The end of the year 2017 brought about a quick answer to national prayers for rain in Israel, the eruption of serious protests in Iran, and some exciting archaeological finds. We’ve got the stories here for you in this week’s Israel News Recap (without the Rhetoric).
Israel Swept by Divine Rains
After enduring nearly five years of drought, the Israeli government joined forces with the religious community and appealed directly to God, pleading for much-needed rain to nourish the land and save this year’s crop harvest.
The prayers seem to have been answered.
The initiative began in late December when Israeli Agricultural Minister Uri Ariel issued a call for civilians and farmers to assemble with him at the Western Wall on December 28 to implore God to have mercy and open the heavenly gates of rain.
“I call on the public to participate in this event on the 10th of Tevet ... and to bring umbrellas, because together we will tear open the gates of Heaven,” the minister said.
Coinciding with a fast day commemorating the Babylonian siege of Jerusalem, thousands answered his call and poured their prayers out at the Kotel.
A method some consider unnatural, the prayer assembly was laughed at by critics who said Ariel should be focusing on more practical methods to deal with the water crisis. It was barely forty-eight hours after the fast day when the first raindrops began to fall. The rain continued through the weekend in the Golan Heights and Galilee raising the Sea of Galilee by one centimeter, a modest gain after years of dropping water levels.
The rain gushed as far south as the Negev where regions around the Dead Sea received flash flood warnings. Even the peaks of Mount Hermon received several inches of snow. While this rainfall does not in itself break the drought, it brings a welcome answer to prayer.
Israel isn’t the only Middle Eastern country suffering from drought, nor is Minister Ariel the only leader to call for prayer. Thousands of Muslims gathered in mosques across Syria on Friday after Syria’s President Assad called for a nation-wide prayer for rain orchestrated by Imams across the state. The drought’s harsh impact on Syria’s agriculture heightens scarcity in a nation gripped by civil war.
Protests Rattle Iran, Cast Uncertainty in Middle East
The Islamic Republic of Iran is seeing the first major protests and riots since the Green Revolution in 2009 that have already resulted in over twenty protestors killed and hundreds wounded and arrested.
The protests began after food prices across the country skyrocketed only harshening the stark economic conditions faced by the country’s vast lower-class. They quickly spread across the country leading to mass demonstrations that the authorities have struggled to control. Unlike the Green Revolution, this protest movement seems to be without strong leadership and is taking a darker approach. Over the weekend armed protesters tried to overrun military bases and police stations but were fought back by security forces killing ten people, according to Iranian state television.
Another difference in this movement is the sharp rhetoric previously unheard in public in Iran. Crowds have been heard chanting against Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and burning images of him in an apparent revolt against the use of Islam as a powerful control over society. This behavior is unheard of in Iran, but Iran’s Paramilitary Revolutionary Guard and other security forces have yet to crack down on this movement as hard as they have in the past.
Khamenei blames the unrest on enemies of Iran and Islam and has accused the U.S. of encouraging the violence. President Trump has tweeted his support of the protestors and bashed the regime.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also praised the protestors in a YouTube video on Monday saying the protesters sought freedom, justice, and “the basic liberties that have been denied to them for decades.”
In an effort to stunt the protestors’ organization abilities the Iranian government has shut down multiple social media platforms. It is premature to classify this movement as a revolution, but its violent nature and unexpectedly incendiary rhetoric are drawing the eyes of the West and Saudi Arabia, which is locked in a proxy war with Iran in Yemen. If it continues to grow, this movement may also unsettle Iran’s expansion into Syria and affect the role of Hezbollah in the region.
New Archeological Finds Unearth Roman, Christian History
A series of new archeological discoveries in Israel late last year include the remnants of a Roman military camp, the foundation of a large Christian church, and a 2,700-year-old seal belonging to a governor of Jerusalem.
The Roman military camp, found near Tel Megiddo in northern Israel, is chock full of artifacts. Most notable of the recent finds is perhaps the cremated remains of a Roman soldier found in a large pot. Other artifacts include a sacred eagle, a large gate, and an inscription in Latin. The camp is the only large-scale military encampment found in this region and was home to the Sixth Legion. More than a nice addition to Roman museums, this discovery confirms that ancient Rome still held a massive military presence in the Galilee around 1,900 years ago. This legion was tasked with protecting Roman interests such as trade routes, and likely participated in crushing the fateful Bar-Kochba revolt.
Further south in Beit Shemesh archeologists are dusting off the remains of a major early Christian church holding ornate mosaics and crucifixes. Experts have dated the church as being built in the fourth century and remaining in use until the seventh century. The church was discovered after workers expanding the city of Beit Shemesh excavated stone walls and subsequently uncovered a mosaic floor. Based on the extravagance of the art and the sheer amount of marble, archeologists have determined that this was not just another church in the Holy Land but was rather one of great stature.
In Jerusalem, a much smaller but more significant discovery was made when archeologists unearthed a seal the size of a small coin that belonged to the governor of Jerusalem. The seal, found near the plaza of the Western Wall, has ancient Hebrew reading “belonging to the governor of the city” and depicts two men standing facing each other with striped garments. This find confirms the existence of the office of governor in Jerusalem, a position that is referred to in the Bible (1 Kings 22:26; 2 Kings 23:8). See the whole story here.