Jerusalem religious leaders accuse Israel of anti-Christian bias

They are frustrated that Christian pilgrims have not been granted an exemption to enter the locked country for Christmas, while Jewish groups have been allowed to enter

Church leaders in Jerusalem accused Israel of partiality against Christians and apathy in the face of attacks on holy places and Christian clergy. The statement by the patriarchs and church leaders of the city of Jerusalem warned of the “current threat to the Christian presence in the Holy Land”. He also denounced extremist groups which seize property in the Christian quarter “in order to curb the Christian presence”.

The statement released last week said that since 2012 there have been “countless incidents of physical and verbal assaults on priests and other clergy, attacks on Christian churches – with holy places regularly vandalized and desecrated, and continued intimidation of local Christians who simply seek to worship freely and go about their daily business. These tactics are used by such radical groups in a systematic attempt to drive the Christian community out of Jerusalem and other parts of the Holy Land.

While the statement “gratefully acknowledges the Israeli government’s stated commitment to maintaining a safe and secure home for Christians in the Holy Land,” it notes that this has not translated into action on the ground. “It is therefore a matter of serious concern when this national commitment is betrayed by the failure of local politicians, officials and law enforcement to curb the activities of radical groups who regularly intimidate local Christians, attack priests and the clergy, and desecrate the holy sites and properties of churches, ”the statement said.

The Christian Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem in a 2011 photo. (Ricardo Tulio Gandelman via Wikimedia Commons)

The Israeli Foreign Ministry has denied the existence of religious prejudices against Christians.

“These unfounded allegations of discriminatory conduct are scandalous, false and dangerous,” the ministry said in a statement, adding: anti-Semitism fires and can lead to violence and harm innocent people.

The recent ban on foreigners entering Israel due to the spread of the new variant of COVID-19 made an exemption for “Jewish tourism,” including Birthright groups, but not for Christian groups wishing to visit for Christmas, The Times of Israel reported.

The foreign ministry denied the accusation, saying that “the exemptions were granted without any connection to religion”.

All of these actions have caused a reduction in the Christian presence but those of us who remain in the city are unwavering and our roots run deep in the city.

The head of the Greek Orthodox Church in Jerusalem, Archbishop Atallah Hanna, told The Media Line that Palestinian Christians and in particular the people of Jerusalem feel targeted and “this goes to both Christian and Muslim sites as well. only Palestinian Christians and Muslims, “he said.

Atallah said Christian clergy are sometimes verbally attacked or spit on, and other times the attacks are physical. This is evident in the Armenian Quarter of Jerusalem where Jewish radicals often attack and spit on Christian clergy. “All of these actions have resulted in a reduction in the Christian presence, but those of us who remain in the city are unwavering and our roots run deep in the city,” he said.

Yusef Daher, coordinator of the World Council of Churches office in Jerusalem, told The Media Line that Israeli actions at the Jaffa Gate and the New Old City Gate are extremely worrying. “They are applying the divide-and-rule formula by separating shopkeepers from the public in an attempt to force Christian Palestinians in the Old City to leave while being careful not to allow such commercialization and chaos in the Jewish Quarter,” he explained.

Hatem Abdel Qader, head of the Christian-Muslim Coalition in Jerusalem, told The Media Line that the Patriarchs’ statement reflects the racist attitude of the Israeli occupier towards the Christian presence in Jerusalem and aims to weaken the Palestinian Christian community. , which is an integral part of the Arab identity of Jerusalem. “A perfect example of this is the fact that Israel has given a waiver for Jewish tourists to enter the country despite the pandemic while also banning the entry of pilgrims and Christian tourists,” he said. Abdel Qader says that attempts to weaken the Palestinian Muslim community are now being practiced “against our Palestinian Christian brothers and sisters”.

Expressing solidarity with the Patriarchs and Church leaders of Jerusalem, the Acting Secretary General of the World Council of Churches (WCC), Rev. Dr. Ioan Sauca, in a statement offered his organization’s support to the churches and Christian communities of the Holy Land. “In their uninterrupted continuous ministry and witness in the land of Christ’s birth.

“The WCC strongly supports the call of religious leaders for an urgent dialogue with the political authorities of Israel, Palestine and Jordan in order to address the challenges posed by radical groups and to protect and support the Christian community,” said the press release.

Dimitri Diliani, chairman of the National Christian Coalition in Jerusalem, told The Media Line that the recent statement issued by patriarchs and church leaders in Jerusalem sounded “a strong and unprecedented alarm” to attract the attention of Christians around the world on “hate crimes” against Palestinian Christians committed by radical Jews. “The Israeli government’s denial of hate crimes committed by its citizens against Palestinian Christians is a dangerous indication that the government will continue to protect and support racist Israeli criminals,” he said.

Diliani said now is the time for the world “to act quickly to protect Christians, clergy, churches and the Christian heritage in Jerusalem.”

The Old City of Jerusalem has been declared by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site and is protected by international resolutions.

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