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Church leaders in al-Quds slam Israel for anti-Christian bias, failure to stop attacks on holy sites

People walk past the Imperial Hotel located next to the Jaffa Gate in the Christian Quarter of the occupied al-Quds. (Photo via Twitter)

Patriarchs and heads of churches in the occupied al-Quds say extremist Jewish groups are trying to drive Christians out of the holy city, arguing that Israeli authorities have failed to curb assaults against members of the religious community and desecration of their sites.

The church leaders, in a statement, stated that the Tel Aviv regime exhibits bias against Christians and apathy about attacks on Christian holy places and clergy, warning of the “current threat to the Christian presence in the Holy Land.”

They denounced extremist groups that seize property in the Christian Quarter “with the aim of curbing the Christian presence.”

The church leaders highlighted that since 2012 there had been “countless incidents of 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."

“These tactics are being used by such radical groups in a systematic attempt to drive the Christian community out of al-Quds and other parts of the Holy Land,” they noted.

The statement said Israeli politicians, officials and law enforcement agencies have failed to curb the activities of radical groups who regularly intimidate local Christians, assault priests and clergy, and desecrate holy sites and churches’ properties,” the statement said. 

The religious leaders further slammed Tel Aviv for admitting Jewish travelers despite a coronavirus-related travel ban for all foreigners.

Head of the Greek Orthodox Church, Archbishop Atallah Hanna, said Palestinian Christians and especially al-Quds residents feel that they are targeted and “this goes to both Christian and Muslim sites as well as Palestinian Christians and Muslims.”

Atallah said that Christian clergy are attacked sometimes verbally or are spit upon, and at other times the attacks are physical. 

He added that Jewish radicals often attack and spit at Christian clergy in the Christian Quarter of al-Quds.  

“All these actions have caused a reduction of Christian presence but those of us staying in the city are steadfast and our roots are deep in the city,” Atallah said. 

Yusef Daher, coordinator of the World Council of Churches office in al-Quds, also said the Israeli regime’s actions at the Jaffa Gate and New Gate of the Old City of al-Quds are extremely worrisome.

“They are applying the formula of divide and rule by separating the shopkeepers from the public in an attempt to force Christian Palestinians of the Old City to leave while they are careful not to allow such commercialization and chaos in the Jewish Quarter,” he explained.

Hatem Abdel Qader, head of the Christian-Muslim Coalition in al-Quds, also said that the statement of the patriarchs reflects the Israeli occupier’s racist attitude toward the Christian presence in al-Quds and is meant to weaken the Christian Palestinian community, which is an integral part of the Arab identity of the holy city.

 “A perfect example of this is the fact that Israel has given a waiver to Jewish tourists to enter despite the pandemic while banning the entry of Christian pilgrims and tourists,” he said.  

Abdel Qader says that the attempts to weaken the Palestinian Muslim community are now being practiced “against our Palestinian Christian brothers and sisters.”

The World Council of Churches’ (WCC) acting general secretary, Rev. Dr. Ioan Sauca, in a statement expressed solidarity with the patriarchs and heads of churches in al-Quds, and offered his organization’s support for the churches and Christian communities there.

“The WCC strongly supports the church leaders’ call for an urgent dialogue with the political authorities of Israel, Palestine and Jordan with a view to addressing the challenges posed by radical groups and to protecting and supporting the Christian community,” the statement said.

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