US lawmakers denounce extremist groups in Israel that attack Christians with impunity

A group of bipartisan US congressmen issued rare criticism of Israel last week, citing the escalation of attacks on the Christian community in Jerusalem carried out by Israeli perpetrators "with impunity".


The lawmakers, led by Democratic Congressman Joaquin Castro (Texas) and Republican Jose Bellerakis (Florida), said extremist groups in Israel were looking to "expel" Christians from the holy city and threaten its "cultural and religious diversity".

"We write today as a group of bipartisan members of Congress with deep concern about the escalation of attacks against the Christian community in Jerusalem," the lawmakers said.


The letter refers to Jerusalem's status as a holy city for Christians as well as Muslims and Jews. The city has 95 churches and is home to one of the five Greek Orthodox patriarchates, along with large numbers of Melkite Roman Catholics, Syriacs and Armenians.


The letter notes that a century ago, Christians made up about 25 percent of Jerusalem's population, but their presence has since dwindled to less than 2 percent today.

 

While the number of Christians living across the Middle East has been declining for decades, the message from US lawmakers noting the precarious state of Christians in the holy city comes amid recent warnings from church leaders about the existence of the Christian community.


Last December, 13 Christian patriarchs and heads of the churches of Jerusalem issued a joint statement warning of a "systematic attempt" to expel Christians from Jerusalem and the Holy Land.


While the lawmakers noted the Israeli government's stated commitment to preserving the safety of Christians and freedom of worship, they said that local politicians, law enforcement agencies, and officials in Israel who refuse to rein in the actions of extremist groups are being "betrayed", "intimidated" by Christians and "desecrated" places. Holy.

It is reported that the Greek Patriarchate, one of the largest property owners in Jerusalem, which leases to Israel the land on which the Knesset building is built, has long been engaged in legal battles with groups of settlers over property in the city. Tensions have recently risen around the church-owned Petra Hotel, which Israeli police helped a group of settlers partially take over in March.

In their letter last Friday, April 30, 2022), US lawmakers issued a stark warning about attacks on Christians and Christian sites. They cited an attempt by an Israeli man in December 2020 to burn down the "Church of All Nations" located on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem, as well as four acts of vandalism in one month in 2021 against the monastery of the Roman Church in Jerusalem.

They also drew attention to attacks on Christian clergy, including the May 2021 attack on an Armenian priest by three Israeli youths.

"The actions of extremist groups capable of acting with impunity directly threaten the religious freedom of the Christian community in Jerusalem and undermine the rich history of interfaith cooperation within the city," the letter said.

Additionally, the legislators said the diminishing Christian presence in the Holy Land will have repercussions on humanitarian issues, as ministry programs organized under the auspices of Christian churches in Jerusalem carry out medical, educational, and humanitarian work for people regardless of religious affiliation. Throughout Israel, the Palestinian Territories and Jordan.

The lawmakers called on the State Department to "work with the Israeli government to uphold its stated commitment" to freedom of religion and worship and to hold extremist groups accountable for attacks against Christians.

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