ARIEL, Israel (BP)–In one of the most serious attacks against the persecuted Messianic community in Israel, the 15-year-old son of a well-known Messianic pastor was severely injured March 20 when he opened a package delivered to the family’s home that turned out to be a bomb.
Ami Ortiz, the youngest son of David and Leah Ortiz of Ariel, endured seven hours of surgery to remove shrapnel from his body. He suffered second- and third-degree burns, damage to his right eye and a collapsed lung, according to e-mail updates circulated by Messianic believers in the area.
Hannah Weiss, a close friend of the Ortiz family, described a conversation she had with the family’s housekeeper a couple of days after the blast. The woman was distraught because she had retrieved the package from the doorstep and left the room only moments before Ami opened it.
The package looked like a traditional food gift exchanged among Jews for Purim, a festive holiday celebrating victory over oppression. A label on the package said “Happy Purim” in Hebrew, Weiss recounted, and was decorated with smiling faces and colorful letters. The top half was transparent cellophane with chocolates inside, she wrote in an e-mail released to Baptist Press.
Part of the family’s apartment was destroyed in the blast, and Messianic believers are rallying to make repairs. Friends have said it is impossible to look at the apartment and believe that Ami survived the bombing, and doctors apparently have used the word “miracle” several times regarding his status.
David Ortiz, in an article by The Jerusalem Post March 23, gave an update on his son’s condition.
“His neck had an eight-inch gash like someone slit his throat. He has a ruptured lung. Doctors had to operate on his tongue. He has second-degree burns to his chest and arms, and there is no flesh on the thighs,” Ortiz said, adding that doctors amputated two of Ami’s toes. “They’re trying to continue to make sure that he won’t lose his arms and legs. His whole body is full of fragments of shrapnel.”
Police are investigating the crime, and the two groups under suspicion are Arab terrorists and anti-missionary Orthodox Jews, according to various reports. A Palestinian group called the Al Aksa Brigade claimed responsibility on Arab TV, but Weiss said the group has been known to make fictitious claims in order to boost their popularity.
Jim Sibley, a professor at Criswell College in Dallas and a former missionary to Israel, noted the paradox that exists in a region known for religious strife which largely rejects Jesus as Savior.
“Both Islam and Judaism, especially in their more orthodox expressions, really fear an open marketplace when it comes to religious ideas,” Sibley, who knew Ortiz from his time in Israel, told Baptist Press. “This violence is born out of that fear. And yet it’s this message of the Gospel that provides the only hope for people in the area.”
The Jerusalem Post, in its coverage of the bombing, identified David Ortiz as “a prominent Christian pastor,” “well-known in Ariel,” where he has lived with his wife and six sons for more than a decade. The Post said Ortiz “works mainly with Palestinians in the West Bank, encouraging them to convert to Christianity.”
In the mid-1990s the terrorist group Hamas issued a death threat against Ortiz for preaching the Gospel to Palestinian Muslims, and the U.S. Embassy asked him to keep a low profile. The family has been the object of repeated harassment by Orthodox Jews, many of whom live in Ariel near the Ortiz home. Ortiz has been beaten up at least once by Palestinians from a neighboring village while distributing Bibles, and a Molotov cocktail was thrown at his car, The Post reported.
“I live my life as if every day could be my last,” Ortiz said.
Whoever is responsible for the bombing, Weiss marveled at the outpouring of response from believers around the world who have prayed for the Ortiz family and at the blessings that were evident in the midst of tragedy.
“The scene at the hospital last night, outside the intensive care unit, was more like a party than a vigil — believers coming and going, a table of food and drink, Ami’s parents mingling and joking,” Weiss wrote March 25. “There are a lot of challenges ahead for the boy and his family, and there are still potential dangers, but for now we can’t help but celebrate.”
Ami is improving each day, Weiss reported, and though he remains in a medically induced coma, doctors are slowly lowering the doses of anesthesia. They have not yet been able to remove all of the metal bolts that pierced both lungs and they’re awaiting results on his injured eye.
One of Ami’s older brothers who served in the Israeli army was interviewed on a local television station about the attack, Weiss said. The camera didn’t show his face or give his full name in order to protect him, but the woman who conducted the interview mentioned Messianic Jews a couple of times, portraying the group as victims of needless violence.
Some Messianics may hope the bombing at the Ortiz home will turn public opinion regarding believers who have long been harassed in Israel. Howard Bass, head of a Messianic congregation in Beersheba, told The Jerusalem Post that in the past there has been “very little sympathy for our plight.”
“We get the feeling that nobody in Israel is willing to take a strong stand against violent anti-missionary activity,” Bass said in an article March 25.
Just before Christmas in 2005, Bass’ congregation was attacked by hundreds of demonstrators who received the backing of the local rabbinic leadership, The Post said. Another Messianic believer, Edwin Beckford, is under house arrest. Last fall, arsonists set fire to Jerusalem’s Narkis Street Baptist Church, which sustained minor damage.
Erin Roach is a staff writer for Baptist Press.