Church leaders in the Holy Land have issued a statement protesting after Israeli armed forces were deployed at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem's Old City last Saturday as Orthodox Christians celebrated Easter.
Israeli police set up check points and deployed heavily in the Old City, said Dimitri Diliani, head of the National Christian Coalition in the Holy Land. He said Israeli security forces were also present in the church and on its roof. Some Israeli press reported that that the forces were deployed in order to stop a riot. Diliani said Israel was trying to stop Christians from performing rituals that they have carried out for centuries each year on Holy Saturday and of trying to erase the Christian identity in Jerusalem.
In a statement, the Patriarchs and Heads of Churches in Jerusalem said:
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 last week. 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.
We 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. We deplore 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.
The Heads of Churches of Jerusalem
+Patriarch Theophilos III, Greek
+Patriarch Fouad Twal, Latin
+Patriarch Norhan Manougian,
Armenian Apostolic Orthodox Patriarchate
+Fr Pierbattista Pizzaballa, ofm,
Custos of the Holy Land
+Archbishop Anba Abraham, Coptic
Orthodox Patriarchate, Jerusalem
+Archbishop Swerios Malki Murad,
Syrian Orthodox Patriarchate
+Aba Fissiha Tsion, Locum Tenens
of the Ethiopian Orthodox Patriarchate
+Archbishop Joseph-Jules Zerey,
+Archbishop Moussa El-Hage,
Maronite Patriarchal Exarchate
+Bishop Suheil Dawani, Episcopal
Church of Jerusalem and the Middle East
+Bishop Munib Younan, Evangelical
Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land
+Bishop Pierre Melki, Syrian
Catholic Patriarchal Exarchate
+Mgr Joseph Antoine Kelekian,
Armenian Catholic Patriarchal Exarchate