Violent clashes involving the Israeli police, Palestinians and far-right Israelis have prompted Jerusalem’s highest-ranking Christian clerics — Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant — to issue a rare joint statement of concern. The statement was released Sunday ahead of Israeli celebrations of “Jerusalem Day,” which commemorates Israel’s capture of the Old City on 10 May 1967.
“We the patriarchs and heads of churches of Jerusalem, are profoundly disheartened and concerned about the recent violent events in East Jerusalem. These concerning developments, whether at the Al Aqsa Mosque or in Sheikh Jarrah, violate the sanctity of the people of Jerusalem and of Jerusalem as the City of Peace. The actions undermining the safety of worshipers and the dignity of the Palestinians who are subject to eviction are unacceptable,” the leaders wrote.
“The special character of Jerusalem, the Holy City, with the existing status quo, compels all parties to preserve the already sensitive situation in the Holy City of Jerusalem. The growing tension, backed mainly by right-wing radical groups, endangers the already fragile reality in and around Jerusalem.”
Among those church leaders who signed the statement were Greek Orthodox Patriarch Theophilos III, Armenian Apostolic Patriarch Nourhan, Latin Patriarch Pierbattista Pizzaballa, and the Franciscan custos of the Holy Land, Father Francesco Patton.
Pope Francis, prior to reciting the Regina Coeli before hundreds of people in St. Peter’s Square on Sunday, also expressed his concern for the ongoing clashes between Palestinians and Israelis.
“With particular concern I am following the events that are happening in Jerusalem,” he said. “I pray that it may be a place of encounter and not of violent clashes, a place of prayer and peace.”
“I invite everyone to seek shared solutions so that the multireligious and multicultural identity of the Holy City is respected and fraternity prevails,” the pope said.
“Violence begets violence,” the pope said. “Enough with the clashes.”
The tensions began with protests over the scheduled eviction of several Palestinian families from a disputed area of East Jerusalem, a counter protest by a Jewish extremist group, and access to Al-Aqsa Mosque for prayers during Ramadan.
The New York Times reports today that more than 330 Palestinians were injured when Israeli police entered the grounds surrounding the Al Aqsa Mosque, firing rubber-tipped bullets at stone-throwing Palestinians, who were attending prayers during the month of Ramadan. An estimated 21 police were injured. Violence is expected to continue through the day. While some marches scheduled in Jerusalem today by what some Israeli newspapers call “Jewish extremist groups” were canceled or postponed, others proceeded as planned. Many interpret these marches as taunting measures that provoke violence.
“This is a sacred city to the three monotheistic religions, and, based on international law and relevant U.N. resolutions, also a city where the Palestinian people, Christians and Muslims, have the same right to build a future based on freedom, equality and peace,” the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem stated separately. “The violence used against the worshipers undermines their safety and their rights to have access to the holy places and worship freely.”
Michael J.L. La Civita is CNEWA’s communications director.