The Greek Orthodox Church in Jerusalem accused on Sunday radical Israeli groups of threatening the presence of Christians in the holy city.
Writing in the London Times, the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem, Theophilos III said that “Our churches are threatened by Israeli radical fringe groups. Our brothers and sisters are the victims of hate crimes. Our churches are regularly desecrated and vandalized. Our clergy are subject to frequent intimidation.”
Jerusalem is home to three monotheistic religions, Judaism, Christianity and Islam, and has long been an illuminating example of a mosaic community. It is the spiritual capital of the world, comprising a family of faiths, all of which enjoy a long and unique rich heritage.
Theophilos says that this ancient tradition in Jerusalem is under threat by Zionist groups who are trying to buy property at Jaffa Gate, the main entrance to the Christian quarter of Old City Jerusalem.
Radical groups behavior “devastating for Orthodox and all Christians”
“Quite disingenuously they claim that their physical presence in there will not affect the integrity of the Christian Quarter. However, we know from their previous actions at St John’s Hostel, a site even closer to the Holy Sepulchre which was also deceitfully taken over by them some years ago, that this is not true.
“Their behaviour will be devastating for all Christians. Local families, who have lived here for generations, will be made to feel unwelcome in their own home and pilgrims who have longed to visit the birthplace of the Christian faith will have their experience diminished.”
Theophilos notes that these radicals are not representative of the state of Israel or the Jewish people, but warns that it is essential for the diversity and distinctive characters of all quarters of the Old City “to be protected for the benefit of Jerusalem and the whole world.”
On Sunday, an Israeli official told Reuters that the reality on the ground for Christians was completely different from that described by the patriarch, citing a Foreign Ministry statement on December 22 that rebutted the earlier church leaders’ claims.
Joint statement of all Christian Churches on intimidation in Jerusalem
The official was referring to a joint statement issued in December by all Christian Churches in Jerusalem, including the Orthodox Church, which warned of attacks by radical groups.
The statement said: “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.”
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.