This article was originally published on December 21, 2021 by Raseef22. An edited version of the article is republished by Global Voices under a partnership agreement.
As tensions escalate in Jerusalem following Israel’s latest wave of expulsions of Palestinians from the city, it is important to note that Israel’s targeting of Arab civilians has not been limited to just Muslims. It also reached Palestinian Christians in Jerusalem, prompting Christian leaders to cry out in distress: “Our existence is shaky and our future is in danger.
According to figures released in 2017, Jerusalem is at a population of 901,300, consisting of approximately 342,000 Arab citizens in East Jerusalem, nearly 345,000 Jews in West Jerusalem, and 215,000 Jewish settlers in East Jerusalem. The Christian presence is limited to 15,800 people (12,600 Arab Christians and 3,200 non-Arab Christians).
According to Al Quds International Institution (QII), an Arab NGO that seeks to safeguard the city of Jerusalem, preserve its Arab identity, and save its Islamic and Christian sanctities from Judaization and Israelization projects, the Christian population of Jerusalem is found in the neighborhoods of the Old City, Beit Hanina, Beit Safafa, Mount of Olives (Jabal al-Zaytoun), Shu’afat, Dahiat al-Barid, Sheikh Jarrah, Kafr’ Aqab, al-Matar and Semiramis.
Since 2012, alongside the escalation of attacks on Christian communities and shrines in Jerusalem, churches in Jerusalem have Many times appealed for help against Israel’s attempts to “undermine” the Christian presence in the city. Recent attacks, plots and violations against them have been considered “unprecedented” and particularly disturbing.
At the end of December, Father Francesco Patton, Custos of the Holy Land of the Catholic Church and Chief Custos of the Christian Holy Places in Jerusalem, said in an article under the title:The Christians of the Holy Land are threatened with extinction: Israeli radicals are waging a war of attrition against peaceful believers who have no desire to fight. We need outside help to survive”.
Patton explained that while the Christian presence in Palestine dates back more than two thousand years, it has become “threatened and our future is in jeopardy. Where once we were 20% of the population of Jerusalem, today the Christian community is less than 2%.
Father Patton accused “radical local groups with extremist ideologies” of making “the lives of many Christians unbearable” by repeatedly committing “hate crimes” and offenses against priests, monks and worshippers.
In conclusion, he insisted that “radical groups cannot be allowed to undermine the presence of any community or the beautiful diversity that makes Jerusalem the spiritual capital of the world.”
The Times of Israel acknowledged that “extremist Jewish activists have for years carried out acts of vandalism against Christian sites in Jerusalem and other parts of Israel, including writing hateful graffiti and arson.”
Last week, the patriarchs and leaders of Christian churches in Jerusalem called on the Israeli, Palestinian and Jordanian governments to stand up to radical groups threatening local Christian communities.
In their statement, church leaders in Jerusalem referred to physical and verbal assaults on priests, attacks on churches, and acts of desecration and vandalism against shrines and holy sites. They said these “ongoing abuses since 2012” are now an organized and systematic attempt to drive the Christian community, which is “an integral part of the local community tapestry”, out of town. This poses risks to freedom of worship and religion in the occupied city.
Although there is no direct condemnation from Israeli authorities, Christian leaders blame extremist groups for their crimes which continue “unchecked and unpunished”, making Israeli authorities complicit against Christians in Jerusalem.
Similarly, Christian leaders expressed grave concern over “the inability of local politicians, officials and security services (law enforcement agencies) to put an end to the activities of radical groups who regularly intimidate local Christians. Members of these groups also purchase strategic property in Christian neighborhoods “in an effort to diminish the Christian presence, often through the use of underhanded deals,” non-public sales deals, and “intimidation tactics to evict residents.” of their homes and further disrupt history”. pilgrimage routes between Bethlehem and Jerusalem.
Although not specifically named in the public statement, the accusation applies to the agenda and plans of the Zionist organization “Ateret Cohanim”, which works to fill the old city and the various neighborhoods of East Jerusalem with Jewish residents after purchasing the property from non-Jewish owners.
While emphasizing that pilgrimage is a right for all Christians around the world, the leaders of the churches in Jerusalem highlighted its great economic and social benefits for Israel.
A recent study by Britain’s University of Birmingham showed that Christian pilgrimage and tourism contribute $3 billion to Israel’s economy. But that activity has recently waned, with Israel banning the entry of Christian tourists and pilgrims until Dec. 22 under the guise of containing the COVID-19 pandemic and the Omicron variant, even though it has allowed Jewish groups entry.
Additionally, the patriarchs and bishops have warned that the Christian community in Jerusalem, although small in number, provides “a disproportionate amount of educational, health and humanitarian services in communities across Israel, Palestine and Jordan.”
Concluding the statement, the religious leaders demanded that the authorities “first address the challenges posed by radical groups in Jerusalem to both the local Christian community and the rule of law, in order to ensure that ‘no citizen or institution has to live under threat’. violence or intimidation”, and, secondly, “to start a dialogue on the creation of a special Christian cultural and heritage zone to safeguard the integrity of the Christian Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem”.
In a joint item, Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby and Anglican Archbishop of Jerusalem Hosam Naoum warned of a “concerted and coordinated attempt to intimidate and drive out Christians”. They considered that the increase in Israeli settler communities, as well as the restrictions on movement associated with the separation wall erected by Israel had “reinforced the isolation of Christian villages”.
The repeated calls from Christians in Jerusalem have provoked wide interaction from the global church community. The World Council of Churches (WCC), which represents 349 churches, expressed its strong support for them in a statement stressing the need for Christians in the Holy Land to be “respected and valued as part of both the heritage and the future of the region”. ”
In turn, the Churches for Peace in the Middle East (CMEP), an organization based in the United States, highlighted the importance of Christian communities in the Holy Land.
According to a recent QII study launched in early December, Israeli journeys of Judaization follow several simultaneous paths: a path of religious and urban Judaization, including cultural, religious and urban landmarks; a way to invent a Jewish identity for Jerusalem; the path of demographic Judaization; and the path of the Judaization of sectors of the daily life of the inhabitants of Jerusalem in terms of education, health and economic and civil institutions.
The research warned of the danger of displacing the Palestinian population, Muslim and Christian, from neighborhoods such as Sheikh Jarrah and Silwan and others, on the grounds that Jews claimed their homes and lands decades ago, or under the guise of public interest, which is the most dangerous tool of the plan to Judaize Jerusalem.