Each year, Christians from all over the world travel to the Holy Land to experience Christmas in the place where Jesus walked — but now, religious leaders are warning that there could be attacks this year in Christian churches in Jerusalem.
On Wednesday, the Anglican archbishop of Jerusalem, along with the heads of other churches and patriarchs issued a statement on the current threat Holy Land Christians face when they practice their faith.
The Episcopal News Service reports that the Most Rev. Hosam E. Naoum warned that radical groups are using systematic attacks to drive the Christian community out of not only Jerusalem but the entire Holy Land as well.
Christian Churches in Jerusalem Warn of Eradication of Christianity in Holy Land
At the same time as Christians face repeated assaults and attacks, he said, the local Christian community, “while small and decreasing in number, provides a disproportionate amount of educational, health and humanitarian services in communities throughout Israel, Palestine, and Jordan.”
However, he acknowledged with gratitude “the declared commitment of the Israeli government to uphold a safe and secure home for Christians in the Holy Land and to preserve the Christian community as an integral part of the tapestry of the local community.”
Christian communities are decreasing in numbers all across the Middle East due to repeated attacks, repression and discrimination. Gaza, an early Christian city that was even mentioned in the Bible, only has 800 Christians left amongst its population.
In Iraq, Christians had their property confiscated by the Islamic State and were forced to convert or be martyred. The warning issued on Wednesday by the Christian churches in Jerusalem mirrors recent reports that the existence of Christianity itself is being eradicated in the place of its birth.
Author Janine di Giovanni spoke to Haaretz Weekly to discuss her new book “The Vanishing: Faith, Loss, and the Twilight of Christianity in the Land of the Prophets,” which relates the disturbing story of the eradication of the faith of Jesus in the Middle East.
“To leave ancestral homeland or stay and be persecuted”
She states that Christians in the Holy Land and Middle East as a whole “are in the extremely difficult situation – to leave their ancestral homeland or to stay and be persecuted… or in other cases, such as with the Islamic State, to be eradicated entirely.”
Todays’ statement by the Anglican Archbishop flatly accuses “local politicians, officials and law enforcement agencies” of not curbing the activities of these radical groups.
The full statement issued by the leaders of the Christian churches in Jerusalem is as follows:
“Throughout the Holy Land, Christians have become the target of frequent and sustained attacks by fringe radical groups. 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. 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.
“We acknowledge with gratitude the declared commitment of the Israeli government to uphold a safe and secure home for Christians in the Holy Land and to preserve the Christian community as an integral part of the tapestry of the local community. As evidence of this commitment we see the government’s facilitation of the visit of millions of Christian pilgrims to the holy sites of the Holy Land. It is therefore a matter of grave concern when this national commitment is betrayed by the failure of local politicians, officials and law enforcement agencies to curb the activities of radical groups who regularly intimidate local Christians, assault priests and clergy, and desecrate Holy Sites and church properties.
“The principle that the spiritual and cultural character of Jerusalem’s distinct and historic quarters should be protected is already recognised in Israeli law with respect to the Jewish Quarter. 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.
“Christian pilgrimage, in addition to being the right of all the Christians around the world, brings great benefits to Israel’s economy and society. In a recent report by the University of Birmingham, it was highlighted that Christian pilgrimage and tourism contributes $3 billion to the Israeli economy. The local Christian community, while small and decreasing in number, provides a disproportionate amount of educational, health and humanitarian services in communities throughout Israel, Palestine, and Jordan.
“In accordance with the declared commitment to protect religious freedom by the local political authorities of Israel, Palestine, and Jordan, we are requesting an urgent dialogue with us the Church Leaders, so as to:
“Deal with the challenges presented by radical groups in Jerusalem to both the Christian community and the rule of law, so as to ensure that no citizen or institution has to live under threat of violence or intimidation.
“Begin dialogue on the creation of a special Christian cultural and heritage zone to safeguard the integrity of the Christian Quarter in Old City Jerusalem and to ensure that its unique character and heritage are preserved for the sake of well-being of the local community, our national life, and the wider world.”