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
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”.