Israel authorities discuss harassment faced by Christians in East Jerusalem Old City
The session dealt with the broad picture of tourism in the Old City and addressed the recent jump in harassment experienced by Christians in particular, Israeli newspaper The Jerusalem Post reported.
Organisations including the tourism, foreign affairs, interior, and justice ministries, as well as the Israeli police, were involved.
"The state of Israel allows freedom of religion and worship for everyone. I strongly condemn any harm to a tourist or to a Christian religious symbol," Tourism Minister Haim Katz said during the event.
"This is a despicable phenomenon that is contrary to the values of Judaism – the great rule of which is love your neighbour as yourself."
But church leaders criticised Israeli authorities earlier in 2023 ahead of the Holy Fire ceremony, a key ritual that takes place annually in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre – the most sacred place in Christianity.
"Israeli authorities… are enforcing unreasonable and unprecedented restrictions on access to the Holy Sepulchre," the Christian leaders said, warning the local community of believers would be especially impacted.
This year began with the desecration of Christian graves in a cemetery near Jerusalem's Old City on 2 January.
The following month, churchgoers said a statue of Jesus was hit with a hammer and toppled in a pilgrimage site on the Via Dolorosa – the path Jesus is believed to have taken before he was crucified.
"He had a hammer with him, and tried to hurt me, but I overpowered him," Palestinian guard Majed Al-Risheq told The New Arab at the time.
The alleged attacker reportedly cited Exodus – a book in the Jewish and Christian Bibles – as banning idols in Jerusalem while he was held to the ground, asking to be allowed to put his kippah on.
An American tourist was arrested by Israeli police, who at the time said the suspect was having his mental health evaluated.
Israeli tourism ministry director-general Danny Shahar, who was involved in Monday's meeting, said: "Every tourist who comes to Israel becomes our ambassador, and therefore we are committed to providing a unique and high-quality experience.
"Only with the help of cooperation and combining forces will we be able to eradicate the illegal and ugly phenomena against tourists."
But local Palestinian Christians and Muslims also feel their communities are under attack and that Israeli settlers and authorities wish to drive them out of East Jerusalem.
Israel has occupied East Jerusalem since 1967 and – like elsewhere in the West Bank – it maintains illegal settlements in the area.