GENEVA, Thursday, June 23, 2022 (WAFA) – The World Council of Churches recently voiced deep concern over escalating threats to Christian presence in the Holy Land.
In a press statement about its meeting in Geneva, Switzerland, on 15-18 June 2022, the Central Committee of the World Council of Churches (WCC), said that it observed with deep concern that recent events in Israel and Palestine have highlighted the mounting obstacles to a just peace in the region, and escalating threats to the Christian presence in the land of Christ’s birth, ministry, death and resurrection.
Commenting on statements by the hierarchs of Jerusalem churches, WCC Central Committee said that during the past seven months, the local Heads of Churches have issued no fewer than seven statements highlighting the threats posed by the attacks of extremist groups against clergy and church premises, Israeli limitations on freedom of religion and access to holy sites, and other actions that threaten that Status Quo and the multi-religious and multi-cultural identity of Jerusalem.
In the first such statement on 13 December 2021, local Heads of Churches in Jerusalem called on the occupying authorities 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”; and to “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.”
However, the latest developments indicate a rapidly deteriorating situation. For example, member churches’ most solemn religious observances were seriously disrupted, inhibited and in some cases prevented during Holy Week 2022. More recently, on 9 June 2022, the Israeli Supreme Court dismissed the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate’s attempt to annul a 2017 decision that gave the Israeli settler organization Ateret Cohanim the right to the expropriated Church properties at Jaffa Gate (New Imperial Hotel and Petra Hotel) following highly controversial and contested dealings in 2004. The properties concerned represent a major part of the ‘footprint’ of the Christian presence in Jerusalem. The consequences of this decision are therefore expected to be devastating for the Church and for the Christian community, seriously undermining the identity of the Christian Quarter of the city.
Three days earlier, on 6 June, Israeli extremists broke into the Chapel of Pentecost of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate on Mount Zion, a site that has often been subject to attacks, vandalization and trespassing by such radicals. However, no arrests or other law enforcement actions against the perpetrators have been undertaken. Such attacks continue because of the impunity the perpetrators enjoy.
Further, the lack of accountability for the Israeli soldiers considered most likely responsible for the killing of journalist Shireen Abu Akleh on 11 May 2022 contrasts sharply with the response to recent attacks on Israelis, in which Palestinians responsible for such attacks were killed, their homes demolished and their families displaced. The discrimination against Palestinians is overt and systemic, and the ongoing half-century-long occupation continues to contradict the equal human dignity and human rights of Palestinians living under this system of control, while the response of the international community continues to reflect egregious double standards.
Meanwhile in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem, including in Sheikh Jarrah, Khan Al-Khalil and elsewhere, many Palestinian communities continue to be threatened with forced displacement. 1,200 Palestinians including 500 children are threatened with eviction and the demolition of their homes in Masafer Yatta’s Firing Zone 918, Hebron. On 4 May 2022, Israel’s High Court dismissed the residents’ petition, which sets the stage for the largest forcible transfer of Palestinians since the beginning of the occupation in 1967, and a serious breach of international humanitarian and human rights law. The Israeli Civil Administration, the name Israel gives to the body administering its military occupation of the West Bank, moved quickly after the Court decision, and on 11 May 2022 already demolished 19 homes, storage rooms, and animal sheds in the community.
The WCC Central Committee therefore expressed its deep solidarity with the member churches and Christians of the region in their life and work, keeping the Christian faith and witness in the Holy Land alive and vibrant, as well as with all people in the region.
It urged all member churches and ecumenical partners, members of Jewish and Muslim communities, and all people of goodwill, to support the member churches and Christian communities of the Holy Land as essential components of the diverse multi-religious and multicultural nature of society in the region, including the Christian presence in the region.
It called upon the government and authorities of Israel to ensure equal human rights for all people living under their responsibility, and to ensure accountability for attacks and violations against Palestinians, against the holy places, churches, Christian communities, Muslims and other groups, and to ensure free access to places of worship and holy sites.
It appealed to all members of the international community, all WCC member churches and ecumenical partners, and all people of goodwill to stand up for international law and to speak out against the looming evictions in Masafer Yatta and other threatened displacements of Palestinian communities in the occupied territories.
It profoundly regretted that so many apparently insurmountable obstacles have been placed in the way of the longstanding commitment and desire for a just two-state solution in accordance with international resolutions and established WCC policy.
It reiterated the WCC’s constant call for an end to the occupation, and for equal human rights for all in the region.