“Our churches are threatened by radical Israeli fringe groups,” Patriarch Theophilos III wrote in a column published last Saturday in the British daily The Times. “In the hands of these Zionist extremists,” said the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem, “the Christian community in Jerusalem is suffering greatly.”
Theophilos accused the growing number of attacks on Christians and churches of attempting to drive the Christian community out of the Old City of Jerusalem, which is home to Christians, Jews and Muslims and their holy sites.
“Our brothers and sisters are victims of hate crimes,” he wrote.
The chronicle appeared on January 8, the day after the celebration of Christmas by Greek Orthodox Christians.
According to the Orthodox Times, the patriarch attended a Christmas Eve dinner in Bethlehem at which he gave a speech describing an increase in verbal and physical assaults on Christians by radical Israeli groups who “commit their crimes in an attempt deliberate expulsion of Christians from Jerusalem and other parts of the Holy Land.
In the speech, Theophilos highlighted the assaults on the Christian presence “in particular at the Jaffa Gate in Jerusalem, the entry of pilgrims into the Church of the Holy Sepulcher and the various monasteries and churches in the Old City, in addition actions of distortion of the cultural and historical identity of the New Gate area.
In his Christmas Eve address and in his Times article, Theophilos went one step beyond a December 13 statement issued by thirteen Christian leaders and church leaders in Jerusalem. The statement had expressed the leaders “grave concern” that the Israeli government’s commitment to provide a safe home for Christians in the Holy Land “is betrayed by the failure of local politicians, officials and law enforcement to curb violence. activities of radical groups that intimidate local Christians, assault the priest and clergy, and desecrate holy places and church properties.
Theopholis identified radical groups as Israelis, as Zionist extremists.
Israeli officials on Sunday dismissed Theophilos’ accusations as unfounded and pointed to a Foreign Ministry press release issued on December 22 that rebuked an earlier statement by religious leaders. The Israeli government press release states that “the Christian population in Israel – including Jerusalem – enjoys full freedom of religion and worship, is steadily growing, and is part of the unique fabric of Israeli society” and has wished that “all Christians in the Holy Land and across the world, a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!”
In his speech on Christmas Eve, delivered in Arabic, Patriarch Theophilos said: Christianity which then spread to the whole world. The entire Christian world is responsible for the survival of Christians in our beloved Holy Land and in the Middle East in general. We affirm our demand to preserve… the mosaic and the diversity of the city so that Jerusalem is the spiritual center of the three monotheistic religions.
BEFORE YOU LEAVE – Stories like the one you just read are the result of years of efforts by activists and media like us supporting them by spreading the word, slowly but relentlessly.
It is not a coincidence. Our work has helped create breakthroughs in the way the general public understands the Palestinian struggle for freedom.
Mondoweiss is playing a key role in helping to change the narrative around Palestine. Will you donate so that we can continue to tell in 2022 the stories that will change the world in 2023, 2025 and 2030?