Jeffrey Abood writes:
The Basilica of All Nations, next to the Garden of Gethsemane, on the Mount of Olives in East Jerusalem, marks the spot where Christians believe Jesus prayed the night before his arrest. The church itself houses the rock on which Jesus prayed and sweated blood. Still alive in the orchard outside are some of the same olive trees, which can live for centuries, that may have borne witness to that night.
On Dec. 4, a 49-year-old Jewish Israeli settler from Gilo attempted to burn down the basilica. The arsonist was stopped from doing further damage by a church guard and two young Muslim Palestinians at work near the church. Greek Patriarch Theophilos III described the attack as “a crime inspired by an extreme ideology that seeks to drive Christians from the Holy Land. This attack at a site of great significance to Christians worldwide reveals the threat that radical groups pose.”
This latest arson is unfortunately not an isolated incident. Prior to this, churches and Christians in the Holy Land have been subject to many other trials, including the confiscation of church lands, destruction of church properties, denial of religious freedom, and discriminatory actions against Christians and their schools. Many of these have been documented in the recent book, Is Peace Possible? Christian Palestinians Speak.
In 2018, the situation for the Christian community and churches had become so bad that the Heads of Churches in the Holy Land took the near unprecedented step of closing the Church of the Holy Sepulcher to the world. They did this to protest a “systematic campaign against the churches and the Christian community in the Holy Land.”
The heads of churches have spoken out about their treatment on numerous occasions, including after the arson at the Latrun Monastery, the ongoing desecrations of convents and cemeteries, and the 2015 burning of the Church of the Multiplication of the Loaves and Fish. The increasing attacks on Palestinian Christians and their properties have become part of the settler movement’s “price-tag policy” to punish any rumored compromise in peace negotiations and drive Palestinians off their land.
In 2014, Latin Patriarch Fouad Twal stated, “All of you are well aware of the recent acts of vandalism against Christians, Muslims and Druze. There has been a marked increase of ‘price-tag’ provocations within Israel.” Recent “price-tag” attacks also include the vandalization with anti-Christian graffiti of the Benedictine Dormition Abbey in Jerusalem on five different occasions. In 2014, an assailant also tried to burn the Abbey down.
New acts of racist vandalism were also recently committed in the Christian Palestinian village of Taybeh, where Hebrew graffiti was sprayed on a wall and a car was torched. Vandals shattered stained-glass windows and destroyed a statue of Mary in St. Stephen Church in the Beit Jamal Salesian Monastery in 2017. Christian cemeteries are consistently vandalized. In 2019, Armenian Apostolic Orthodox seminarians in Jerusalem’s Old City were targeted by Jewish extremists who spat on them, saying “Death to the Christians” and “We will wipe you out of this country.” This is also a common phenomenon clergy must endure.
The attack on the Basilica of All Nations, along with other “price-tag” attacks, have been routinely condemned by the hierarchy of the various Churches in Jerusalem on multiple occasions. According to the Catholic News Agency, “The Assembly of Catholic Ordinaries of the Holy Land’s requests to discuss the attacks with the Israeli authorities, including the prime minister, have been repeatedly denied.”
More than 25 years ago, the Vatican and the State of Israel signed the Fundamental Agreement, which would have established the rights, legal status, and secured the properties of the Catholic Church in Israel. To this day, while signed, the Knesset has never enacted it, leaving the official status of the Church in Israel in a continuous limbo.
With the future of the Church in limbo, one can imagine how much more precarious is the future of the faithful who live there. While this time, a larger tragedy was narrowly averted at the Basilica of All Nations, arson attacks are only one symptom of a much larger “systematic campaign” aimed at the erasure of the indigenous Christians from the Holy Land.
The Campaign Patrons of my Independent candidacy for the parliamentary seat of North West Durham includes the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem, the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, the Armenian Apostolic Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem, the Franciscan Custos of the Holy Land, the Coptic Orthodox Archbishop of Jerusalem, the Syriac Orthodox Archbishop of Jerusalem, the Melkite Greek Catholic Patriarchal Vicar in Jerusalem, the Ethiopian Orthodox Archbishop of Jerusalem, the Maronite Patriarchal Exarch of Jerusalem and Palestine, the Anglican Archbishop in Jerusalem, the Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land, the Syrian Catholic Patriarchal Exarch of Jerusalem, and the Armenian Catholic Patriarchal Exarch of Jerusalem and Amman. They are up for grabs now. Why vote for anyone who had not managed to pick them up?
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