Mafia crime wave in Israel drives Christians from holy city of Nazareth

Although by 1948 – the year of Israel’s independence war – the majority of Nazarenes were Christian, today, they comprise only 20 per cent.

At approximately 21,000 people, however, it is still the largest Christian community in Israel. About 187,900 Christians live in the country, comprising approximately 2 per cent of the population, a 1.3 percentage point growth from the year before, according to Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics.

Mr Roshrash, who is a Christian, said that he and his family were among those still living in the city.

But he described a mass exodus from the ancient city where Jesus is believed to have grown up, with Easter Sunday celebrations now only a fraction of what they once were.

“Those who could have left for countries like England and Canada. Maybe three or four of the Christian shops are still there but they live in total fear,” he said of Al Bishara street near the Church of the Annunciation, where tourists can pick up souvenirs such as rosaries and fridge magnets. Most of those shops are now owned and run by Muslims.

The surge in mafia violence has become a national issue.

Earlier this month, Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, admitted that the problem was still huge despite the deployment of the Shin Bet to take over from the police.

“The criminal organisations are continuing to strengthen, and are now using weapons that are more lethal than in the past such as claymores [mines] and LAW [anti-tank] rockets,” he said.

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