What is a “special area”?
Thirteen Christian Churches of the Holy Land published on Monday, December 13, at the initiative of the Greek Orthodox Patriarch Theophilos III, an alert against the ” threatens “ which weighs on the Christian presence in Jerusalem. They ask the Israeli government to open as soon as possible a “Dialogue” in order to create a “Special zone of culture and heritage” in the Christian quarter of the Old Town. In other words, that the spiritual and cultural status of this Christian quarter be enshrined in Israeli law, as is the case with the Jewish quarter.
What would such a zone be used for?
According to the signatories, its creation would protect the Christian quarter from attacks suffered by residents for several years. Religious leaders warn about the number of“Physical and verbal assaults on priests and other members of the clergy (…), with holy places regularly vandalized and desecrated, and the constant intimidation of local Christians ”. They also denounce the acquisition of “Strategic properties” of the Christian quarter by ” marginal radical groups “, Which translates, according to them, a” systematic attempt to drive the Christian community out of Jerusalem “. Church leaders in the Holy Land recall in passing that Christian pilgrimages around the world bring “great benefits to Israel’s economy and society,” citing a recent report from the University of Birmingham, according to which the flow pilgrims and tourists “contribute three billion dollars to the Israeli economy.” In addition, the small local Christian community provides a “disproportionately high” amount of educational, health and humanitarian services to all across Israel, Palestine and Jordan.
Why such a request?
Editor-in-chief of Holy Land Magazine, Marie-Armelle Beaulieu places this appeal in the context of tensions between the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate and the ultranationalist Jewish organization Ateret Cohanim (“Crown of the Priests”), about its controversial acquisition of real estate from the Patriarchate in the 2000s This interminable legal battle is part of the strategy of the organization which works for the Israeli colonization of East Jerusalem. During the Christmas tree lighting ceremony on Thursday, December 9, Patriarch Theophilos also called not to give in to intimidation. However, the pressure exerted by Ateret Cohanim does not concern only the Greek-Orthodox community, but all the Christians present in Jerusalem. “While it should be remembered that this group does not reflect the thinking of the Israelis as a whole or that of the Jewish community, we can still see that it is gradually gaining ground”, notes Marie-Armelle Beaulieu. According to her, the request for the creation of a “Special area” would remind us that “Jerusalem does not belong to a single nation, nor to a single people, nor to a single religion”, while the number of Christians in the Old City is declining.