Tony Greenstein | 25 December 2021 | Post Views:

The attack on Christian Palestinians as Jerusalem Church leaders warn of “a systematic attempt” to drive out Christianity

Xmas in Palestine as Israel bans Pilgrimages but allows Birthright Tours to Enter

In 1947 as part of Christian Palestinians Resolution 181 partitioning Palestine into Jewish and Arab states, the UN proposed the internationalisation of Jerusalem under a separate regime. The UN sent Count Folk Bernadotte, the Swedish statesman to Jerusalem to make arrangements. The Zionist terrorist group Lehi/Stern Gang, a commanded by future Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir, assassinated him on 17 September 1948 with the connivance of the main terrorist group Haganah.

Bernadotte had personally saved 11,000 Jews at the end of the war from Nazi concentration camps. As Donald Macintyre observed ‘no blue Israeli plaque marks the spot, as it does for so many military and Jewish underground exploits of the period’.

The statement by the Patriarchs and Heads of Churches in Jerusalem less than 2 weeks ago, about the harassment of the Church and the threat posed to its continued presence in Jerusalem was met by a predictable Zionist response. ‘What about Christians in other parts of the Middle East’ they cried as if that had anything to do with the treatment of the Christian Church in Jerusalem.

Of course the plight of Christians throughout the Middle East is a subject worthy of discussion in its own right. It might for example have something to do with the Western and Israeli attack on secular regimes throughout the region and their own promotion of fundamentalist Islamic regimes. For example it was the attack on Iraq which led to the demise of Christians in that country. Likewise the Saudi sponsorship of jihadi militias in Syria, aided and abetted by Israel and the United States, also led to attacks on Christians.

Justin Welby

The statement was endorsed in an article by the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby together with the Anglican Archbishop of Jerusalem Hosam Naoum in the Sunday Times.

Naturally the statement was “heavily criticised by the Board of Deputies” as “deeply troubling”even though it’s none of their business. It has nothing to do with British Jews. But the Board’s main function today is to operate as an Israeli propaganda group. What didn’t trouble the Board was the attempt to displace Christians in the Christian Quarter or the attacks on Christian clergy.

The Zionist defence boiled down to the fact that ‘Israel’s 182,000-strong Christian population grew by 1.4 per cent in 2020’. Which was entirely irrelevant since the statement was issued on behalf of the Jerusalem churches in Occupied Jerusalem, where the number of Christians is declining, not on behalf of Israel’s Palestinians.

Instead of dealing with the actual complaints of harassment, violence and the expulsion of Christians from the Christian Quarter of Jerusalem, the statement from Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs resorted to the usual blank denials: They termed the statement ‘baseless, and distort the reality of the Christian community in Israel.’ They went on to say that:

The statement by Church leaders in Jerusalem is particularly infuriating given their silence on the plight of many Christian communities in the Middle East suffering from discrimination and persecution.

Israel describes itself as ‘the only democracy in the Middle East’. Why then does it insist on comparing itself with all the dictatorships it’s in alliance with in the region rather than say Europe?

The overall number of Christians in Israel has risen but in east Jerusalem there is a steady decline GETTY IMAGES

What Israel’s defenders did not do was to address any of the points in the statement. It’s worth enumerating them.

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.

Arson at the Church of the Multiplication of Loaves & Fishes

There has been a wave of attacks on both churches and moques in Israel. For example the arson attack at the Church of Multiplication of Loaves and Fishes. As the National Geographic reported:

The June assault was the latest and most dramatic sign of tension between Christians in Israel and a growing movement of Jewish extremists who seek to cleanse their nation of religious minorities.

The Church statement went on to say:

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 statement called on Israel’s leaders to:

1.     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.

2.     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.

Suffice to say there was no response to this call. Responding to the statement, the World Council of Churches (WCC) acting general secretary Rev Dr Ioan Sauca said Christians in the Holy Land were a “threatened minority“. They went on to say that:

“The statement issued by the Patriarchs and Heads of Churches in Jerusalem highlights the increasing threat to the Christian presence in the Holy Land posed by attacks and incursions by radical groups who seek to destroy the religious and cultural diversity of the region,”

There was no response to this statement either. When they referred to ‘radical groups’ what they meant is the efforts of Ateret Cohanim which aims to build a 3rd Temple in Jerusalem by demolishing the Al Aqsa Mosque and Golden Dome and ethnically cleansing Jerusalem’s Palestinian inhabitants. These settlers are supported by the Israeli state itself. See Warnings of ‘systematic attempt’ to drive Christianity out of the Holy Land

There is an ongoing threat to evacuate two large buildings in the Christian Quarter, the Imperial Hotel and Petra Hotel. According to Ha’aretz

After a long legal battle, the hotels were transferred to the ownership of a Jewish organization that had bought the buildings, and which is now trying to evict the Palestinians who are running the hotels – and bring in Jewish families to live there. The heads of the Christian communities now fear that the change in ownership of the hotels – which were bought in a controversial deal by Ateret Cohanim 15 years ago using shell companies – could change the character of the Christian Quarter.

Israel’s courts have also played their part. They have consistently upheld the crooked land deals of Ateret Cohanim, often made with intermediaries who hold forged documents. The land deals were riddled with corruption yet Israel’s courts turned a blind eye.

According to Ha’aretz  one of the churches that suffers most from this is the Armenian Church, which is located near the Jewish Quarter of the Old City.’

“I’ve been in Israel since 1995 and never before have there been so many incidents like this,” said Father Koryoun Baghdasaryan, the chancellor of the Armenian Patriarchate of Jerusalem.

“Every day that I leave my home for the Church of the Holy Sepulcher or to visit family, I’m afraid something will happen to me. There were always curses and spitting, in recent years physical violence also started.”

Ha’aretz described how “Christians in the Holy Land want Jews to stop spitting on them”

‘A few weeks ago, a senior Greek Orthodox clergyman in Israel attended a meeting at a government office in Jerusalem’s Givat Shaul quarter. When he returned to his car, an elderly man wearing a skullcap came and knocked on the window. When the clergyman let the window down, the passerby spat in his face.’

‘On Sunday, a fracas developed when a yeshiva student spat at the cross being carried by the Armenian Archbishop during a procession near the Holy Sepulchre in the Old City. The archbishop’s 17th-century cross was broken during the brawl and he slapped the yeshiva student.’

In February 2018 the Church of the Holy Sepulchre was closed in a standoff with the city’s municipality in protest at a proposed land expropriation law. The closure was prompted by two developments: the Jerusalem municipality’s plan to tax the church’s assets around the city and a bill to expropriate land already sold by the churches to private companies which violated a longstanding status quo.

“The systematic campaign … reaches now its peak as a discriminatory and racist bill that targets solely the properties of the Christian community in the Holy Land is being promoted. This reminds us all of laws of a similar nature which were enacted against the Jews during dark periods in Europe.

The tax exemption agreement was honoured during the Ottoman Empire and by the British, Jordanian and Israeli governments. But now, with the increased activities of Ateret Cohanim and the settlers, all such agreements are up for grabs.

The Israeli Police provide no protection because their only concern is with attacking, not defending, Palestinians.

The Israeli government’s restrictions on tourism because of COVID has also hurt Christian pilgrimage to the city for Christmas. However Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked, one of the worst racists in the Israeli government, allowed the entry of Birthright groups into Israel.

A senior church figure said

“we have no intention of haggling. There is an issue of principle here – why are Birthright visitors, who are foreign citizens, getting such an exemption, while pilgrims are not? The only difference is that they are Jews.”

Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem, Theophilos III, said that “at no time in human history has the future of our Christian communities been shakier.”

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

Ha’aretz reported that the number of violent incidents toward Christian clergy, mostly by young Jews, has increased recently. One of the churches that suffers the most from this is the Armenian Church, which is located near the Jewish Quarter of the Old City.

In an article last Saturday in The Telegraph Fr. Francesco Patton, the Catholic Church’s Custody of the Holy Land and guardian of the Christian holy places in the Holy Land, wrote that

“our presence is precarious and our future is at risk…. Holy Land Christians are at threat of extinction.’

 “In recent years, the lives of many Christians have been made unbearable by radical local groups with extremist ideologies. It seems that their aim is to free the Old City of Jerusalem from its Christian presence, even the Christian quarter.”

As Ha’aretz noted

The statement was unusual not just for its content, but also because of the cooperation between the different Christian denominations in Jerusalem. Throughout history, the relations between the different churches has mostly been one of hostility and disputes, sometimes even violent ones.

This cooperation seems similar to that of 2018 when most of the Christian leadership in Jerusalem joined together to protest the law concerning church-owned lands and the dispute with Jerusalem city hall over the collection of local property taxes from certain church-owned institutions. In what was an unusual step in protest at the time, the church leaders closed the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.

In an editorial Jerusalem Is a Holy City for Christians, Too Ha’aretz wrote that

Two issues that worry the heads of these communities more than any other are the personal security of their clergy in public places, and the takeover of key buildings in the Christian Quarter of the Old City by the right-wing settler group Ateret Cohanim. 

In most cases the assailants are Jewish teenage boys who assault them because of their clothing, curse them and spit at them.

For years, clergy of all Christian communities in Jerusalem have been considering concealing their identity in public places. The churches are also complaining that the police are not doing enough to protect them and punish their attackers.

The second issue is the unceasing efforts of Ateret Cohanim to have the residents removed from two buildings owned by the Greek Orthodox Church in the Christian Quarter, and move Jewish families into them. The buildings, the Imperial Hotel and the Petra Hotel, were purchased with a dubious contract for ridiculously low sums in 2005.

Jerusalem Church leaders have warned of “a systematic attempt” to drive Christianity out of the Holy Land.

What was the Jewish Chronicle’s response? Fury with Archbishop over ‘blinkered’ remarks on Christians in Holy Land. Justin Welby was ‘accused of ‘one-sided’ approach to Israel.’ Just about the only thing he wasn’t accused of was anti-Semitism. One wonders if what is happening in Jerusalem to Christian Churches were to happen to Jews in other parts of the world the Jewish Chronicle would complaint of ‘one sidedness’. As Martin Luther King observed:

 “The hottest place in Hell is reserved for those who remain neutral in times of great moral conflict.”

What then has the reaction of Christian Zionists been? You might think that their first response would be to defend their religious compatriots in Jerusalem. But you would be wrong. Christian Zionism is not a religious but a political movement. It is the religious cloak that imperialism wears and no-one understands this better than former British Cabinet member and Chair of Conservative Friends of Israel Lord Eric Pickles, who was quoted as saying that:

“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.”

Presumably Christian clergy being attacked in Jerusalem are not innocent. A more tone deaf response by someone who is Britain’s representative to the IHRA. Pickles went on to say that he was “disappointed in the blinkered and partial view on where the real problem for declining Christian numbers in the region lies”.

These racists really can’t help themselves. It’s not about birth rates although Christian numbers in Palestine have been falling not rising. In their response Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs emphasised that the Christian population in Israel – including in Jerusalem ‘is constantly growing’. Which is a lie or at best a half-truth.  In Jerusalem numbers are falling as Israel’s ethnic cleansing proceeds apace. In the rest of Israel Christian numbers are declining proportionately and in the West Bank, including Jerusalem, they are declining absolutely. In Bethlehem the number of Christians has declined to 22% compared to 84% a decade earlier.

Leading the attacks on Christians and the arson attacks is a fascist group, Lehava, which was funded by the Israeli state thanks to the present Israeli Ambassador, Tzipi Hotovely. In 2015 the Catholic Church filed a complaint against Benzi Gopstein, the head of Lehava, because he had openly advocated burning mosques and churches. Nothing was done by the Israeli authorities but if a Palestinian had advocated burning down synagogues then his feet wouldn’t have touched the floor.

See A strange Kind of Mercy, Ha’aretz 27.5.11 and Israel’s Tolerance for Lehava – the Fascist Terror Groups

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Tony Greenstein

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