3rd Thursday Action Alert: Tell Congress to listen to and consider the views of Christian leaders in the Holy Land when making US policy toward the Israeli-Palestinian conflict
On December 13, the Patriarchs and Local Heads of Churches of Jerusalem issued a “Statement on the Current Threat to the Christian Presence in the Holy Land”. The church leaders stated that the Christian community has “… become the target of frequent and sustained attacks by fringe radical groups”, including since 2012, “… physical and verbal assaults against priests and other clergy, attacks on Christian churches, with holy sites regularly vandalized and desecrated, and ongoing intimidation of local Christians who simply seek to worship freely and go about their daily lives.” They said that the radical groups responsible are attempting systematically “… to drive the Christian community out of Jerusalem and other parts of the Holy Land.”
The leaders “… acknowledge with gratitude the declared commitment of the Israeli government to uphold a safe and secure home for Christians in the Holy Land and to preserve the Christian community as an integral part of the tapestry of the local community …” citing “… the government’s facilitation of the visit of millions of Christian pilgrims to the holy sites of the Holy Land.” Nonetheless, they are gravely concerned “… when this national commitment is betrayed by the failure of local politicians, officials and law enforcement agencies to curb the activities of radical groups who regularly intimidate local Christians, assault priests and clergy, and desecrate Holy Sites and church properties.”
While “[t]he principle that the spiritual and cultural character of Jerusalem’s distinct and historic quarters … is already recognized in Israeli law with respect to the Jewish Quarter, … radical groups continue to acquire strategic property in the Christian Quarter, with the aim of diminishing the Christian presence, often using underhanded dealings and intimidation tactics to evict residents from their homes, dramatically decreasing the Christian presence, and further disrupting the historic pilgrim routes.…”
The church leaders, noting “… the declared commitment to protect religious freedom by the local political authorities of Israel, Palestine, and Jordan” … requested an urgent dialogue with the leaders” … to “[d]eal with the challenges presented by radical groups in Jerusalem to both the Christian community and the rule of law” … and to “[b]egin dialogue on the creation of a special Christian cultural and heritage zone to safeguard the integrity of the Christian Quarter in Old City Jerusalem ….”
It is estimated that the Christian population of Jerusalem is between 8,000 and 10,000. With the challenges facing the Palestinian community – both Christian and Muslim – and the specific challenges the Christians face, it is anticipated that the Christian presence in and immediately near the places of Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection will face a rapid decline in the future.
The church leaders letter was followed up by several statements, including ones by the Head of the Greek Orthodox Church in Jerusalem, Archbishop Atallah Hanna, the Catholic Church’s Custos of the Holy Land, Francesco Patton, a joint article by the Anglican Archbishop of Jerusalem, Hossam Naoum, and the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, and a column in the Times of London by the Patriarch of the (Greek) Orthodox Church of Jerusalem, Theophilos III.
Members of Congress need to be made aware of the views of the local church leaders in the Holy Land about threats to the Christian community there as the US carries out its policy concerning the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The policies and practices the US already has in place have been detrimental to the Palestinian people generally, and given the small size of the Christian Palestinian presence, they have had a particularly devastating effect on the Christian community. The U.S. should urge the political authorities of Israel, Palestine, and Jordan to engage in the requested dialogue with the church leaders.