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Christian community in the Holy Land under threat after attacks

Jerusalem24 – The Christian community in occupied East Jerusalem has been the target of an increasing number of attacks against persons and property. 29 violations against Christian and Islamic worship places were recorded during the month of January, according to the Palestine Center for Information–Moata.

A church in the Old City of occupied East Jerusalem was vandalized and a statue of Jesus was smashed last Thursday. Israeli police claim the perpetrator is an American tourist.

However, the Jerusalem Governorate claimed in a press statement on Thursday that three Israeli settlers stormed the Church of the Condemnation, located at the Second Station of the Via Dolorosa, smashed the statue of Jesus, and then attempted to set the church on fire.

The week before, on 28 January, Israeli settlers attacked an Armenian restaurant near the New Gate in the Christian Quarter of the Old City, and hurled chairs at the restaurant and diners.

On 16 January, the Jerusalem Israeli District Attorney’s Office filed indictments against two Israeli teenagers after they broke into the Protestant Christian cemetery on Mount Zion and vandalized over 30 graves.

Silence from Israeli leaders

Wadea Abu Nassar, advisor to the churches in the Holy Land, tells Jerusalem24 that five incidents of violations against Christians and Christian worship places were recorded in just two weeks.

“We’re talking about tens of incidents during the last year too,” he says. “Most remain with no indictment.”

Abu Nassar says the Christian community is “upset” by the excuses given for the lack of accountability in bringing the perpetrators of such religiously-motivated attacks to justice.

First and foremost, Abu Nassar says, the lack of indictment is a main driver of the problem. “We know that the security establishment in Israel is one of the strongest in the world. Why is it when Jews are attacked it’s easy to find and indict the perpetrators?” he questions. “When a Jew commits an attack they want us to believe that it is a very exceptional incident, or a mentally-ill person, or someone who just got out of track.”

Abu Nassar also points out that the Israeli leadership does not condemn (sufficiently) such violations and acts by Israeli perpetrators. “We almost hear nothing by top Israeli leaders when Israeli violence targets Palestinians.”

The frequency of these incidents suggests that there is an educational problem in addition to security problems, he argues.

“We believe that the security establishment and leadership know who are the inciting rabbis – some of their names are known in public. So, we expect some more actions, and we highlight that those who attack Christians with no punishment feel like they’re immune and won’t stop their violations.”

This phenomenon is very dangerous, says Abu Nassar.

Life for Christians in Jerusalem

Across the Holy Land, and particularly in the Old City of occupied East Jerusalem, people feel afraid, says Abu Nassar. “They feel like no one is there to protect them, and there is a mistrust toward the Israeli establishment. Some think of leaving here.”

The population of Christians of all denominations in Jerusalem stands at around 12,000 today – down from 30,000 in 1945, three years before the creation of Israel.

The churches and the Christian community in Jerusalem are trying to encourage Christians to stay in the land which is the birthplace of Christianity. “We together are trying to think of non-violent strategies on how to confront these challenges, which are not only against Christians but the society as a whole.”

In order to deal with the immediate and deteriorating security situation, the Christian community has taken to installing cameras in churches and cemeteries. “This has never happened,” says Abu Nassar. “I don’t know any cemetery in the world where cameras are installed to document attacks.”

There are consultations among churches and Christian leaders, says Abu Nassar, on arranging to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in order to demand clarifications and action on the part of the government: “We demand different and new instructions to the police and security forces in dealing with the attacks.”

And the fate of the Christian community is tied to the wider fate of Palestinians. Abu Nassar says the Church is “not neutral” on the Palestinian-Israeli issue as many claim.

“The church is in favor of justice,” he explains. “The church insists that this conflict needs to be resolved today based on justice, meaning every people have to have their right of self-determination.”

Listen to the full interview to find out about the challenges faced by the Christian community in Palestine on Wake Up Palestine.

Nadeen Alshaer

Alshaer is a Palestinian journalist, a Birzeit University graduate with a B.A. in TV and Radio Broadcasting Journalism. Alshaer has 6 years of experience in journalism. She currently works as a reporter, editor and presenter/producer for PBC-Palestine TV and Jerusalem24 radio. She’s a UN and Kelley School of Business alumna.

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