Churches in occupied East Jerusalem are concerned about an increase in attacks by Israeli extremists on Christian property in the city.
Current and former church officials told the Anadolu Agency (AA) that frequent attacks on Christian property have ceased without punishment for the perpetrators.
On Sunday, Israeli extremists destroyed 30 graves with crosses in a Christian cemetery belonging to the Evangelical Episcopal Church in East Jerusalem.
“The Israeli Foreign Ministry condemns the act of vandalism at the Protestant Cemetery on Mount Zion in Jerusalem,” the Israeli Foreign Ministry said in a statement on Wednesday.
History of attacks
On December 27, 2022, dozens of settlers stormed a 5,000 square meters (53,820 sq ft) plot of land in Silwan, south of Jerusalem’s Old City, under Israeli police protection.
The Greek Orthodox Patriarchate denounced the settlers’ raid as a “clear encroachment” on its property in Jerusalem.
“This radical group has no right or judicial support in their favor to allow them to enter or occupy land,” the statement said.
The patriarchy referred to the fact that two years ago, the settlers’ association tried to seize the Imperial and Little Petra hotels located in Omar ibn al-Khattab Square in the Old City of Jerusalem.
Conviction awaiting punishment
Former Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of the Holy Land, Munib Younan, stated: “The attack on the cemetery, which tells the story of Lutherans since the 19th century, is a testament to the hatred of the attackers.”
During his interview, AA Younan said that the attack on the cemetery “is unacceptable and should not only be condemned, but those responsible should be punished.”
He emphasized that the aggressors “sought to seize the gates of Hebron by seizing the Imperial and Petra hotels, which would lead to the control of local and international Christian pilgrimage to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in the Old City.”
The recent attacks were not limited to the property of the Lutheran Church, but also included the property of other Christian denominations, including those belonging to the Greek Orthodox Church.
A spokesman for the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate, Father Issa Musleh, said: “Extremists attack churches and monasteries in the same way that they attack the Holy Mosque of Al-Aqsa.”
“Our Muslim brothers are under the same attacks as we are, we have the same reasons,” he added.
He attributed the growing decline in the number of Christians in the Holy Land in part to the fact that Christians feel they are being targeted by extremists.
Father Musleh urged Christians to return to their lands to resist “the attack on the settlers”, noting that “they are after us to push us out, but we will stay until a Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital is established.”
Musle said: “The presence of an extremist right-wing government in Israel scares not only us, but the whole world.”
Against the unknown
Over the years, Wadih Abu Nassar, a representative of the Council of Heads of Catholic Churches in Jerusalem, has investigated numerous attacks with the Israeli authorities.
“We are not talking about single attacks, but about dozens of attacks over the past few years, most of which were recorded against unknown persons,” he said.
“This issue cannot be accepted,” Abu Nassar added. “Advanced security services must be used to crack down on hate crimes and bring perpetrators to justice.”
He warned against the development of terrorist attacks in the future and their violation of cemeteries.
“The continuation of the attacks will make their perpetrators believe that they are untouchable, their attacks will not end in cemeteries,” Abu Nassar said.
He also pointed out that “hate crimes stem from an educational problem,” adding, “A radical solution is needed.”
Abu Nassar gave examples of how easily the Israeli authorities treat hate crimes.
“In the case of the attack on the church of the Gethsemane Grotto in Jerusalem, the attacker was arrested, then declared mentally deranged,” he stressed, explaining: “The Israeli authorities behave strangely with such crimes. If the attack is documented through cameras, the authorities say that the faces are blurred, and when the aggressors are arrested, they are always mentally ill.”
“I do not exclude that the Christian presence is a target, according to some Jewish fundamentalists, the Christian is the enemy. There are ideological aspects, not just political ones, just as I do not rule out hatred among some,” he added.