Jerusalem church leaders denounce Israeli efforts to 'weaken Christian presence'
The heads of churches in Jerusalem on Monday criticised what they say is a breach of the religious status quo in the city, as a real estate war between the Orthodox Church and the Israeli state continues to escalate.
Last month an Israeli court upheld the 2004 sale of two hotels near Jaffa Gate in Jerusalem's Old City between the Greek Orthodox Church and Israeli settler organisation Ateret Cohanim, a group which works to create a Jewish majority in Jerusalem through the purchase of Palestinian properties.
The church has been fighting the property deal in court for the past decade, arguing it was conducted illegally and the properties should be returned to the church.
A recent draft law in the Knesset to transfer church land sold to private citizens to the Israeli state has also caused consternation among church officials.
The bill has yet to be passed but could damage future church property deals.
The heads of the Greek Orthodox, Catholic, Ethiopian, Armenian, Greek Catholic, Syrian and other churches denounced both decisions in a rare joint statement on Monday.
"We see in these actions a systematic attempt to undermine the integrity of the Holy City of Jerusalem and the Holy Land, and to weaken the Christian presence", the statement said, according to Haaretz.
"We affirm in the clearest possible terms that a vital, vibrant Christian community is an essential element in the make-up of our diverse society, and threats to the Christian community can only increase the troubling tensions that have emerged in these turbulent times".
The church leaders called on the heads of government and the international community to challenge what they say is a "systematic assault" on the city's historical status quo.
In recent years, Jewish extremists have targeted churches in East Jerusalem and Israel with anti-Christian graffiti and arson attacks.
In July, a 22-year-old settler from the outpost of Baladim in the occupied West Bank was found guilty of setting fire to the Church of the Multiplication complex in Tabgha on the Sea of Galilee, where Christians believe Jesus performed the miracle of the loaves and fishes.
The majority of Palestinian Christians in the occupied Palestinian territory, Israel, and Jordan are Greek Orthodox.
The Orthodox Church is one of the largest property owners in the Holy Land, including the Old City.