The rise of the Islamic movement in Israel
in the past two decades has had a very ominous ramification over the past
two years, when the Muslim fundamentalists moved to complete the
Islamization of Nazareth, a city known principally for its Christian Holy
Places, notably the Church of the Annunciation.
At the end of 1997, the Islamists invaded
the plaza at the foot of the Basilica, which had been earmarked as the
linchpin of the festivities of the Millennium. By squatting in the plaza
and demanding that a mammoth mosque be built there, which would dwarf the
Basilica, the Islamists were intent on wrecking the festivities and
determined to fixate in public opinion the idea that Nazareth has become a
Muslim city and has shed its ancient image as a Christian site.
The Israeli authorities were slow and
clumsy in responding to the challenge. They pursued the legal track
through courts, but also adopted intermediate measures of mediation in an
attempt to come to a "compromise", which by definition would have imputed
legitimacy to the Islamists' false claim that the terrain was a waqf
land (Muslim Holy Endowment). A Commission of Inquiry was also appointed
to deal with his issue.
But the problem was not resolved. The
courts rendered their verdict that the Islamists had usurped rights they
did not have, but two successive governments, before, during and after the
May, 1999, elections, stuck to the "compromise" which allowed the building
of a mosque on part of the terrain, thus bringing about a sense of triumph
among the Muslims and consternation amidst the Christians, in Israel and
throughout the world.