Church leaders call for 'international protection' as attacks in Jerusalem by Jewish fanatics rise
Church leaders in Jerusalem have issued a fresh appeal for "international protection", seeking solidarity and support following a surge in anti-Christian attacks and harassment by Jewish extremists. In occupied East Jerusalem, pilgrims and the clergy have been the target of multiple attacks—2023 has also seen increasing acts of vandalism by Israeli settlers of church property.
Christian organisations, including the World Council of Churches (WCC), representing some 500 million Christians worldwide, are "demanding international protection" in light of repeated violence towards Christians in occupied East Jerusalem and within the 1948 boundaries that make up modern-day Israel.
"We demand international protection since Israel is the side ruling this land and not fulfilling its role of providing security and stopping the aggressors", Yousef Daher, Coordinator of the World Council of Churches in Jerusalem, said to The New Arab.
The Lutheran World Federation also expressed "concerns" about increased anti-Christian attacks by Jewish extremists and has called for the "protection of Christians in the Holy Land".
The Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem has also demanded international protection.
Recent images of Jewish Orthodox men spitting at Christian pilgrims carrying a cross near a church in the Old City in occupied East Jerusalem have stirred many emotions and renewed calls for intervention.
Some have even voiced fears that violence may escalate to the level of "murder".
The Vatican is reportedly seeking to engage the Israeli government about the matter.
New Jerusalem Cardinal Pierbattista Pizzaballa blamed radical religious leaders and a charged political atmosphere that is pro-settler in nature for the escalating violence towards Christians.
Pope Francis appointed Pizzaballa Cardinal on 30 September in a ceremony in Rome.
"The voice of Jerusalem became stronger in our religious Catholic context... also in the international communitty", Cardinal Pierbattista Pizzaballa commented on his new position within the Catholic Church.
The designation of Pizzaballa as Cardinal is undeniably a message by the Holy See to Israel regarding the importance of Jerusalem and the Holy Land from political and religious perspectives.
"It's a reminder for the Christians of the world and the Catholics that Jerusalem is the compass, the foundation and that the leader of the Jerusalem Church will have a seat [in Rome]", Rafi Ghattas, a Palestinian Christian Catholic activist who just attended Pierbattista Pizzaballa's cardinal-appointment ceremony.
The New Jerusalem cardinal has recently described Gaza under Israeli control as an 'open prison'.
The Catholic Church has some 1.3 billion followers worldwide.
Israeli gov't reacts
The outrage has prompted Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu to condemn the attacks, promising action against the perpetrators.
"Israel is fully committed to safeguarding the sacred right of freedom of worship and pilgrimage to the holy sites of all faiths. I strongly condemn any attempt to inflict harm on worshippers, and we will take urgent steps against such actions", the PM's office statement said.
How is this behaviour even remotely normal. Israelis literally spitting on Christians. An abomination no less. pic.twitter.com/lAz8T2UqJa— Bint (@PalBint) October 2, 2023
The Israeli police also stated that it is allocating special attention to violence towards people due to their religious background.
However, Daher from the WCC told TNA that offences often occur within the "sight of the police" with no intervention, adding the repeat in violence has led to mistrust towards the police.
"There are bad feelings between Church leaders and the police because they accuse the police of not ensuring security", he said.
Jewish settler leader Elisha Yered, suspected of the murder of Palestinian Qusai Mu'tan in Burqa in the occupied West Bank, has justified Jews spitting on Christians as "an ancient and long-standing Jewish custom", further adding, "Maybe under the influence of Western culture, we have somewhat forgotten what Christianity is, but I think the millions of Jews who suffered in exile from the Crusades, the torture of the [Spanish] Inquisition, blood libels and mass pogroms – will never forget".
Christians believe these attacks are motivated by a deep rejection of Christianity and ultimately aim to drive Christians out of the Holy Land.
The Lutheran World Federation has stated that it fears the Christian presence could disappear altogether from the Holy Land.
Daher echoed the same sentiment. "Jewish fanatics believe that they can drive the Christian minority out by oppressive actions", he said.