Jerusalem’s Heads of Churches Protest Israeli Police Action

Jerusalem?s highest ranking Christian clerics ? Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant ? issued a statement yesterday.

Jerusalem’s highest ranking Christian clerics — Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant — issued a statement yesterday protesting the actions of the Israeli police during the celebrations of the Holy Fire last Saturday in the Old City of Jerusalem:

“We, the Heads of Churches in Jerusalem, watched with sorrowful hearts the horrific scenes of the brutal treatment of our clergy, people and pilgrims in the Old City of Jerusalem during Holy Saturday [in the Julian calendar] last week,” the leaders wrote.

“A day of joy and celebration was turned to great sorrow and pain for some of our faithful because they were ill-treated by some Israeli policemen who were present around the gates of the Old City and passages that lead to the Holy Sepulchre.”

According to The Times of Israel, three high-ranking Egyptian diplomats were evicted from the church during the liturgy. A Coptic Orthodox bishop who accompanied the diplomats “was beaten during the incident and briefly lost consciousness. He was treated at a Jerusalem hospital and later released.”

The Times also reported that Israel’s deputy foreign minister, Ze’ev Elkin, offered a verbal apology to Cairo for the “rough treatment” of three Egyptian diplomats on 9 May, a day after “Israel’s ambassador in Cairo, Yaakov Amitai, was summoned by the Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Ministry spokesman Amr Roshdy said in a press conference that Amitai was issued a ‘strongly worded’ complaint about the treatment of the Egyptian diplomats.”

The heads of the churches stated that they “understand the necessity and the importance of the presence of security forces to ensure order and stability, and for organizing the celebration of the Holy Fire at the Church of the Resurrection. Yet, it is not acceptable that under pretext of security and order, our clergy and people are indiscriminately and brutally beaten, and prevented from entering their churches, monasteries and convents.

“We urge the Israeli authorities especially the Ministry of Interior and the police department in Jerusalem, to seriously consider our complaints, to hold responsibility and to condemn all acts of violence against our faithful and the clergy who were ill-treated by the police.”

CNEWA’s regional director for Palestine and Israel, Sami El-Yousef — a resident of the Old City who belongs to one of Jerusalem’s oldest Christian families — noted that each year Israeli “security” measures surrounding the Holy Fire become more restrictive, bringing back “memories of my ONE magazine article about the same old story that was published in the May 2010 edition. This year, however, was much worse than in 2010 as the Israeli police were brutal.”

In their statement, Jerusalem’s Christian leaders recognized these enhanced security measures, which effectively prevent the local Christian community from participating in the Easter celebrations, stating that “every year, the police measures are becoming tougher, and we expect that these accidents will not be repeated and the police should be more sensitive and respectful if they seek to protect and serve.

“We also denounce all those who are blaming the churches and holding them responsible of the Israeli measures during Holy Week celebrations. On the contrary, the heads of churches in Jerusalem condemn all of these measures and violations of Christians’ rights to worship in their churches and Holy Sites. Therefore, we condemn all measures of closing the Old City and urge the Israeli authorities to allow full access to the Holy Sites during Holy Week of both church calendars.”

Among those who signed the statement were Greek Orthodox Patriarch Theophilos III, Latin Patriarch Fouad, Armenian Apostolic Patriarch Norhan and the Franciscan custos of the Holy Land, Father Pierbattista Pizzaballa.

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