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21 Dec, 2021 21:32

Israel ‘infuriated’ by claim Christians are ‘driven away’ from Jerusalem

Israel ‘infuriated’ by claim Christians are ‘driven away’ from Jerusalem

Church leaders in Jerusalem have complained that “fringe radical” settler groups are mounting a violent “systematic attempt” to drive Christians from the city. Israel has criticized their statement as “baseless” and “infuriating.”

Last week, the Patriarchs and Heads of Local Churches of Jerusalem – a collection of various Christian denominations – launched a campaign to protest “frequent and sustained” radical violence and “strategic property” acquisition. They said these tactics were aimed at “diminishing the Christian presence.”

In a statement issued by the Diocese of Jerusalem, the church leaders pointed to “countless incidents” of physical and verbal assaults against priests, “intimidation” of local Christians and the “desecration” of holy sites and churches. They called out the “failure of local politicians, officials and law enforcement agencies” to stem the violence, which they dated back to 2012.

The joint statement was signed by the leadership of all the city’s major churches, including the Custody of the Holy Land representing the Vatican, the Armenian Apostolic Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem, the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem and the head of the Anglican Church.

The campaign was amplified by the UK’s Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, who tweeted the joint declaration last Tuesday and termed it a “heart-cry” and an “unprecedented statement ... about the future of Christians in the Holy Land.” The World Council of Churches and other bodies also lent support.

The church heads also requested “urgent dialogue” with political authorities in “Israel, Palestine and Jordan,” noting that these were bound by a “declared commitment” to protect religious freedom. Besides dealing with the “challenges presented by radical groups,” the talks would explore the creation of a “special Christian cultural and heritage zone to safeguard the integrity of the Christian Quarter in the Old City of Jerusalem.”

The allegations of Christians being discriminated against in Jerusalem have since attracted media attention, with the Israeli government finally responding to them this week.

In a statement on Monday, the Israeli foreign ministry branded the concerns as “baseless” and “infuriating” and claimed that they “distort the reality of the Christian community” in the country.

“Religious leaders have a critical role to play in education for tolerance and coexistence, and 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 ministry said.