Christian leaders fear being driven out of Jerusalem

i24NEWS

4 min read
Catholic worshippers hold crosses as they take part in a Good Friday procession in Jerusalem's Old City on April 02, 2021.
Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90Catholic worshippers hold crosses as they take part in a Good Friday procession in Jerusalem's Old City on April 02, 2021.

'What we have here is a city that lives in a DNA of coexistence. We all see it, we all feel it'

A group of Christian church leaders in Jerusalem recently voiced that, despite Israel’s dedication to religious freedoms, they are concerned about their community’s future in the Holy Land. 

In a letter addressed to the State of Israel, a group of patriarchs cited Covid restrictions, property losses, and extremist violence against the Christian community as detriments to the mission of full religious freedom.

They noted that unless drastic changes were made, Jerusalem risks losing its Christian character.

"We are looking towards the future and after the Christians living in the Holy Land," Bishop Sani Ibrahim Azar, at the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer in Jerusalem, told i24NEWS.

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Christianity in Israel

Israel is home to the holiest sites in all of Christianity, as the Jewish state says religious freedom is of the utmost importance for all faiths.

A study from the Central Bureau of Statistics found that Israel’s Christian community is thriving, with 84 percent of community members saying they are happy with their lives in the state.

However, Jerusalem church leaders urge that the report is not the full story.

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“We experience people shouting ‘What are you doing’ in Hebrew and Arabic. That was, for us, a sign that we are not welcome anymore in the city,” Bishop Azar said.

The Old City’s Catholic Dormition Abby is another targeted site, with repeated extremist attacks including arson and anti-Christian vandalism.

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However, some Jerusalem officials say such attacks are not exclusive to Christians.

“Jews get attacked, Muslims get attacked, and Christians get attacked. This is not out of proportion,” Fleur Nassan-Nahoum, Jerusalem’s deputy mayor, told i24NEWS.

“[The city] lives in a DNA of coexistence. We all see it, we all feel it,” she added.

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Others say Christian fears are not only religious but representative of a much larger problem.

“Forty percent of the Palestinian population, including the Christians in the city, recognize Israel as an occupying power,” said Samer Sinijlawi, chair of the Jerusalem Development Fund.

"They are not integrated into the political system,” he told i24NEWS.

Despite strong reactions, Azar maintains that church heads are grateful for the religious freedom that Christians have in Israel, and that the letter was only meant to spark conversation.

“We are, as Christians, proud to be a part of the nation, of the people in the Holy Land,” Bishop Azar said.