Mondoweiss / March 22, 2023
It has become clear that the Christian presence in the Holy Land is in grave danger from Jewish fundamentalists empowered by the new Israeli government.
Sunday, two Israeli radicals entered Jerusalem’s Greek Orthodox Church of Gethsemane, destroying property and injuring Archbishop Joachim, who was leading the service. A second priest was also injured.
A video was recorded of the attack and the perpetrators’ arrest.
In a statement released Sunday, The Greek Patriarchate of Jerusalem, represented by Patriarch Theophilis III, laments that “terrorist attacks, by radical Israeli groups, targeting churches, cemeteries, and Christian properties, in addition to physical and verbal abuse against Christian clergy, have become almost a daily occurrence.”
Other recent incidents include the Christmas week takeover of Greek Orthodox land by settlers backed by Israeli police and the New Year’s Day desecration of more than 30 graves at the Protestant Cemetery on Mt Zion. Toward Freedom reported that in January, an Armenian Christian restaurant in the Old City’s Christian Quarter was attacked by a group of about 30 persons “wearing clothes indicating Jewish identity” and that in February, a Jewish tourist toppled a wooden statue of Jesus in a church in the Old City. Vatican News reported that last week “a Catholic school run by the Franciscan Sisters of Nazareth was targeted by gunshots fired by two unknown men.”
“This dismal situation,” the statement continues, “hasn’t drawn any appropriate reaction, locally or internationally, despite appeals, requests, and protests made by the Churches of the Holy Land. It is painfully clear now that the authentic Christian presence in the Holy Land is in great danger.”
General Secretary of the World Council of Churches, Rev. Prof. Dr. Jerry Pillay, condemned the attack and expressed the global churches’ solidarity with the Patriarch in calling for international protection of holy sites. “This terrible attack… is an egregious violation of international law,” Pillay said.
Ramzi Khoury, Chairman of Palestine’s Higher Presidential Committee on Church Affairs, also condemned the attack, saying, “The extremist and fascist Israeli government is the sponsor of all the crimes committed by settlers against the Palestinian people and against Islamic and Christian sanctities.” Khoury also pointed out that this and other recent attacks coincide with the imminent arrival of the holy month of Ramadan and the Christian observance of Holy Week and Easter.
The Greek Patriarchate’s statement ends by calling the international community “to intervene immediately to provide security and protection to the Christians of Jerusalem and to support the Hashemite Custodianship and its protection of the Jerusalem Holy Sites, including the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which are being subjected to deplorable forms of violations and attacks at the hands of radical Israeli organizations. The Patriarchate further demands that the necessary legal measures be taken against all those involved in terrorist crimes against any holy site.”
Jeff Wright is an ordained minister of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)