On Shabbat morning September 6, 1986, five Palestinian gunmen, disguised as Israelis, entered the Neve Shalom synagogue in Istanbul. In the middle of the service, they pulled out guns and began shooting; they threw grenades into the crowd. In that attack 22 Jews were killed. At the end of the shooting, the terrorists poured gasoline on the dead bodies and set them afire.
Two days ago, November 15, 2003 (17 years later), again on Shabbat, at the same Neve Shalom synagogue, the Bar Mitzvah of Aaron Cohen was being celebrated. The place was full. Aaron read his portion, nervous and emotional as all Bar Mitzvah boys. As he finished, the rabbi told him to lift up the Torah scroll. As he lifted it up to the traditional chant of “Zot hatorah …,” the explosion hit – suicide car bomb.
Two minutes later, three miles down the road, at the Beth Israel synagogue, another car bomb went off. Three hundred people were inside celebrating the opening of the school year for the Jewish Day School. Many of the students were there as well.
In the two blasts, 24 people were killed. Both synagogues are located in crowded downtown Istanbul neighborhoods. Most of the injured were not the Jews (“only” 7 of the victims were Jews), but Turks living in the neighborhood. Two hundred people in all were injured. Yet the target of course was the Jews. The sight of bloodstained prayer shawls and charred synagogue debris is certainly a harrowing sight.
Amr Moussa, secretary of the Arab league, issued a statement saying that Israel was at fault for the attack. “It is Israel’s actions against the Palestinians that cause the terrorist attacks.” The Al-Qaida brigade that claimed responsibility for the bombings issued a statement that this was part of God’s revenge against the Jews for the “thought of invading the lands of the Muslims.”
These two attacks place the future of Turkey in the balance. For the past decade, Turkey has been trying to make reformations to earn itself a place in the European Union. This present situation could jeopardize that standing. Turkey is a Muslim country, but it has a reputation for moderation.
The Prime Minister, Tayyip Erdogan, is himself a devout Muslim, but has been careful to keep his religion as much as possible out of the politics of the nation. The Turkish people themselves are not Arabs. The Turks were quick to point out that the attack was not done by local Turkish citizens. For the most part there have been relatively positive relations between Turkey and Israel over the last two decades. (Turkey is a favorite vacationing spot for Israelis.)
In the first few centuries following the time of Jesus (Yeshua), Turkey was the home of some of the key early churches. After the split of Constantine’s empire at the end of the fourth century, Constantinople (Istanbul) became the capital of the Byzantine half, dominated by the Eastern Orthodox Church. For most of the past three hundred years, until the beginning of the British mandate in 1917, the Ottoman empire of Turkey controlled the Middle East, including Jerusalem and the Holy Land.
Turkey is located on an important land bridge, with Europe at the northwest, Russia to the north, Central Asia to the northeast, and Israel and the Arab nations to the south. Physically, politically, and spiritually, Turkey stands on a battle line of the spread of Islam in its attempt to destroy Western civilization.
The attacks this weekend were not isolated incidents, but part of the growing attacks of anti-Semitism around the world, particularly in Europe. The horror of the two attacks in Turkey overshadowed a third attack that happened earlier the same morning… that one in a northern suburb, just outside of Paris. There the Merkaz Hatorah, Jewish Center, was set on fire.
Even France can no longer try to cover up and pretend that anti-Semitism is not spreading in its country. It’s not only the destiny of Turkey that hangs in the balance. Metaphors describing militant Islam as a “dark cloud creeping across the continents” would not be hyperbole.
“For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” – Ephesians 6:12.
One Israeli journalist commented that terrorism has changed over the past twenty years in the now noticeable lack of clearly defined goals. The first terrorist attacks in the 1970’s were attempts to raise a specific political issue to the attention of the world community. Now the attacks are broader and more vague. There is simply violence and anarchy in all directions. The goal is the general destruction of Western civilization, of America, of the Jews, of Christianity, of Israel.
Let us keep up our spiritual vigil, strong in hope and faith. For ultimately the light always overcomes the darkness.
Asher serves as president of Tikkun Global family of ministries and congregations, dedicated to the dual restoration of Israel and the Church. He is founder of the Revive Israel five-fold ministry team, and oversees both Ahavat Yeshua and Tiferet Yeshua congregations in Israel.
He and his wife Betty share a passion for personal prayer and devotion, local evangelism and discipleship in Hebrew, and unity of the Body of believers worldwide.
Asher was raised in a conservative Jewish home and holds degrees from Harvard University, Baltimore Hebrew College and Messiah Biblical Institute. He has authored numerous books, tracts and articles.