Skip to main content

Jerusalem's Patriarchate urges 'international protection'

Patriarchate of Jerusalem calls for 'international protection' as attacks rise on Christian sites in occupied East Jerusalem
3 min read
20 March, 2023
The Patriarchate of Jerusalem has issued an appeal for international protection of holy sites after
Sunday's attack on worshippers at one of the ancient Churches in occupied East Jerusalem; the third attack since the start of 2023.
Christian worshipers at the Church of the Tomb of Mary in occupied East Jerusalem one day after two extremists attacked congregants there, 20 March 2023. [Ibrahim Husseini/TNA]

The Patriarchate of Jerusalem has issued an appeal for "international protection" of holy sites following an attack by fundamentalist Israelis on a church in occupied East Jerusalem on Sunday. 

"...terrorist attacks, by radical Israeli groups, targeting churches, cemeteries, and Christian properties, in addition to physical and verbal abuse against Christian clergy, have become almost a daily occurrence...," the Patriarchate of Jerusalem said in a statement. 

Sunday's attack on worshippers on one of the ancient Churches in occupied East Jerusalem is the third since the start of the year and is the brashest.

In January, two Jewish settlers vandalised a Christian cemetery near Jaffa Gate outside the Old City of Jerusalem. Then in February, A Jewish-American tourist vandalised a statue at a Catholic Church inside the Old City near Bab al-Asbat (Lion's Gate). 

Live Story

According to the Patriarchate, the assailants "attempted to cause physical harm" to Archbishop Joachim, who was leading the service, and attacked one of the Church's priests. 

"The Patriarchate calls upon the international community to intervene immediately to provide security and protection to the Christians of Jerusalem and their holy places, including the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which are being subjected to deplorable forms of violations and attacks at the hands of radical Israeli organisations," the statement added. 

Yesterday's attack against the Church of the Tomb of the Virgin Mary was the most serious. 

Bilal Abu Nab, a souvenir vendor, who apprehended one of the assailants, told The New Arab that he and a taxi driver witnessed the incident from the start. 

The "settlers," according to Bilal, arrived at the Church around 06:30 in the morning.  

"They went down the stairs and one of them removed his Kipa, then they shut the doors of the Church behind them," Bilal said to TNA. Kipa is the Hebrew word for the skullcap worn by orthodox male Jews at all times. 

Bilal added that the assailants wore traditional orthodox attire, including tassels attached to their trousers. 

Live Story

The 40-year-old souvenir vendor hurried after the two men. When he opened the church doors, he saw one hassling worshipers and another assaulting them with an iron bar. 

"They were spewing insults in Hebrew at people...I subdued the one hitting worshipers with the iron bar, and then I called for help," he said. 

One of the assailants managed to run away but was later caught near the Church by the same taxi driver. 

The Israeli police arrived some 40 minutes after the initial call, according to Bilal. 

In a statement, the police claimed the assailant is "Christian and suffers from mental instability."

Church of the Tomb of Mary in the Gethsemane in East Jerusalem. The site dates back to the 5th century and is in an underground rock-cut cave shaped like a cross with a wide staircase leading down to the Church, 20 March 2023.
[Ibrahim Husseini/TNA]

The site dates back to the fifth century and is in an underground rock-cut cave shaped like a cross with a wide staircase leading down to the Church. 

According to Christian tradition, the Church contains the tomb of Mary in its centre. 

In December 2020, the Israeli police arrested a man for trying to set fire to the Church of All Nations in Jerusalem near the Garden of Gethsemane, the site revered by Christians as where Jesus prayed before being crucified.

Over the past decade, Jewish extremists have been charged or blamed for arson attacks on a number of churches and mosques in the Holy Land

Israel occupied East Jerusalem after the 1967  war and illegally annexed the territory in a move not recognised by the international community. 

Some 230,000 Jewish settlers illegally live in occupied East Jerusalem, along with at least 360,000 Palestinians who want to make it the capital of their future state.

Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations have been stalled since 2014, and Israeli-Palestinian violence has worsened this year.