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ICC Note: Church leaders in Jerusalem’s Old City say that they are being verbally abused and church property vandalized. Priests point to three causes of this tension: property acquisition demands by Jewish settlers, new tax demands by the city council, and a proposal which would expropriate church lands. The Old City is home to religious sites that are of critical importance to Christians, Jews, and Muslims.     

05/02/2018 Israel (The Guardian) –   Christians in Jerusalem’s Old City say their presence at the geographical heart of their faith is under threat from intimidation and aggressive property acquisition by hardline Jewish settlers.

According to church leaders, priests are being verbally abused and spat at, and property vandalised.

Tensions have risen this year in the Christian and Armenian quarters of the 1 sq km ancient walled city, which includes the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the holiest place in Christianity where Jesus was believed to be crucified and resurrected. The Old City is also home to places of critical religious importance to Jews and Muslims.

The churches say they are facing onslaught on three fronts: a war of attrition waged by hardline settlers; unprecedented tax demands by Jerusalem city council; and a proposal to allow the expropriation of church land sold to private developers.

Theophilos III, the Greek Orthodox patriarch of Jerusalem and the most senior Christian leader in the Holy Land, told the Guardian: “Today the church faces a most severe threat at the hands of certain settler groups. The settlers are persistent in their attempts to erode the presence of the Christian community in Jerusalem.

“These radical settler groups are highly organised. Over the last years we have witnessed the desecration and vandalism of an unprecedented number of churches and holy sites and receive growing numbers of reports from priests and local worshippers who have been assaulted and attacked.

“Where the authorities are concerned, this behaviour goes largely unchecked and unpunished.”

At Mount Zion, just outside the Old City walls, undeveloped land owned by the church and often referred to as the “Greek garden” is regularly vandalised, according to Moni Shama, a church caretaker.

Trees have been uprooted, garbage left, graffiti scrawled on stones and paint thrown inside the ancient Chapel of Pentecost, he said. Three years ago, a Greek Orthodox seminary at the site was set alight.

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