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Greek Orthodox patriarch of Jerusalem concerned about Christians in holy city

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A crowd attends the Greek Orthodox patriarch’s blessing on Orthodox Good Friday in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Occupied Jerusalem on April 30, 2021. (Photo: Shutterstock)
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AMMAN — Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem Theophilos III has expressed concern over Christian existence in Jerusalem, stating in a column published in the Times of London, that radical Israeli groups seek to ultimately expel Christian communities from the holy city.اضافة اعلان

“Our brothers and sisters are the victims of hate crimes. Our churches are regularly desecrated and vandalized. Our clergy are subjected to frequent intimidation,” stated Theophilos III in his column.

Israeli officials have disagreed with the patriarch’s comments, describing them as unfounded claims.

The patriarch also commented on a joint statement released by multiple heads of churches based in Jerusalem, saying the statement did not explicitly say that attacks in Jerusalem were made by Israeli actors. “The statement by Church leaders in Jerusalem is particularly infuriating given their silence on the plight of many Christian communities in the Middle East suffering from discrimination and persecution.”

Theophilos III also clarified that such discriminatory actions by radicals “are not representative of the state of Israel or the Jewish people”, reminding that Jerusalem should be an inclusive city for the three Abrahamic faiths.

In an article provided by the office of Theophilos III to a local news outlet, the patriarch said that a key point of disagreement between Jerusalem’s Christians and some Zionist extremist groups is based on certain developments at the Jaffa Gate, which acts as the famous entrance that leads to the Christian quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem. The article states that certain Israeli groups want to gain control of two large buildings related to the gate through illicit means. “Such actions will lead some Christians to feel unwelcome”, the article stated.

Daoud Kuttab, a Palestinian journalist and publisher of Maghtas.com, a website dedicated to Christians in Jordan and Palestine, told Jordan News, “Christians have been present in Jerusalem since the birth of Christianity more than 2000 years ago. The activities in Jaffa Gate reflect an unholy alliance between various institutions of the government of Israel and the right-wing settler movement. They divide the roles but the goal is the same: to make Jerusalem less Palestinian Arab and more Jewish.”

Commenting on the ways in which Zionist extremists are harming Christian interests in Jerusalem, he stated that this is done through many ways. “The government is not vandalizing Christian sites, but it is turning a blind eye to those who are. They prey on differences between Palestinians, weakness of the Church to take over more property using the carrot and the stick; but more the stick,” he said, citing a recent episode in which the Israeli court fined the Orthodox Church $13 million after acknowledging the fact that “criminal Israelis” who are in jail forged documents related to land deals. “This is the best example of this duplicity,” he noted.

Issa Kassisieh, Palestinian ambassador to the Holy See, told Jordan News that in order to maintain the presence of Christians in Jerusalem, “we need to have a resilience plan, through building bridges rather than building walls”. The number of Christians in Jerusalem currently ranges between 9,000 to 10,000.

The ambassador also said that beyond focusing on the number of Christians, “we need to focus on their contributions to the city”. He said that a study by the Pontifical Mission to Jerusalem and Dar Al Kalima University College of Arts and Culture from a year ago has reported that churches and their related institutions are the third largest employers in Palestine, just behind the Palestinian Authority and UNRWA.

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