The Nature and Parks Authority of Israel announced on Monday that it was stepping away from its controversial plan to wall off a section of the Mount of Olives, the place Jesus Christ prayed before his trial and crucifixion.
Its plan to encompass the various Christian holy sites on the mountain in a national park was opposed by the Greek Orthodox, Armenian, and Catholic churches, which all own property on one of the holiest sites in the city.
The Mount of Olives, located in east Jerusalem, is the site of a number of churches from nearly every major sect of Christianity which are situated on places known to have been visited by Jesus and his apostles.
Mount of Olives sacred to Judaism, Christianity, Islam
After news of the plan was made public, the Greek Orthodox, Armenian, and Catholic churches sent a petition last week to Tamar Zandberg, Israel’s environmental protection minister, whose department runs the nation’s Parks Authority.
The three churches stated they wished to voice their “gravest concern and unequivocal objection” to the park creation plan, adding that the move would disrupt the status quo in already-troubled East Jerusalem, charging that it was part of an effort to “confiscate and nationalize one of the holiest sites for Christianity and alter its nature.”
The general counsel of the Catholic Church’s custody of the Holy Land, Farid Jubran, declared that Israel was “putting the control in the hands of people who have no other agenda but to wipe off any non-Jewish characteristic on this mountain” in attempting to make the area part of a national park.
Israel’s Environmental Protection Minister Tamar Zandberg did not respond to multiple interview requests; however, not long after the petition was sent, the country’s Nature and Parks Authority announced that it was putting the plan — which was supposed to have been approved on March 2 by Jerusalem’s planning committee — into abeyance.
In a statement, the authority backed down from its plans, saying it has “no intention of advancing the plan in the planning committee and it is not ready for discussion without coordination and communication with all relevant officials, including the churches, in the area.”
The Israeli rights groups Bimkom, Emek Shaveh, Ir Amim and Peace Now had earlier called the plan to extend the Jerusalem Walls National Park to include sections of the Mount of Olives part of “various mechanisms used by Israel in east Jerusalem to entrench its sovereignty, to marginalize non-Jewish presence and to prevent much needed development of Palestinian neighborhoods hereby increasing the pressure to push them out of the Old City basin.”
The groups went on to charge that the Israeli government was an attempt by Israeli authorities to not only marginalize Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem but also to increase the Jewish religious and national significance of the Mount of Olives area.
Russian Orthodox Church, Convent of Mary Magdalene one of major Christian sites on Mount
The state of Israel captured east Jerusalem — which has a plethora of Jewish, Christian and Muslim holy sites — as part of the 1967 Mideast war, annexing it in a move that remains unrecognized by a majority of the international community.
The embattled city, with sites that are holy to the three great Abrahamic faiths, is the epicenter of the seemingly unending Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which has gone on now for a century.
The Palestinians wish to establish east Jerusalem as the capital of a future independent state, but Israel considers the city the capital of the entire country as it stands now.
As has frequently been seen over the decades, even seemingly minor changes to the fragile political situation in Jerusalem can cause major discord and be the pretext for violence.
A place of prayer and where Jews buried their dead since the Old Temple period, it is the site of the oldest Jewish cemetery in the world. It is home to the Garden of Gethsemane, where Jesus and his apostles went to pray the night he was arrested.
It is now home to the Church of the Ascension, the Church of All Nations and the Church of Mary Magdalene, which is a Russian Orthodox church and a convent, among the almost countless other Christian churches there, as well as mosques.