A group of church leaders in Jerusalem have issued a joint statement calling for greater protection for Christians living in the Middle East, as well as a special cultural heritage zone for Christians in Jerusalem.
In a statement issued earlier this week, the Patriarchs and Heads of Churches in Jerusalem spoke with concern about the rising trend of violence against Christians in the Holy Land.
“Since 2012 there have 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,” they stated.
“These tactics are being used by such radical groups in a systematic attempt to drive the Christian community out of Jerusalem and other parts of the Holy Land.”
The church leaders went on to note that while they appreciated the Israeli government’s commitment “to uphold a safe and secure home for Christians in the Holy Land,” they believed that this commitment was being undermined by “local politicians, officials and law enforcement agencies to curb the activities of radical groups.”
“The principle that the spiritual and cultural character of Jerusalem’s distinct and historic quarters should be protected is already recognized in Israeli law with respect to the Jewish Quarter,” continued the church leaders.
“Yet radical groups continue to acquire strategic property in the Christian Quarter, with the aim of diminishing the Christian presence, often using underhanded dealings and intimidation tactics to evict residents from their homes, dramatically decreasing the Christian presence, and further disrupting the historic pilgrim routes between Bethlehem and Jerusalem.”
The church leadership called on political authorities in Israel, Jordan, and the Palestinian territories to dialogue with them, to deal with the radical groups, and to work on the “creation of a special Christian cultural and heritage zone to safeguard the integrity of the Christian Quarter in Old City Jerusalem.”
The World Council of Churches' acting General Secretary, the Rev. Ioan Sauca, issued a statement on Thursday in support of the Patriarchs and Heads of Churches in Jerusalem.
“Recognizing the gravity of the threat accelerating the already tragically steep decline in the Christian presence, 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,” Sauca said.
“The Christians of the Holy Land must be respected and valued as part of both the heritage and future of the region, and assured the same rights as others and protections appropriate to a threatened minority, for which the political authorities of the region are both legally and morally responsible.”
The statement comes as Israel faces allegations of discrimination for not easing a travel ban for Christian pilgrims seeking to visit the country during the Christmas season.
Recently, Israel eased a restriction on travel due to the omicron variant of COVID-19 for Jewish individuals seeking the “Birthright” program, however, they maintained the ban for non-Jewish Christian pilgrims.
“Racist discrimination should never be accepted in any way,” said Wadie Abunassar, a spokesman and adviser to churches in the Holy Land, as reported by The Associated Press. “I urge the Israeli authorities to treat all those who want to visit the country equally without any discrimination between religion."