JERUSALEM: In Bethlehem, in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem Theophilos III celebrated Christmas on 6th January as per the Eastern Orthodox calendar.
According to Reuters, the Greek Orthodox Priest of Jerusalem claims that extremist Israeli factions are threatening Christians’ existence in Jerusalem, which Israeli officials deny as untrue and provocative.
Christian residents of Jerusalem’s Old City are under threat, claims Theophilos III, who wrote about his concerns in a Times of London opinion piece published on Saturday. In the 1967 war, Israel took control of East Jerusalem, including the Old City, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip. The international community has not recognised Israel’s occupation of East Jerusalem following the conflict.
A day after the Greek Orthodox Christmas celebrations, the patriarch stated in an essay published in The Jerusalem Post that “our existence in Jerusalem is under attack”. As per him, radical Israeli’s have made threats to churches. Zionist zealots are also mistreating the Christian population in Jerusalem. He added that “It is our brothers and sisters who are the victims of hate crimes. Desecration and vandalism take place daily in our churches. Intimidation of our clergy is common practice.”
Theophilos’ condemnation of Israeli fanatics was more personal and stinging than a statement collectively published by the leaders of other churches in Jerusalem before Christmas. Israel’s armed groups were revealed in a statement, while the statement did not identify them as Israeli.
Last year, a US State Department report on religious freedom across the globe stated that ultra-Orthodox Jews in Jerusalem continued to abuse or spit on Christian clergy and pilgrims.
Church groups have recorded vandalism at Jerusalem’s religious sites for some time. Theophilos did not mention any radical organisation by name or cite any particular instances in his writings. He did not back his accusations against Jews radicals with evidence or of their aim to expel Christians from the city.
A senior Israeli source stated that, contrary to what the patriarch had said, the reality of Christians in Israel was very different. The person relied on a foreign ministry statement dated December 22nd to support his assertion and refute the Church’s claims.
Theophilos also stated that Israeli radicals are not representative of Israel or the Jewish people, and he wants Jerusalem to remain a “mosaic society” of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.