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Jerusalem’s Christian leaders concerned with increased tension in Old City


Catholic News Service

JERUSALEM — The heads of Jerusalem’s Christian churches expressed “serious concern” over an escalation in tensions in Jerusalem’s Old City as hostilities remained high following the mid-July shooting deaths of two Israeli policemen and three gunmen on the Al-Aqsa mosque compound.

Palestinian worshipers protest in Jerusalem July 20 because they refuse to pass through new security measures imposed at the entrance to the Al-Aqsa compound. (CNS photo/Abir Sultan, EPA)

Palestinian worshipers protest in Jerusalem July 20 because they refuse to pass through new security measures imposed at the entrance to the Al-Aqsa compound. (CNS photo/Abir Sultan, EPA)

The church leaders said they were worried that any change to the status quo of the site could “easily lead to serious and unpredictable consequences.”

Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa, apostolic administrator of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, and Franciscan Father Francesco Patton, custos of the Holy Land, were among the signatories of the July 19 statement.

Police believe the gunmen, three cousins, Arab citizens of Israel who were killed by Israel police, stashed their weapons inside the compound of the holy site for use in the July 14 attack.

“We express … our grief for the loss of human life and strongly condemn any act of violence,” the Christian leaders said. “We are worried about any change to the historical situation in Al-Aqsa Mosque (Haram ash-Sharif) and its courtyard, and in the holy city of Jerusalem. … We value the continued custody of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan on Al-Aqsa mosque and the holy places in Jerusalem and the Holy Land, which guarantees the right for all Muslims to free access and worship to Al-Aqsa according to the prevailing status quo.”

Israel, which maintains control to access the site and has set up metal detectors at the entrance of the compound, repeatedly has said it has no intentions of changing the status quo in the area. The Jordanian Waqf Islamic trust administers the inside of the compound. Non-Muslims are allowed to visit the site but cannot pray there.

The compound, known to Jews as the Temple Mount, is also considered a Jewish holy site as the historical location of the two Jewish biblical temples.

Today, Jews pray at the Western Wall, a retaining wall of the platform, below the compound. Visitors to the Western Wall plaza must go through metal detectors to enter the site.

Jerusalem Muslim leaders have called on worshippers not to go through the metal detectors, and Muslims have been converging outside the Old City’s Lion’s Gate for prayers instead.

“We renew our call that the historical status quo governing these sites be fully respected, for the sake of peace and reconciliation to the whole community, and we pray for a just and lasting peace in the whole region and all its people,” the Jerusalem church leaders said.

On July 14, the same day as the attack, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops condemned the incident as a “desecration.” The bishops said they mourned for those killed and deplored “the heightened tensions that such an attack can span.” They noted that the “path to peace, for which both Israelis and Palestinians yearn, cannot be paved with violence.”

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Church leaders condemn vandalism at two Christian sites in Jerusalem


Catholic News Service

JERUSALEM — One week after a Christian cemetery was desecrated outside of Jerusalem, two more Christian sites were vandalized in the city.

Several anti-Christian slogans in Hebrew were discovered scrawled along the walls of the Benedictine Dormition Abbey monastery and the neighboring Greek Orthodox seminary, both located on Mount Zion next to the walls of the Old City.

The Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem denounced the acts, which occurred Jan. 16 and 17, and repeated its belief in the importance of education toward tolerance while urging “follow-up” against those who incite intolerance against Christians.

“It is regrettable that such episodes of hatred come 50 years after ‘Nostra Aetate’ which initiated the interreligious dialogue of the Catholic Church with other religions, and turned a new page between Catholic Church and Judaism,” the patriarchate said in a statement Jan. 17. “We hope that the perpetrators will be arrested before proposed threats are carried out.”

For the Dormition Abbey, which is believed to have been built on the spot where Mary died, it was the fifth time the building was vandalized in recent years. A fire that broke out at the monastery in February was determined to be arson, and another arson incident took place just after Pope Francis’ visit to the monastery in May 2015. In 2012 and 2013, anti-Christian graffiti also appeared on abbey walls.

Authorities said the graffiti appeared to be written by different hands. Photographs depicting the graffiti showed statements such as “Christians go to hell,” “Death to the heathen Christians, the enemies of Israel” and “Let his (Jesus’) name and memory be obliterated.”

Benedictine Father Nikodemus Schnabel, spokesman for the abbey, said in a statement Jan. 17 that the red and black paint the Israeli police used to crudely and unsuccessfully try to cover up the graffiti did even more damage.

He noted that between the nights of Jan. 16 and 17, there had been a loud and aggressive gathering with music and chanting by “Jewish right-wing radicals” in their neighborhood near the contested Tomb of David site. He said such disruptive gatherings have taken place nearly every Saturday for three years.

The graffiti, he said, was found in an area of the monastery that is not monitored by security cameras despite what he said was promised by Israeli security authorities in the summer 2013 when several monastery cars were badly damaged and hate graffiti was discovered on monastery walls.

Mickey Rosenfeld, Israeli police spokesman, said he was unaware of such a promise about cameras and that police were investigating the most recent.

“We call on the security agencies to take appropriate measures against this hate crime and to work toward an improvement of the security situation on Mount Zion as it has been promised since summer 2013,” Father Schnabel said in his statement. “We are grateful for the overwhelming solidarity of all our friends in Israel. We as monks of Dormition Abbey will not cease to pray for reconciliation, justice and peace and also for the perpetrators of tonight, that hatred may disappear from their hearts.”

As they have done since 2011 after other incidents, Tag Meir, a faith-based organization working to end racism in Israel, sent a delegation of members in support of the monastery and seminary to denounce the attack.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu condemned the attacks during a weekly cabinet meeting, saying “there is no place for actions like these.”

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