As Christmas approaches, the heads of the Christian churches in Jerusalem have launched a campaign denouncing a strategy aimed at “To drive Christians out of Jerusalem and other parts of the Holy Land”. In a rare joint communiqué signed by representatives of the Armenian, Orthodox, Catholic and Anglican churches, addressed to the Israeli authorities, religious leaders are concerned about the increase in violence against Christians in Jerusalem. “Since 2012, there have been countless physical and verbal attacks on the clergy and churches, holy places are regularly vandalized and desecrated” by radical groups, the statement explains.
They also denounce purchases “Strategic” of properties in the Christian quarter of the old town, “With the aim of reducing the Christian presence, often using intimidation techniques to evict residents”. The Greek Orthodox Patriarchate, behind the initiative, is one of the largest landowners in Israel and the Palestinian territories and has come under heavy criticism from Palestinians for selling three buildings located in the old town to Ateret Cohanim, an association of Israeli settlers. The Patriarchate, which claims to have been deceived as to the identity of the buyers, has failed to recover its property; today it is forced to guarantee the rents of the Palestinians who live there to protect them from eviction. Ateret Cohanim does not hide his intentions to replace them with Jews.
Jerusalem the real estate battle
Israel defended itself from these accusations: “The Christian population in Israel is constantly growing and is an integral part of the unique Israeli social fabric,” assured the spokesperson for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. According to the Central Bureau of Statistics, 182,000 Christians live in the country, a figure up 1.4% compared to 2020.
The launch of this campaign at Christmas, the season of pilgrimages, is not by chance. Religious tourism, which contributes $ 3 billion (2.7 billion euros) per year to the local economy, is an important source of income for the Christian community. The decision of the Israeli authorities to close the borders to fight against the Omicron variant in the run-up to the holidays, while making an exception for some groups of Jewish tourists, has sparked incomprehension and anger.
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In Jerusalem, the concern of Christians “attacked and intimidated”