The Episcopal Church in Jerusalem and the Middle East has condemned a “flagrant” raid by Israeli occupation soldiers of its church in Ramallah in the occupied West Bank. The unannounced and unwarranted raid on the premises of St Andrew’s Anglican/Episcopal Church was conducted by Israeli soldiers in the early hours of Thursday at around 3am local time.
The soldiers smashed through the door lock and security glass. For two hours, they occupied the entire complex, which includes the church sanctuary, parish hall, church offices, rectory and the Arab Episcopal Medical Centre.
A statement by the Episcopal Church said that the Christian community living inside the church compound felt unsafe during the raid. “The sound of gunshots, stun grenades and the smashing of doors terrorised the families living there,” it said.
It was revealed later that the focus of the raid was the offices of Palestinian NGOs that rent space in the church compound, including the human-rights organisation Al-Haq. In October last year, Al-Haq was one of six NGOs designated as a “terrorist organisation” by the Israeli government, a move that was criticised by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR). Refuting the Israeli claim, the CIA and several European countries have concluded that there is no evidence to support such a designation of the NGOs.
“The Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem, led by the Most Reverend Hosam E Naoum, unequivocally condemns this attack on one of its sacred places of worship, as well as the devastation of church property, as both a violation of international law and a terroristic act against the entire community,” added the Episcopal Church. “Places of worship and church compounds should be sanctuaries for communities to feel safe to practice their faith and ministry.” The assault on the complex of St Andrew’s in Ramallah is an “assault against its free exercise of religion as an established and officially recognised Christian Church.”
In what many see as selective outrage regarding the fate of Christians in the Middle East, Western governments have remained silent over Israel’s terrorising of Palestinian Christians while speaking out against Muslim extremists who have targeted Christian communities. Church leaders have warned repeatedly that Christians face the threat of “extinction” from “radical” Israeli groups.
Prior to Israel’s creation in 1948, Palestinian Christians were the second largest religious community in Palestine, making up more than eleven per cent of the total population. The waves of ethnic cleansing which the Palestinians call the Nakba (“Catastrophe”) has reduced their number to its present “extinction” level.
Israel’s bloody capture, illegal annexation and military occupation of Jerusalem since 1967 has accelerated the flight of Palestinian Christians from their ancestral home. Human rights groups have described Israel’s rule over the territory as a form of apartheid under which Christian Palestinians are also treated like second- and third-class citizens.