Israel expels 21 Christians over 'doomsday' fears

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The Independent Online

In a new move against perceived doomsday groups, Israel is to deport 21 Christians from the United States, Britain, Australia and Spain who had rented homes on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem to await Jesus's second coming in the millennium year.

In a new move against perceived doomsday groups, Israel is to deport 21 Christians from the United States, Britain, Australia and Spain who had rented homes on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem to await Jesus's second coming in the millennium year.

Their leader, who identifies himself as Brother David, has been in Israel since the Seventies, and others have joined him since. They have always claimed to oppose violence.

The police, who arrested them early yesterday morning, said they suspected that the evangelical sect, known as the House of Prayer, posed a threat to public safety. A spokesman added that Israel also feared they were paving the way for other fundamentalist Christians to settle illegally. Israeli radio suggested that they might be planning mass suicide.

Brother David, a former caravan-site owner of Syracuse, New York, said as he was being taken to prison at Ramleh, near Tel Aviv: "We were arrested because we speak the truth, and Israel is about to hear the truth in a greater way than ever before."

Gershom Gorenberg, an Israeli who is writing a book on the millennium, told The Independent: "Brother David has shown no sign of threatening public safety, but apocalyptic groups like these can become more extreme, especially if they feel they are being persecuted... If Israel has information about their intentions, it ought, for its own sake, to reveal what it is."

This is the third time this year that the police have detained Christian groups. In January, Israel deported 14 members of the US Concerned Christians cult, who talk openly of self-immolation to speed the apocalypse. Earlier this month, it turned away 25 Christians at Haifa port, even though it transpired they were bona fide Roman Catholic pilgrims.

As the millennium approaches, with the prospect of millions of pilgrims descending on Jerusalem, Israel is caught in a cleft stick. It wants to project itself as a state that respects all the religions to which the city is sacred. It wants the revenue from tourism. But it is also responsible for security. As Mr Gorenberg put it: "If they mess up, everybody's going to blame them. But if they overplay their hand, acting against innocent people, they will damage Israel's image."

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