Jerusalem Is a Holy City for Christians, Too

Haaretz Editorial
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Nuns at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.
Nuns at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg
Haaretz Editorial

Christian churches in the West will celebrate Christmas Eve on Friday evening. To mark the holiday, the heads of all the churches in Jerusalem released an extraordinary, sharply worded statement regarding the future of Christians in the city.

Two issues that worry the heads of these communities more than any other are the personal security of their clergy in public places, and the takeover of key buildings in the Christian Quarter of the Old City by the right-wing settler group Ateret Cohanim.  

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According to the statement, since 2012 there have been “countless incidents of physical and verbal assaults against priests and other clergy.” In most cases the assailants are Jewish teenage boys who assault them because of their clothing, curse them and spit at them.

For years, clergy of all Christian communities in Jerusalem have been considering concealing their identity in public places. The churches are also complaining that the police are not doing enough to protect them and punish their attackers.

The second issue is the unceasing efforts of Ateret Cohanim to have the residents removed from two buildings owned by the Greek Orthodox Church in the Christian Quarter, and move Jewish families into them. The buildings, the Imperial Hotel and the Petra Hotel, were purchased with a dubious contract for ridiculously low sums in 2005.

The buildings have been the center of a legal and public saga for years now, which led to the unprecedented dismissal of the previous Greek Orthodox Patriarch Irenaios I, and accusations of corruption. The courts approved the ownership of the buildings by a straw company operated by Ateret Cohanim. The church leaders fear that Ateret Cohanim’s steps in recent years to move the tenants out and move Jewish residents in will lead to serious harm to the character of the Christian Quarter.

In response to the statement by the heads of the churches, the Foreign Ministry released a harsh statement accusing them of incitement. “Church leaders should be expected to understand their responsibility and the consequences of what they have published, which could lead to violence and bring harm to innocent people,” the statement said.

The Christian leadership in Jerusalem may be exaggerating the sense of threat against them, in order to draft support from communities throughout the world, among other reasons because this is the second year running that there have been no pilgrims in the city for the Christian holidays. However, this does not justify the government’s irresponsible behavior toward the Christian public.

The government must recognize that the Christian congregations have an important place in Jerusalem’s human mosaic. The government must pay attention to the needs and problems of Christian communities, and, more importantly, must act to prevent the transfer of strategic assets of the Christian communities to right-wing organizations, whose goal is to boost the Jewish character of the city, to the exclusion of the local communities. The police must investigate all instances of assault on clergy and prosecute those who are responsible.

The above article is Haaretz's lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.

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