In Jerusalem, the holy city of three religions, there is a new conflict. Christians have announced attacks by radicals, but the authorities turn a blind eye to this. Believers fear that pilgrims will not be able to pray in such significant places as the Church of the Holy Sepulcher or the Garden of Gethsemane. About a difficult and very confusing situation – in the material of RIA Novosti.
“Life has become unbearable”
Bells ringing, the call of the muezzin, the aroma of incense and the smoke of a hookah – it’s not for nothing that the locals call Jerusalem “the center of the Earth”. Different cultures and eras are mixed here, especially in the Christian quarter of the Old City. One street, hung with flags with red crosses, belongs to Orthodox Greeks. Another, with portraits of Pope Francis – to Catholics. The third one has Coptic symbols, and across the alley there are inscriptions in Aramaic, the language of Christ. In the same place, French speech is heard from the temple: this is the sovereign territory of France. After a couple of houses on a large square, they speak Russian, here is the Aleksandrovskoe Podvorie.
The colorful quarter is inhabited by two thousand Christians – only two percent of the total population of the city. Most live in houses that have been inherited since at least the 12th century. Recently, however, people are being ousted. “The community suffers from systematic attempts to limit the ability of Christians to stay in their historic homes and districts,” said Patriarch Theophilos of Jerusalem the other day.
He blames the troubles on “Jewish radical groups” who are constantly intimidated. “Since 2012, countless crimes have been committed against Christians,” the hierarch continues, “including physical and verbal attacks on priests and other clerics; temples were attacked, holy places were vandalized and systematically desecrated.”
As a result, the followers of Christ went to a protest at the Jaffa Gate: Patriarch Theophilus, together with the spiritual leaders of Catholics and Armenians in the Holy Land, called on politicians to restore order. “In recent years, the life of many Christians has become unbearable due to radical local groups with extremist ideologies. It seems that their goal is to free the Old City of Jeru-salem from the Christian presence, even the Chris-tian quarter,” said Catholic Custodian of the Holy Land Francesco Patton.
“In Jerusalem, perhaps, there is not a single priest in whose direction they did not spit. And by Eastern standards, this is a great insult. This has happened to me many times: you walk along the street past a group of young people, and they defiantly spit – if not at you, then under your feet, “says priest Alexander Zanemonets. He explains that the offended people cannot do anything: “If they got in with their fists, you can go to court. But this form of attack is not punishable, so the authorities shrug their shoulders.” Basically, according to the priest, aggression is shown by marginal groups, “in general, the Jews are quite tolerant.” However, the cases, he notes, are not at all isolated.
Sometimes they turn from threats to business. In August, radicals sawed down an iron cross in a church in the village of Tabgha on the shores of Lake Kinneret. The temple was built on the site of the “miracle of the five loaves”, performed by Jesus Christ, therefore the act of vandalism especially outraged the believers. Police said the attackers were not recorded on cameras.
They did not find those who set fire to the Romanian temple in Jerusalem at the beginning of February. And two months before that, the famous Church of All Nations in the Garden of Gethsemane, in which Christ prayed before the crucifixion, was on fire. The culprit, a 49-year-old Israeli, was detained.
In May last year, offensive graffiti was left on the gates of the Assumption Monastery on Mount Zion: “Let’s kill the pagans!” and “Death to Christians, enemies of Israel !” The community blamed Jewish radicals. “Incidents like these only reinforce the belief of many Christians that the Holy Land is becoming an increasingly inhospitable place for them,” said Anita Delhaas, executive director of the International Society of the Holy Sepulcher.
The Israeli police assu-red that they condemn “any damage to religious institutions.” “Every complaint of vandalism is thoroughly and professionally investigated in order to establish the truth and find those involved, so that they bear the responsibility establish-ed by law,” they said. “We are working to preserve h-oly places, and also protect those who visit and pray.” Despite this, believers are worried that pilgrims will stop going to the Holy Land altogether.
Fight for the quarter
The pilgrims have not been seen here for many months – due to the pandemic. According to various estimates, the Christian pilgrimage brings the country up to three billion dollars annually. First of all, pilgrims rush to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher – the main shrine, to which access may be blocked.
The reason is numerous property disputes. The Jerusalem Patriarchate has been suing for many years over several buildings in the city center that were taken over by Jewish organizations in the mid-2000s. First of all, we are talking about the Imperial Hotel at the Jaffa Gate: the famous “pilgrim street” begins there. Once the hotel belonged to the church, in the 2000s it was rented out by the patriarch Irenaeus. Without agreement with the synod, for which he was dismissed in 2005. The successor – Theophilus – has been trying to return the property for a long time.
The litigation lasted 14 years, but the Israeli court sided with the Jews. Christians disagree: The decision undermines an already fragile status quo. The fact is that the Old City belongs to East Jerusalem, which does not have a clear legal status. Since 1967, it has been de facto owned by Israel, which the UN does not recognize. A large part of the population here are Arabs, and they consider the area to be Palestinian territory.
“Even Yasser Arafat, the head of the Autonomy, issued a decree that, on pain of death, forbade the sale of real estate to Jews. But many Arabs, who did not live in the best conditions, wanted to get money. associated with Israel, “explains the historian and orientalist Mikhail Yakushev, who has worked as a diplomat in the Middle East for over 20 years.
According to him, Christian churches are unhappy with the “gradual Judaization” of the Old City. First of all, Jerusalem is the largest landowner in the region.
The situation is aggravated by tough antiquated measures. Despite the closed borders, the authorities allowed Jewish pilgrims to enter the country, which greatly angered other communities. Local Christians called this approach discriminatory.
“Thousands of believers want to visit holy places, but they cannot. It is not only illegal, but also immoral!” – says Wadi Abunassar, spokesman for the council of churches in Jerusalem.
Tel Aviv responded harshly: such statements are “false and dangerous.” “We expect that religious leaders will not engage in groundless discourse about hatred and incitement,” the Israeli Foreign Ministry said. “This only adds fuel to the fire of anti-Semitism, can lead to violence and harm innocent people.”
The authorities explained that a special committee issues special permits for entry into the country “to both Jews and Christians, including clergy”, and this does not depend on the pilgrims’ affiliation with one religion or another. However, the believers were not satisfied with the answer. The situation in the Holy Land, at the center of the pilgrimage of Christians, Jews and Muslims, is becoming more difficult.