Church leaders condemn Israel for systematic undermining Christianity in Holy City of Jerusalem

Palestine Updates 68
Opinion

Church leaders condemn Israel for systematic undermining Christianity in Holy City of Jerusalem

Church leaders have condemned Israel for its “systematic attempt to undermine the integrity of the Holy City of Jerusalem and “weaken[ing] the Christian presence” in Palestine.

In a statement addressed to Christians around the world, the church leaders accused Israel of failing to protect Christian rights in the holy land. They also appealed to Christians, as well as the heads of governments, and all people of good will, to support them in their efforts to ensure that no further attempts are made by Israel against the Palestinian Christian community.

Their condemnation follows an Israeli military court ruling last month that allowed settler groups to seize two hotels and a large building in the Old City of Jerusalem, which belongs to the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate.

While the Patriarchate condemned the court’s decision at the time saying that the “deal concluded illegally”, their statement earlier this week was a unified response by church leaders against what they say is a “ systematic attempt to undermine” Christianity in occupied Jerusalem.

After accusing Israel of “breach[ing] the status quo” that govern the holy sites and protect Christian privileges, the patriarchs and heads of local churches in Jerusalem condemned the Israeli court ruling that allowed settlers to take over properties belonging to the church as “unjust” and “politically motivated”.

The church leaders echoed the concerns of many church bodies around the world who were alarmed by Israel’s inability to protect Christian communities in occupied Jerusalem, whose numbers have dwindled as a result of racist Israeli policy.

Palestinian Christian population only make up two per cent of the population of both Israel and Palestine – the number used to be around 15 per cent. In Bethlehem alone, the Christian population has slumped to 7,500 from 20,000 in 1995. While tension across the Middle East is said to be a reason for Christian flight from the “holy land” most cite Israeli occupation as the prime cause of emigration and the decline of the Christian community.

Yusef Daher, executive secretary of the World Council of Churches, believes that the sharp decline in the number of Christian Jerusalemites is a result of Israel’s attempt to Judaise Jerusalem and slowly erode its Christian and Muslim Palestinian heritage.

The Israeli government policy throughout the whole history has been unilateral: turning Jerusalem both into a Jewish city and into the capital of Israel, while getting rid of all the Christian [and Muslim] Palestinians said Daher.

Similar concerns were raised in the joint statement by the patriarchs and heads of local churches: We see in these actions a systematic attempt to undermine the integrity of the Holy City of Jerusalem and the Holy Land, and to weaken the Christian presence. “Such attempts,” they added, were carried out “to undermine the Christian community of  Jerusalem  and  the  Holy  Land do not affect one Church only; they affect us all, and they affect Christians and all people of good will around the world”.


 Statement from the Patriarchs and Heads of Churches in Jerusalem
“Learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed…” Isaiah 1.17

In July 2017, we, the heads of the Churches in Jerusalem, were compelled to issue a public statement of concern regarding breaches of the Status Quo that governs the Holy Sites and ensures the rights and privileges of the Churches. This Status Quo is universally recognised by both religious authorities and governments, and has always been upheld by the civil authorities of our region.

We now find ourselves united once again in condemning recent further encroachment on the Status Quo. In such matters as this, the Heads of the Churches are resolute and united in our opposition to any action by any authority or group that undermines those laws, agreements, and regulations that have ordered our life for centuries.

There have been further actions that are a clear breach of the Status Quo. The judgement in the “Jaffa Gate” case against the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem, which we regard as unjust, as well as a proposed bill in the Knesset which is politically motivated that would restrict the rights of the Churches over our own property, are further assaults on the rights that the Status Quo has always guaranteed.

We see in these actions a systematic attempt to undermine the integrity of the Holy City of Jerusalem and the Holy Land, and to weaken the Christian presence. We affirm in the clearest possible terms that a vital, vibrant Christian community is an essential element in the  make-up  of our diverse society, and threats to the Christian community can only increase the troubling tensions that have emerged in these turbulent times.

Such attempts to undermine the Christian community of Jerusalem and the Holy Land do not affect one Church only; they affect us all, and they affect Christians and all people of good will around the world. We have always been faithful to our mission to ensure that Jerusalem and the Holy Sites are open to all, without distinction or discrimination, and we are unanimous in our support of the actions, including a High Court appeal, against the judgement in the “Jaffa Gate” case and in our opposition to any proposed law that would restrict the rights of the Churches over our properties.

We therefore, as those to whom Divine Providence has entrusted the care of both the Holy Sites and the pastoral oversight of the living, indigenous Christian communities of the Holy Land, call upon our fellow Church leaders and faithful around the world, as well as the heads of governments, and all people of good will, to support us in order to ensure that no further attempts are made from any quarter to change the historical Status Quo and its provisions and spirit.

We cannot stress strongly enough the very serious situation that this recent systematic assault on the Status Quo has had on the integrity of Jerusalem and on the  well-being  of the Christian communities of the Holy Land, as well as on the stability of our society.

We, the Heads of the Churches in Jerusalem, stand resolutely together in working for reconciliation and for a just and lasting peace in our region, and we ask God’s blessings on all the peoples of our beloved Holy Land.

The Patriarchs and Heads of Churches in Jerusalem
+Patriarch Theophilos III, Greek Orthodox Patriarchate
+Patriarch Nourhan Manougian, Armenian Apostolic Orthodox Patriarchate
+Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa, Apostolic Administrator, Latin Patriarchate
+Fr. Francesco Patton, ofm, Custos of the Holy Land
+Archbishop Anba Antonious, Coptic Orthodox Patriarchate, Jerusalem
+Archbishop Swerios Malki Murad, Syrian Orthodox Patriarchate
+Archbishop Aba Embakob, Ethiopian Orthodox Patriarchate
+Archbishop  Joseph-Jules  Zerey,  Greek-Melkite-Catholic Patriarchate
+Archbishop Mosa  El-Hage,  Maronite Patriarchal Exarchate
+Archbishop Suheil Dawani, Episcopal Church of Jerusalem and the Middle East
+Bishop Munib Younan, Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land
+Bishop Pierre Malki, Syrian Catholic Patriarchal Exarchate
+Msgr. Georges Dankaye’, Armenian Catholic Patriarchal Exarchate

(September 2017)