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Israel is targeting Palestinian Christians

June 26, 2023 at 6:00 pm

Palestinian Christians seen during the mass held at Church of the Nativity, in Bethlehem, West Bank on December 24, 2021 [Issam Rimawi / Anadolu Agency]

Israel continues its policy of Judaising the occupied city of Jerusalem where it targets Islamic and Christian holy sites. It is trying to change the historical mark of Jerusalem as a multicultural city that is sacred to all three religions and to turn it into a city with an exclusive Jewish identity.

Over the years, Israel has invested billions of shekels in archaeological tourism projects aiming to entrench the Jewish narrative to change the way the city is perceived. In recent weeks, it has announced an additional investment of tens of millions of shekels in archaeological excavations and projects run by the far-right Elad Association (City of David), claiming that these projects tell the story of Jewish Jerusalem. It also allocated a large part of the budget to bringing soldiers and students to participate in excavations and cultural events at these sites.

The Judaisation of Jerusalem has become part of the daily life of Israelis, and so have attacks against everything that is not Jewish. Recent months have witnessed several incidents of vandalism against churches and their cemeteries, as well as attacks on Christian processions through the streets. Actions that were previously limited to an extremist minority are almost becoming an Israeli routine.

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Judaisation of the Holy City began as a settlement initiative in the Palestinian neighbourhoods, and it went on through placing one of the most important archaeological sites in the world in the hands of a political association whose declared goal is to Judaise the region. It has now reached the point where everyone in the area who is not Jewish has become the subject of aggression by the Israeli public, with the aim of uprooting them.

Judaisation efforts reveal that settlement groups continue to invent means and falsify facts to prove their historical claims to a Judaised Jerusalem. The latest of these attempts was targeting the Christian presence in the holy city through attacking Christian marches there, demolishing their historical monuments and attacking clergymen, including monks and priests. This comes in addition to the violations carried out against Muslims, in clear efforts to banish anything that is not Jewish in occupied Jerusalem. Leaders of the Christian Church recently reported an increase in the number of Israeli attacks against them, including personal attacks on Christian symbols and vandalism of churches; an increase that has been witnessed since the current right-wing government took office.

The fake image of coexistence forged by Israeli officials is clearly contrary to the experiences described by Christian leaders in occupied Jerusalem, who talk about a difficult environment that includes harassment and indifference on the part of the occupation authorities, and a growing fear that incidents of spitting and vandalism will turn into something darker, which creates a feeling that Christians’ sense of security is deteriorating.

Christian clergymen and property in the Old City have suffered repeated acts of vandalism and harassment in the past, but in recent weeks there has been a significant increase in attacks against them. These attacks included the destruction of tombstones in the Protestant cemetery on Mount Zion and the vandalism of the Maronite community centre. In addition, the buildings of the Armenian community in Jerusalem have become a target for Israeli violations and their walls have been covered with hateful graffiti which reads “Death to Christians, Arabs and Armenians”. In addition, a settler attacked priests with an iron rod in Mary’s Church.

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The Greek Orthodox Church announced that terrorist attacks launched by extremist Israeli groups against churches, cemeteries and Christian properties have become an almost daily occurrence which intensify during Christian holidays.

Meanwhile, Father Matthew, secretary of the Greek Orthodox Patriarch Theophilos III, confirmed that two religious Jews assaulted a priest with disability while he was slowly leaving the Greek Orthodox monastery and attacked another priest with pepper spray.

As a result of such events, the Franciscans have been locking the doors of the San Salvador complex at night, a step they have never taken before. Christians are worried that extremist Israelis may come in at any time and attack the building.

Jewish extremists feel that no one will stop them, because of the support they enjoy from the police and political leaders. While the heads of the Catholic, Greek Orthodox and Armenian churches have previously accused the Jerusalem municipality of leading a systematic campaign against the churches and the Christian community in the Holy Land.

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The Knesset intends to discuss, and possibly vote on, a bill that would allow the state to confiscate land sold by the church to private investors. This is in addition to the 2018 decision by the Jerusalem Municipality to freeze church funds until they pay property taxes to the tune of millions of shekels.

The number of Christians in Israel increased by 1.4 per cent in 2020 and there are currently 182,000 Christians living in Israel. The global Christian community is at odds with Israel’s official policy against Christians. Ambassadors of the Vatican, Italy, Spain, France, Greece, Belgium, and the United States receive regular news updates about the attacks against Christians of the Occupied Territories; they predict a worsening situation where acts of vandalism may reach the point of killing.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.