Christian Exodus from Nazareth as Mafia Crime Wave and Rising Islamic Influence Threaten Community

Featured & Cover Christian Exodus from Nazareth as Mafia Crime Wave and Rising Islamic Influence Threaten Community

Nazareth, Israel’s largest Arab city and known as the childhood home of Jesus, is grappling with a severe crisis as its historic Christian population contends with a rampant mafia crime wave spreading through northern Israel and the rise of Islam.

A recent report by The Telegraph reveals that Christian business owners are being extorted by primarily Muslim mafia gangs, who demand hefty protection fees of about $13,500 per month.

Despite the efforts of Israel’s Shin Bet security agency and increased police presence, the situation continues to deteriorate, prompting many Christians to flee the city.

Peter Roshrash, an experienced police inspector, likened the situation to the Wild West. “In Nazareth, the mafia will shoot at the stores, then tell them they need ‘chawa’ [protection money]. It’s like the Wild West,” he stated.

Roshrash also accused the mafia of hiding weapons in Christians’ homes, threatening the occupants with death if they reported to the authorities.

The impact on Nazareth’s Christian community, which once formed the majority, has been significant. When Israel gained independence in 1948, Christians made up about 80% of Nazareth’s population; today, they represent only 20%. Many have emigrated to Western countries, while others have moved to predominantly Jewish areas to escape the violence.

Once lively Easter and Christmas celebrations have diminished, and Christian-owned businesses are vanishing, replaced by Muslim-owned ones.

The surge in mafia violence has become a national issue. Despite assurances from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the mafia’s influence continues to grow.

According to the Abraham Initiatives, a nonprofit advocating for Jewish-Arab equality, Nazareth was among the deadliest cities last year due to criminal violence. “Nazareth became a focal point for crime in 2023,” the group reported.

Municipal officials have tried to downplay the religious angle of the mafia’s activities, insisting the targeting is indiscriminate, affecting both Muslims and Christians. “If there is a mafia, it’s against Muslims and Christians alike. You think the rich Muslims aren’t also a target for the mafia? To the mafia, there is no religion,” said Municipality Spokesman Salem Sharara.

However, there is a long history of Christian mistreatment by Muslims in the Holy Land. In the late 1990s, Muslims attempted to build a mosque on the property of the Basilica of the Annunciation in Nazareth. Although the attempt was unsuccessful, many Arab political groups in Israel and the Palestinian Territories have increasingly adopted Islamic characteristics as their former socialist stances have lost popularity.

This pressure on Christians can be observed in the Palestinian Territories and throughout the Middle East.

The Arab population in Israel, including Nazareth, has increasingly called for more government intervention to combat rising crime rates. Initially, the outbreak of the Gaza War led to a decrease in violent crime and deaths in the Arab sector, but recent increases in criminal attacks suggest a return to the high levels of violence seen in 2023.

Many Christians in Israel and the Palestinian Territories, often wealthier than their Muslim counterparts, have the means to relocate, leading to an exodus from cities like Nazareth and Bethlehem, which are central to Christian history and heritage.

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