviv.
When the Gilead graduates were transferred temporarily from Tel Aviv to Nazareth, Brother Abaye Behar, who had arrived from Turkey, was assigned as overseer for a while. But he did not understand Hebrew or any other language common to most of the publishers. What happens when the one conducting the Watchtower study does not understand the answers being given in various languages?
Well, Brother Behar would read the questions from The Watchtower in Turkish; those present would have the same article, each in his own language. Then, it was arranged that, as answers were given in Russian or Polish, a mature publisher would nod to let Brother Behar know whether the answer was in order and complete, or whether more was needed. If the answer was given in Hebrew or German, then another publisher would do the same! Theocratic School talks and counsel given in Spanish were translated into Hebrew by a young 10-year-old publisher. Service meeting talks given in Spanish were translated into Russian for the Slavic-speaking publishers by one sister, and into Hebrew by another. By such means all understood satisfactorily and gained benefit from the meeting programs.
What a blessing when young David Namer arrived in the country from Turkey! He already had a good working knowledge of Hebrew, and although comparatively new in the truth he had gained a good knowledge and understanding. When the congregation overseer, the Gilead graduate, left the country, David took oversight of the congregation for a while. He now serves as a member of the branch committee, and enjoyed the special five-week course at Brooklyn as one of the highlights of his life.
“EVERLASTING GOOD NEWS” ASSEMBLY
An outstanding event of 1963 was the international “Everlasting Good News” Assembly. The mainstream of visitors went to Jordan and Lebanon, but a few came to Israel. The Rabbinate became aware of the assembly and pressured the hall owner to cancel our contract under the threat of having his catering license canceled, which would effectively ruin his business. Although the brothers had a secure contract, they agreed to relinquish their claim on the modern, air-conditioned hall rather than cause difficulties for the proprietor.
The assembly was transferred to the Kingdom Hall. However, rather than being dampened, the spirit of the brothers was stirred by the opposition. The news media got hold of the story and published it in a number of newspapers in English and Hebrew—a total of 150 column inches—voicing their disapproval of such high-handed action. Thus the rabbis’ efforts backfired! A record attendance of 115 was reached for the public talk.
BRANCH ESTABLISHED IN ISRAEL
Finally, on January 1, 1963, Israel became a separate branch, the office being located in Haifa. From here circuit overseer visits, assemblies and all other activities were organized, reports were collected, and correspondence was maintained with congregations and groups. By this time the number of publishers in the country had reached about 80, most of whom were located in and around the two cities of Haifa and Tel Aviv. About the same time additional help was provided with the arrival in Israel of Eric and Catherine Pearce and Derek and Jean Hanson.
Also, an outstanding step forward was the production of the first issue of The Watchtower in the Hebrew language, dated December 1962. The first 15 issues were mimeographed editions. As improved editions were produced, the circulation grew from 300 to 400 copies to an average of over 2,000 copies each issue, in over 30 different lands. Due to prohibition on importation of Hebrew-language literature into the country, The Watchtower has been printed at a local printery, with translation, layout and proofreading being taken care of by Witnesses in Israel.
One of our translators is Shoshana Givati. She was raised here in Israel, but later moved to the United States where she became a Witness in 1960. She heard about a couple who were working hard to learn Hebrew so as to move to Israel to aid the congregations there. So she thought to herself: “If they’re making such efforts, and I already know Hebrew, what am I doing here in the United States?” She promptly arranged her affairs to move back to Israel and, despite family responsibilities, she has been serving here ever since, contributing to the translation of The Watchtower.
In June 1966 a more suitable building was leased in Haifa to provide a Kingdom Hall, branch office and living accommodations for the small Bethel family. Thus, in the mid-1960’s with regular attendances of 80 to 100 in Tel Aviv, and about 40 in Haifa, progress was evident. New peaks in publishers were reached in the country year after year: 1964—88; 1965—98; 1966—112; 1967—126.
A WARM, INTERNATIONAL BROTHERHOOD
What may be lacking in the way of understanding and clear communication between the brothers due to language barriers is made up for by a genuine warmth among them. As one lady said at her first meeting: “You are all so friendly here!” That this is an important factor is seen from the following experience:
A Witness who had learned the truth in Poland, and whose grasp of Hebrew was still very limited, was on her way to the congregation meeting when she met an acquaintance from her home country. She told her where she was going and invited her along right then and there. The friend came and, although not understanding much of what was said, she was so impressed by the warmth and friendliness of the brothers that she started coming regularly. She, in turn, told the wives of two of her husband’s workmates. Now they are all part of the congregation! One of these sisters served as a regular pioneer for several years, and her husband, whom she assisted into the truth, is a staunch publisher and ministerial servant.
Further showing just how international the scene is here, we have in one of the congregations a Brother Moshe Erez who grew up in Iraq. He first came in contact with the Kingdom message in Hong Kong. Then, during the second world war, he was in Japan. There he started to witness to others about his newfound faith. However, in the course of time, isolation and reading books on higher criticism undermined his faith. After the close of the war he returned to Iraq, and then came to Israel.
Moshe decided to write a book relating the story of his life, particularly regarding the changes that had occurred in his outlook on religion and the Bible. When it was finally prepared, he began to look for someone who would publish it for him. Discussing the matter with a sheik in one of the villages where he was working, the sheik suggested that perhaps Jehovah’s Witnesses would help him on his project, as they publish religious literature. So he was put in contact with the local congregation, and had a series of detailed discussions with one of the brothers.
The fulfillment of the “seventy weeks” prophecy in Daniel regarding the Messiah, as well as the overall accuracy of Bible chronology, deeply impressed Moshe. The faith that he had gained in Hong Kong and lost in Japan was restored and strengthened, this time on the basis of accurate knowledge. Regular study and association at the congregation meetings built him up quickly. He, along with his daughter, Dalia, who also progressed rapidly in the truth, were baptized together in 1962. Forgotten now was his desire to publish his life-story book. What a fine asset they have been to the congregation! The father translates at the meetings between Arabic, Hebrew and English where necessary, and serves as an elder. The daughter has been in Bethel service for over 10 years, being kept busy full time in translating and proofreading material for The Watchtower and other publications.
THE SIX-DAY WAR—1967
The fine example of unity and mutual confidence that flourishes within the congregations of Jehovah’s Witnesses was in evidence during the Israeli-Arab war of June 1967. Inside Israel bitterness and suspicion built up between the Jewish and Arabic sections of the populace during the tense prewar days and during the week of the war itself. But the Haifa Congregation, which consists of both Jewish and Arabic brothers, continued to meet together right through the period of the war without a trace of such hatred and suspicion. The Kingdom Hall was blacked out, the lights dimmed, and the full meeting schedule was carried on unbroken.
The Tel Aviv Congregation had to transfer its meetings to afternoons due to the curtailing of all transportation at sunset. Otherwise, all continued without letup. The brothers certainly found many opportunities to witness regarding the ‘signs of the times’ and the hope ahead. A new peak of publishers was reached in the country that month when 126 reported preaching activity!
As a result of the war, contacts between the brothers in Israel and those in the section designated as the West Bank could be reestablished. The Ramallah and Beit Jala congregations, and the group that lived in Jericho, are on the West Bank. It had been nearly 20 years since brothers there could meet with those on the other side of the boundaries set up following the Palestinian war of 1948. As soon as feasible a delegation from the Society’s branch office, including an Arabic language translator, obtained permits to visit these places. But their knowledge of the brothers’ whereabouts was very vague. They reported:
“Driving out of Jerusalem northwards, we passed signs of war damage—burned-out tanks and automobiles and shell-damaged homes—and reached the town of Ramallah. One of our party remembered the name of a family that had been there some years previously, so we asked for directions to their home. It had not suffered any damage and was obviously inhabited, so we tapped at the door. The door was opened a few inches, rather nervously, and we explained who we were. Immediately the picture changed! We were welcomed right in, and found that we had arrived at the time and place of the weekly ‘Watchtower’ study! How thrilled the brothers were to see us! They had lost contact with the Society’s Beirut office since some time before the outbreak of the war. Eighteen were in attendance at their study that afternoon.
“Following the study, a short talk was given to inform the brothers of what had been happening, relating something of the progress of the congregations in Israel. That short talk, given with translation into Arabic, was likely the first address ever given in Ramallah in the Hebrew language! We were loaded with good things for the brothers—supplies of the current magazines to supply their spiritual needs, as well as staple foodstuffs, gifts from the brothers in the Haifa Congregation. The needs of the three special pioneers were also met. What a happy occasion that was for us all! Unfortunately, it had to be cut short as the curfew time drew near and we had to head back for Jerusalem to stay overnight.
“The next day—this time supplied with names and addresses—we called on the brothers in the Beit Jala/Bethlehem area. Here, too, all were well; none had come to any harm. The congregation overseer, Farah Bakhit, was so delighted to see us that he promptly closed his little shop for the rest of the day and accompanied us around to visit all the families associated with the congregation, including those faithful ones who had stood firmly throughout the nearly 20 years since the partition of the country. All too soon the day passed and we had to leave. But before doing so we made arrangements to visit again, provided the borders were not changed in the meantime.”
The next visit, which took place three or four weeks later, was a fuller one, and meetings were scheduled ahead of time for the occasion. Visits were included to Jericho and Nablus to see the isolated families. The lone brother at Nablus, Joseph Abdennour, was the one who, many years before, had been associated with the Haifa Congregation.
Plans were set for a one-day assembly for all the congregations in the country in a large hotel room in Jerusalem on August 6, less than two months after the war. It was timed to coincide with a vacation trip to the country by the Society’s then vice-president, F. W. Franz, along with others from New York city. What a wonderful day that proved to be!
The brothers enjoyed meeting two of the original group who had brought the Kingdom message from the United States to Ramallah in 1919. Those from the West Bank were thrilled to see so many from the cities in Israel, where there had been only four or five publishers 20 years before. A total of 176 attended the one-day gathering. The grand spirit of unity was so clearly manifested as the brothers, who had been kept apart by a barbed-wire border line, now had opportunities to exchange greetings and news, as far as language differences would allow. Ever since, brothers from the West Bank have been able to attend the circuit and district assemblies held in Israel, while the brothers from the Israeli sector have been able to visit the congregations there.
The two West Bank congregations had formerly been subjected to bans and literature seizures. The clergy of Jerusalem and Bethlehem had pressured Jordan’s government in Amman to place these restrictions on Jehovah’s Witnesses. But these dignitaries cannot influence the Israeli civil or military authorities, and, as a result, we have had freedom of assembly and activity on the West Bank since 1967. Similarly, these same clergy had been able previously to cause trouble for the brothers in Amman, Jordan, but now they have no access to influence the ruling authorities there.
A LESSON FOR FAMILY HEADS
There is a lesson to be learned from what occurred in the case of Brother Joseph Abdennour, who transferred from Haifa to Nablus around 1947. While maintaining his faith in the Kingdom message, and witnessing to others as opportunity presented itself, Joseph failed to pay sufficient attention to the spiritual needs of his family. Being isolated, they had no opportunity of attending meetings or associating with other young ones in the faith. The result was that none of his children took any interest in the truth, but devoted themselves to the family business, to politics and other interests.
One son became active in the Communist movement, and even suffered a seven-year imprisonment in a desert work camp under the Jordanian authorities for his political activity. He had heard his father talking about the Bible’s hope, but it had never been explained thoroughly to him. His experience in the prison camp shattered his confidence in Communism and he was left without a basis for hope. Following his father’s death, he and his family moved to Ramallah where he came in contact with the Witnesses. He also brought with him his father’s library, including the Society’s literature. His interest was aroused by the brothers’ visits and a study was started. This led to a building up of faith in God and the Bible. He made rapid progress and was baptized at his first assembly, serving for a while as a pioneer. His father would have been delighted to see his spiritual progress!
COVERAGE OF TERRITORY
Most of Israel’s Witnesses live near the cities where the congregations are located—in Haifa and Tel Aviv, and on the West Bank, in Ramallah and Beit Jala/Bethlehem. Nevertheless, some witnessing has been carried out in most corners of the land, and the literature has found its way into many additional towns and villages. Cities that still bear Biblical names that have received at least some witness include Ashdod, Ashkelon, Gath, Joppa, Caesarea, Beer-sheba, Elath, Jerusalem, Lydda (now Lod), Nazareth, Ptolemaïs (now Acre), and the townships all along the Mount Carmel range. Similarly, such West Bank territories as Hebron, Shechem (now Nablus) and Jericho have heard the good news to a limited extent.
There was a Christian congregation at Ptolemais in the first century. (Acts 21:7) Today we have one publisher there. And what a fine stalwart she is! Crippled by poliomyelitis as a young girl, she was restricted to a radius of a few yards from her family’s home in the old walled city. It happened that a brother had a watchmaker store within that distance and she would come to his shop to talk occasionally. She responded to the encouraging good news he gave her, which offered her the hope of running and jumping one day!
The truth brought marked changes in her outlook about everything in life, giving her the incentive to learn a trade, to find suitable employment, and even to pass her driving test. Soon she was traveling the 15 miles (24 km) to the Haifa congregation meetings regularly. She has become a fine, enthusiastic and energetic Witness, sharing in auxiliary pioneer service on occasion. In 1969 she attended the international assembly in Paris, France.
THE KIND OF PERSEVERANCE NEEDED
It is not easy to become a Witness in Israel. A person of Jewish origin who starts to associate with a local congregation has to face up to opposition from all quarters. It really tests a person’s love of truth and his determination to serve Jehovah. One family who weathered just such opposition hails from Russia.
One of the pioneer sisters met this family and, as a result of a weekly study, they quickly progressed and developed a fine spirit of determination to hold on to what they were learning. Stones were thrown through their windows, while catcalls and verbal insults were daily experiences. Others snubbed them entirely, refusing to speak with them. However, in the course of time they gained the respect of those who formerly opposed or shunned them.
When the family began attending meetings and witnessing to others, the rabbinical authorities took notice. The local Rabbinate committee offered the family financial aid if they would return to the Jewish religion, for they assumed that it was some material inducement that had caused them to become Christians. The brother’s reply was unmistakable: “There are some things that cannot be bought nor sold with money, and the truth of God’s Word, the Bible, is one of them. I have found this truth with the aid of Jehovah’s Witnesses.” In addition to the help that the father of the family is rendering as an elder in one of the congregations, two of the family have served as pioneers. Such early tests produce a spiritual strength that stands Witnesses here in good stead over the years.
RAPID PROGRESS OF NEW ONES
Since 1969, Anita Seclenov has been serving as a member of the Bethel family. Following a fall and back injury her participation in field service has been restricted, limited in the main to contacting people in the immediate vicinity of the branch home. About 50 yards (46 m) from home she met a lady who showed interest, and a study was started despite language problems. The pleasure that this housewife gained from the study caused her husband to take an interest and he started to read and then to study.
Meeting attendance was encouraged, but time after time visitors from their large family circle arrived just at the meeting hour. Even when they came to the hall, they would be called home from the meeting as soon as visitors showed up. But then the “taste” for the spiritual food served at the meetings developed strongly, and they informed their many friends and relatives that on the three meeting nights they would not be home between certain hours.
This couple, Hanna and Nehai Khoury, and their five children, have given a fine witness to their many relatives in the city and out in their distant home village. They have proved to be a great help in the congregation, too. The father was soon taking a lead in field service, and handling other responsibilities in the congregation. He was appointed to the Branch Committee, and in 1978 he enjoyed the privilege of attending the course for branch committee members in Brooklyn, New York. It was the first time he had ever left the country or been separated from his family.
ASSEMBLIES AND MEMORIAL
From 1967 onward, all our circuit and district assembly programs have been presented in both the Hebrew and Arabic languages. In some cases the program is given in one language and translated into the other. At other times separate language sessions are arranged in adjoining halls, and then there are opportunities for fellowship between the sessions. A variety of halls have served our needs for these assemblies as our numbers have increased—cinemas, social clubs and school facilities.
The Memorial often coincides with the Jewish Passover, a fact that creates its problems. All public transport shuts down at sundown and few of the local families have an automobile. Locally, Jewish families gather around the seder table in celebration of the exodus from Egypt in Moses’ day, a situation that has its difficulties for Witnesses in divided families. This is especially so when the mother of the family is the only one in the truth, and she is expected to be at home preparing and serving the Jewish Passover meal. This is just one of the many issues to be faced by new ones as they come along and take their stand for the true ‘Passover lamb,’ the Messiah himself. So attendances of over 400 each year at our Memorial represent a great effort by interested persons.
MANY VISIT “THE LAND OF THE BIBLE”
Whereas there has always been a steady flow of individual visitors to Israel, the Society organized a tour program in 1973 that enabled many more to see the land where so much occurred in connection with the outworking of Jehovah’s purposes. Transportation to Israel, a well-organized itinerary and comfortable accommodations were all lined up, and over 3,500 visited the land. They tied in their visit here with an assembly in Europe or elsewhere.
More recently, in 1978, a similar program was repeated, and this time we had over 14,000 visitors from more than 40 different lands. And during 1979 thousands more took advantage of similar organized tours. What do the visitors see?
The itinerary has given as thorough coverage of the country as is possible in one week’s touring—a view of the land “from Dan to Beer-sheba” and at times even beyond. Some included a visit to the Mount Sinai area. It is faith-strengthening and educational to see for oneself the actual localities and settings of the Bible’s meaningful events—Megiddo, Mount Carmel, Caesarea, Capernaum, Joppa, the Mount of Olives, Jericho, the valley of Hinnom, Nazareth and Bethlehem. The whole Bible history comes alive and takes on added meaning.
But the benefit has not ended here. Many of the visiting groups arranged evening get-togethers with the local publishers who came to the hotels where the visitors were staying. An exchange of experiences and news was enjoyed, for the mutual encouragement of all. And it was quite an experience for the four-member Bethel family to receive in their little home so many thousands!
Besides, the large number of Witnesses touring the length and breadth of the land gave a fine witness to those with whom they came in contact. Each bus carried the sign, “Jehovah’s Witnesses—Bible Land Tour,” and many visitors wore an identifying lapel badge. So even when conversation was not possible because of language barriers, the fine conduct and friendliness shown by the brothers made a positive impression.
Within 10 days of the departure of the last group of visitors back in 1973, the ‘Atonement Day War’ broke out between Israel and its neighbors. As in 1967, the congregations’ activities and meetings continued without a break. But trouble resulted when the Israeli government stepped up military conscription, and canceled all exemptions previously granted to our young brothers. Some, including two elders, fathers with young children, as well as some ministerial servants, were arrested and sentenced to incarceration in a military prison. For one of the families, the father’s absence continued into a second year. The local brothers rallied around the families, supplying food and other practical aid.
It was not until the group of imprisoned brothers decided on a firmer stand in line with the dictates of their consciences, refusing to don the army fatigues issued as prison garb or to perform any work assignments in the camp, that things began to change. They had to endure a few weeks of inhuman conditions in the punishment block dressed only in underclothes during wintry weather, but the publicity that resulted, and the evident futility of the efforts to break their integrity, led to their eventual release. The press reports were, in the main, favorable as personal stories about the families involved, and explanations of our principles and beliefs, appeared in a number of national papers, as well as on radio newscasts and a phone-in program.
In connection with these news reports the Divine Name, Jehovah, appeared in the newspapers and was heard on the radio, probably for the first time. Although the Tetragrammaton is in the Hebrew Bible and in other religious literature, it is never written in secular publications or pronounced in any circumstances. When publishers introduce themselves to householders as “Jehovah’s Witnesses,” they have to explain that this means, in effect, “God’s Witnesses.” Jewish householders identify us as part of Christendom because we use the name of Jehovah. At the same time, the Arabic population classify us as “Zionists” because we use the name Jehovah, the Jewish name for God! What a unique privilege we consider it to bear the name of the Almighty God!
RELIGIOUS EXTREMISTS OPPOSE
Whereas there is freedom of religion in Israel, there are individuals and some antimissionary movements who oppose all proselytizing. Such ones have often mistakenly associated us with Christendom’s missionaries. During 1977 opposition to our work reached a peak with a campaign directed against the Tel Aviv Congregation and its Kingdom Hall.
Orthodox Jewish fanatics created problems for some Witness families by distributing insulting pamphlets to their neighbors. As the brothers went to and returned from meetings, insults, vile language and threats were shouted at them. Then came a series of three attacks on the Kingdom Hall, during which the perpetrators destroyed furnishings, sound-amplifying equipment, airconditioners, electrical installations and literature—even tearing apart every copy of God’s Word, the Holy Bible!
At first, protests to the authorities and appeals for help went unheeded. However, as both local and foreign press, as well as local television, took up the story, the police authorities acted. They cooperated in setting an ambush that resulted in the arrest of three rabbinical students when they returned a fourth time, this time intent on burning the building. Although these vandals were let off with a nominal fine and a suspended sentence, the action taken stopped the attacks. Many honest-hearted persons expressed their disgust at the intolerance shown by those who have been quick to protest discrimination against themselves in other lands.
STEADY PROGRESS CONTINUES
Through the 1970’s the number of publishers steadily increased to reach 200 by 1974, 250 by 1975, and a peak of 276 in 1976. Attendances at the assemblies and Memorial climbed to 400 and more. Following this upswing, things have leveled out for the last couple of years, a few new ones coming along, some leaving the country and others failing to show the needed quality of endurance. Both the congregations in Ramallah and Bethlehem (or Beit Jala) now have fine, centrally located Kingdom Halls.
The number of Kingdom publishers in Jordan has risen from the 19 reporting in 1968, when the congregations at Ramallah and Bethlehem were no longer considered part of Jordan, up to an average of about 40 publishers today. There is still only the one congregation in Jordan, in Amman, the capital.
All the old original team of brothers who brought the truth to Ramallah after World War I have since died, the last one in the spring of 1971. Also, Ibrahim and Atallah Shehadi, the original brothers contacted in Haifa in the 1930’s, recently ended their faithful life courses, Ibrahim dying in 1978 and Atallah in July 1979. The two sisters who started off the present activities in and around Tel Aviv, Frieda Susser and Fanny Mintzer, are still zealously busy in the service. And now they have been joined by many, many more. All these Kingdom publishers are happy and united in their work in this vital corner of the world.
The name “Palestine” was derived indirectly from “Philistia,” a name originally limited to the coast territory occupied by the Philistines.
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Israel and Jordan
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Israel—a land of contrasts where the old meets the new
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Ibrahim (left) and Atallah Shehadi, fleshly brothers, pioneered the witnessing work in Haifa
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Frieda Susser (left) and Fanny Mintzer, both from the same village in Poland, started the present witnessing activities in Tel Aviv-Yafo
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Some of the many Witnesses who toured the land of the Bible in 1978