On December 13, 2021, the thirteen Christian Patriarchs and heads of the Churches of Jerusalem issued a joint statement, drawing the attention of government authorities and the general public to the threat of the Christian presence in the Holy Land stemming from the activities of extremist groups.
They pointed out in particular the incidents of physical violence and insults against the holy clergy, attacks on Christian Churches and acts of vandalism of sacred rites, as well as attempts to undermine the integrity and cultural peculiarity of the Christian neighborhood in the Old City, Jerusalem.
Among those who signed the statement are the Primate of the Orthodox Church of Jerusalem His Beatitude Patriarch of the Holy City of Jerusalem and All Palestine Theophilos III, the Armenian Patriarch of Jerusalem Nourhan Manougian, the Apostolic Administrator of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa and other Christian leaders of the area.
Throughout the Holy Land, Christians have been the target of frequent and ongoing attacks by extremist groups.
Since 2012, priests and other members of the clergy have been subjected to countless attacks with physical and verbal violence, raids on Christian churches and acts of vandalism and desecration of sacred shrines, the terrorising of Local Christians, who simply want to be free to worship and live their daily lives.
By deliberately pursuing similar practices, extremist groups are trying to drive the Christian community out of Jerusalem and other parts of the Holy Land.
We note with gratitude that the Israeli government has publicly committed to guaranteeing the safety of Christians and defending their homes in the Holy Land, but also to maintaining the Christian community as an integral part of the local community mosaic.
As a result of the efforts being made in this direction, we consider the actions of the government, which are aimed at facilitating the millions of Christian pilgrims who visit the holy shrines of the Holy Lands.
It is therefore of great concern that efforts at the national level are being thwarted by the inability of local politicians, officials and public services to curb the activities of extremist groups whose members intimidate Local Christians, clerics, holy shrines and ecclesiastical property.
The principle of protecting the spiritual and cultural identity of the purely historic neighborhoods of Jerusalem is already enshrined in Israeli law regarding the Jewish quarter.
However, extremist groups, seeking to weaken the Christian presence, continue to acquire strategically important property in the Christian quarter, resorting to covert transactions and intimidation tactics in order to evict residents from their homes.
This leads to the dramatic decline of the Christian population and the further fragmentation of the historic pilgrimage routes between Bethlehem and Jerusalem.
The Christian pilgrimage, in addition to being a right of every Christian in the world, brings great benefits to Israel, contributing to its economic and social development.
According to a recent report by the University of Birmingham, Christian pilgrimage and tourism contribute $ 3 billion to the Israeli economy.
The local Christian community, although small in number and constantly shrinking, offers at the same time an incomparably wide range of services in a variety of fields, including education, health and humanitarian services in the communities of Israel, Palestine and Jordan.
Given the publicly committed commitment of the local political authorities of Israel, Palestine and Jordan to defending religious freedom, we urge them to take the initiative as soon as possible to:
1. address the challenges posed by the actions of extremist groups in Jerusalem for both the Christian community and the rule of law and to do our utmost to ensure that no citizen or institution is threatened with violence or intimidation;
2. Launch a dialogue to create a dedicated Christian cultural heritage site to ensure the integrity of the Christian Quarter in the Old City of Jerusalem and to preserve the unique character and heritage for the benefit of the local community and the well-being of the country and the world at large.
The Patriarchs and Heads of the Churches of Jerusalem.