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Churches in Jerusalem resist Zionist settlers and radicals

JERUSALEM: Churches in Jerusalem are up in arms against Jewish “radicals” who are settling in the Christian Quarter and threatening a fragile religious balance in the ancient Holy City. “We have a major problem here,” said Greek Orthodox Patriarch Theophilus III in Jerusalem’s Old City, which is split into historic Jewish, Muslim, Christian and Armenian quarters.

“Jerusalem also has her Christian character, and that is what is threatened,” he said, as Christian worshippers readied for Easter celebrations. The patriarch charged that hardline Jewish settlers, known for a push to take over properties of Palestinian families, are also waging a campaign for control of Christian-owned lands. “Those radicals are driven by their ideology,” Theophilus III said. “Their ideology is the syndrome of messianism, when they claim ‘we want to redeem the Holy Land from the profanes.”

The nationalist settler group Ateret Cohanim has worked to “Judaise” east Jerusalem-a Palestinian sector illegally annexed by Zionists according to the UN-by purchasing real estate through front companies and then moving Jewish settlers in. Since 2005, the group and the Orthodox church have been engaged in a complex legal wrangle over ownership of an Old City hostel at the Jaffa Gate entrance to the Christian Quarter.

The dispute took a fresh turn on March 27, when settlers took over part of the Petra Hotel by “breaking and entering”, according to the Greek Orthodox Church. Theophilus III said the Zionist government “promised us that they will try their best to deal with this issue, and put pressure on those radical groups to get out”. But, after more than two weeks, the settlers are still there, he said. “It seems that the state doesn’t have the power or the will to (put pressure) on those people,” he added.

‘Big, big drama’

Hagit Ofran, of the anti-settler group Peace Now, said the dispute is “a big, big drama, because it’s such a strategic place at the entrance to the Christian Quarter, a huge compound where they can bring hundreds of settlers.” Ofran warned that “if they succeed, this is changing the whole character of the Old City-and of course of the Christian Quarter.” About 300 Jewish settlers already live in the Christian Quarter.

The churches have voiced alarm about the trend, as well as acts of vandalism and anti-Christian aggression, arguing the problem extends beyond the ancient heart of Jerusalem. On the outskirts of the Old City, on the Mount of Olives where several prominent churches stand, Zionist entity plans to expand a park that will encroach on land belonging to Christian institutions.

The three communities concerned-Greek Orthodox, Armenian and Franciscan-sent a strongly worded letter to the authorities in February. “In recent years, we cannot help but feel that various entities are seeking to minimize, not to say eliminate, any non-Jewish characteristics of the Holy City by attempting to alter the status quo on the holy mountain,” they wrote.

The letter charged that “after their attempts failed, they resorted to statutory powers, by advancing a plan to declare vast parts of the mountain as a national park”. The government temporarily withdrew the project from its agenda. In December, Zionist entity was angered by comments made by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, head of the Anglican Church, who charged that an increase in attacks and vandalism of holy places was a “concerted attempt” to drive Christians away. Zionist foreign ministry said the accusations were “baseless and distort the reality of the Christian community in Zionist entity”.

‘Anti-Christian hate crime’

Ofran, the Peace Now activist, said the government was only doing the bare minimum-and even “protecting the settlers” with its police force, which has failed to dislodge them. She said Zionist entity -which considers the whole of Jerusalem its indivisible capital-“is not going to kick out the churches themselves, but they want … it to be a Jewish environment with Christian enclaves,” a challenge similar to that faced by Muslims.

Father Nikodemus Schnabel, of the Benedictine community on Mount Zion, adjacent to the Old City, said that “this is really a concern, that Zionist entity has turned a blind eye”. His Abbey of the Dormition has been the target of acts of vandalism blamed on settlers which have multiplied in recent months.

He said he sees “a lack of will” by the authorities to tackle the phenomenon of “anti-Christian hate crime”. Schnabel argued that Jerusalem is unique because of its religious diversity, highlighted this year as the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, Jewish Passover and Easter overlap. “How boring would Jerusalem be if it were only Jewish, only Christian or only Muslim?” he said.

‘Cycle of violence’

Meanwhile, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken urged Zionists and Palestinian leaders Tuesday to “end the cycle of violence” after a sharp escalation in tensions between the two sides in recent days. In separate calls with Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas and ZionistForeign Minister Yair Lapid, Blinken stressed “the importance of Zionists and Palestinians working to end the cycle of violence by exercising restraint and refraining from actions that escalate tensions,” the State Department said.

He also urged both sides to exercise “restraint” and refrain “from actions that escalate tensions” including at the Al-Aqsa mosque compound, Islam’s third-holiest site, but known to Jews as the Temple Mount-Judaism’s holiest place-in Jerusalem’s annexed Old City. In his call with Lapid, Blinken reiterated the US government’s “steadfast commitment” to Zionist security and condemned recent rocket attacks from Gaza.

In his call with Abbas, Blinken affirmed the US commitment to improving Palestinians’ quality of life. But with both leaders, Blinken urged for a two-state solution. The State Department announced Tuesday evening that Yael Lempert, assistant secretary for near eastern affairs, would travel to Jordan, Zionist entity, the West Bank and Egypt for talks aimed at “reducing tensions” in the region. Her trip will last from Tuesday until April 26.

Zionists carried out its first air strike on the Gaza Strip in months early Tuesday, in response to a rocket fired from the Palestinian enclave after a weekend of violence around the Jerusalem holy site. The strikes come after weeks of mounting violence, with a total of 23 Palestinians and Arabs citizens of Zionist entity killed, including assailants who targeted Zionists in four deadly attacks.

The violence, coinciding with the Jewish Passover festival as well as the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, has sparked fears of a repeat of last year’s events, when similar circumstances sparked an 11-day war that leveled parts of Gaza. – AFP


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