Following the occupation of the historic Petra Hotel in East Jerusalem by members of a settler group, Patriarch Theophilos III and the heads of churches in Jerusalem are urging the Jerusalem police to act fairly and in accordance with their responsibilities.
The premises concerned are owned by the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem, and in a statement updated on 27 March, Patriarch Theophilos said that the "act of trespassing" was done illegally.
"The actors did not have an eviction notice and therefore took law into their own hands and subsequently committed a criminal offense," wrote Patriarch Theophilos. "There are some reports that police have intentionally defended the radical group or turned a blind eye to the illegal activities of Ateret Cohanim at the Little Petra Hotel."
The Petra Hotel has been the subject of an 18-year legal battle between the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate and Ateret Cohanim, a settler group that pushes for increased Jewish presence in East Jerusalem neighbourhoods.
The group's act of moving into the hotel is extremely dangerous with regard to community relations, the Patriarch stressed. "Acting in this illegally aggressive manner against a known Christian property and an Arab business-particularly ahead of Easter and Ramadan-could likely ignite local hostilities similar to what was witnessed last year in Sheikh Jarrah," he wrote. "In response to this illegal activity, local residents, business owners, and priests are demanding definitive action."
World Council of Churches acting general secretary Rev Prof Dr Ioan Sauca expressed the international ecumenical movement's firm solidarity with Patriarch Theophilos and the other local church leaders in preserving the Christian presence in Jerusalem.
"This action by Ateret Cohanim is yet another example of the threat by radical elements to the Christian presence in Jerusalem and the Holy Land of which local church leaders have warned", Sauca observed.
Sauca recalled the assurance given by President Herzog of Israel to church leaders at Christmas 2021 that "we will stand strong against any forms of racism, discrimination, or extremism, and we will reject any assault or threat on religious communities, leaders, or houses of worship."
"As we approach Easter, Ramadan and Pessach-a confluence of sacred celebrations in 2022-may a spirit of justice and dignity pervade the Holy City and those who live, work, and pray there," said Sauca. "We call on local authorities to stand up for the protection of people who deserve to live in peace." The WCC, he said "calls for an end to impunity in Israel for such violations, for the police authorities to remove the illegal occupants from the Little Petra Hotel, and for them to be held accountable for the criminal offences they have committed." He affirmed the "WCC's solidarity with the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate and with all the churches of the Holy Land in their resistance against such threats, attacks and illegal actions."