Israeli Supreme Court supports the radicals against the Patriarchate of Jerusalem

Jerusalem 08 June 2022

Today, the Israeli Supreme Court issued a decision rejecting the Patriarchate’s latest attempts to annul the ruling issued against it in July 2017, through which the radical Israeli organisation, Ateret Cohanim, succeeded in expropriating the properties of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem at Jaffa Gate (Bab Al-Khalil) in Jerusalem, and this decision comes despite the legal battle waged by the Patriarchate for the past seventeen years.

The Patriarchate considered the court’s decision as unfair and not following to any legal or logical basis, as the radical organisation and its backers and supporters have followed crooked and illegal methods to acquire Christian real estate in one of the most important sites of Arab Islamic and Christian presence in Jerusalem.

Over the past years, the Patriarchate launched a legal, media and diplomatic campaign in which it incurred very high costs, in the judicial and diplomatic field, in order to pressure the Israeli authorities to prevent radical organisations from seizing these properties, but these attempts did not succeed under the pressure of these radical organisations and their agents who support them in the decision-making circles.

The Patriarchate affirmed that it will continue to support the Palestinian tenants in their steadfastness in these Christian properties, and that it is unwavering in its battle to curb the racist policy and the agenda of the extremist right-wing in Israel, aimed at eroding the multiple identity of the city of Jerusalem and imposing a new reality within it.

Response to Deputy Mayor of Jerusalem’s claims in the Sunday Telegraph – 24.04.22

The Heads of Churches in the Holy Land are united on these issues, and they share my views when I say the following:

The deputy mayor of Jerusalem, Fleur Hassan-Nahoum, is grossly dismissive of the scale of the diminishing indigenous Christian presence in our City (Sunday Telegraph 24th April 2022).

Indigenous Christians make up 1% of the population of the Holy Land, down from 12% a century ago, (2021 report by Birmingham University).

Christians are leaving their ancestral homes for a safer life and the freedom to worship as a direct consequence of discrimination and unpunished hate crimes carried out against their communities. In Jerusalem they face an increasingly hostile environment from Israeli radicals, with frequent harassment, vandalism and attacks.

Ms Nahoum’s claim that the Christian population has increased by 1.5% in the past year, quoting figures from the Israel Democratic Institute, is misleading and inaccurate.  We have the first-hand knowledge of our indigenous Christians numbers, and we are amiss as to which community she’s looking at.

Radical groups, such as Ateret Cohanim, are squeezing Christians out of their physical environment. In addition to facing insidious erosion of their spiritual space – as seen during harsh authority restrictions over Orthodox Easter.

Our community urgently needs a political solution where the law is upheld consistently.  Peace, love and tolerance must be our guiding principles and we call on Ms. Nahoum to engage with this problem, not brush it under the carpet.

His Beatitude Patriarch Theophilos III – convenor of the Council of Churches in Jerusalem

Statement by the Jerusalem Patriarch Rejecting the Proposed Restrictions on the Holy Fire Ceremonies

The Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem officially informed the Israeli police yesterday through a letter addressed to its District Commander it’s rejection of any restrictions on the number of celebrants on Holy Fire Saturday inside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, its courtyard, its surroundings, its roof, or the entrances leading to it. The letter was signed by the Secretary General of the Patriarchate, Archbishop Aristarchus, in which he refuted the police’s arguments for placing restrictions on the number of worshipers and limiting them to 1,700. The Patriarchate rejected this offer on principled grounds that it doesn’t accept any infringement to the right to freedom of worship.

The letter stated that the number of worshippers in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre annually on Holy Fire Saturday ranges between ten thousand and eleven thousand people, which is the normal capacity of the church. The letter argued that over the past years there has not been any incident that endangered the safety of worshipers, so the police’s argument that restricting the number of worshippers due to “public safety” concerns lacks any logical basis. The Patriarchate asked in its letter: If the pretext of public safety is a reason for reducing the number of worshipers inside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, then why are there restrictions on in its courtyard, rooftop, adjacent neighborhoods, or even the entrances to the Old City? Especially at the main entrances to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and the Christian Quarter.

The patriarch made it clear that it will proceed as usual with its normal procedures related to Holy Fire Saturday and that it will issue invitations as it deems appropriate and without any limits. It also confirmed that all priests will in the Patriarch’s procession will not carry any badges, as the patriarchate affirmed the right of all worshipers to access The Church of the sepulcher, especially the participants in the morning prayer at the adjacent Church of St. Jacob, without any obstacles.

In the letter, the Patriarchate demanded the police not to put up barriers in the alleys of the Old City, as they impede the access of worshipers and priests from different monasteries to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Furthermore the Patriarchate demanded the police facilitation to freely transfer the Holy Light to the airport in order to transport it to different parts of the world, as is the custom on this important holiday, which is at the heart of the Christian faith.

Statement by the Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem for Easter 2022

The Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem congratulates its congregations and all the people of the Holy Land on both sides of the Jordan River for the occasion of Easter and Saturday of the Holy Light, and at the same time we affirm our strong and renewed commitment to our natural right to celebrate our holidays along with our communities, families and to participate together in prayers at our churches in the Old City of Jerusalem, including the basic right of all our communities to access the Church of Holy Sepulchre and its vicinity during Easter festivities including Holy Light Saturday. Our communities have been exercising this divine right freely throughout the ages and different rulers, regardless of the circumstances that the Holy City went through in history.

For many years, participating in prayers and even having access to churches in the Old City, especially during Easter holidays, has become very difficult for our congregations and our people in general, due to police unilaterally enforced restrictions and its violence against believers who insist on exercising their natural divine right to worship. Previously, we had cooperated with different Christian bodies and leaders to bring our case to the international, domestic and judicial levels, and we also coordinated with the police themselves, with the aim of preventing the police from continuing their unacceptable practices, but unfortunately the promises were great and what actually took place on the ground was not even remotely close to those promises.

Instead of reversing its habitual unacceptable practices on Easter and Holy Fire Saturday, the police have recently informed the Patriarchate of additional new unilateral measures that increase restrictions on Holy Fire Saturday, to the effect that the police will only allow one thousand people to enter the Church of the Holy Sepulchre on this great day, although it is customary to many thousands of worshippers to enter the church in celebration on that day. Furthermore, the police said that they will allow only five hundred people to enter the Old City and reach the Patriarchate yards and the overlooking roof of the Holy Sepulchre Church. The Patriarchate believes that there is no justification for these additional unjust restrictions, and affirms its explicit, clear and complete rejection of all restrictions. The Patriarchate is fed up with police restrictions on freedom to worship and with its unacceptable methods of dealing with the God given rights of Christians to practice rituals and have to access their holy sites in the Old City of Jerusalem.

Accordingly, the orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem has decided, by the power of the Lord, that it will not compromise its right to provide spiritual services in all churches and squares. It also announces that prayers will be held as usual by the Patriarchate and its priests, hoping that believers are able to participate. This position of the Patriarchate stems from the basis of divine right, heritage and history. The police must stop imposing restrictions and violence that, unfortunately, have become part of our sacred ceremonies. We also urge our congregations to uphold our historical heritage through participating in the rituals and celebrations of Easter and Holy Fire Saturday this year in the Church of Holy Sepulchre and its vicinity.

Statement by the Patriarchs and Heads of Local Churches of Jerusalem on the Illegal Seizure of the Little Petra Hotel

“Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: ‘May they prosper who love you. Peace be within your walls, and security within your towers.’” (Psalm 122:6–7)

The seizure of the Little Petra Hotel by the radical extremist group Ateret Cohanim is a threat to the continued existence of a Christian Quarter in Jerusalem, and ultimately to peaceful coexistence of the communities of this city.

The Heads of Churches have repeatedly warned of the illegitimate actions of extremists, who have followed a pattern of intimidation and violence. In occupying the Greek Orthodox Church’s property, the Little Petra Hotel, Ateret Cohanim has committed criminal acts of break-in and trespass. They act as if they are above the law, with no fear of consequences.

This issue is not about the individual properties, but about the whole character of Jerusalem, including the Christian Quarter. The Little Petra Hotel stands on the pilgrim route for the millions of Christians who visit Jerusalem each year.

It represents Christian heritage, and speaks of our very existence in this place. Israeli radical extremist groups like Ateret Cohanim are already targeting and hijacking our beloved Old City of Jerusalem and imposing their illegitimate and dangerous agenda on all sides.

We refuse this and we say: this will lead to instability and tension at the time when all are trying to de-escalate and build trust, to build towards justice and peace. Acts of coercion and violence cannot lead to peace.

Statement by Patriarch Theophilos III on the illegal seizure of the Little Petra Hotel by the radical extremist group Ateret Cohanim

The seizure of the Little Petra Hotel by the radical extremist group Ateret Cohanim is a threat to the continued existence of a Christian Quarter in Jerusalem, and ultimately to peaceful coexistence of the communities of this city. The Heads of Churches have repeatedly warned of the illegitimate actions of extremists, who have followed a pattern of intimidation, violence, and lawless action to drive Christians and Muslims from the city that we share.

The Patriarchate of Jerusalem engaged in good faith negotiations with the Israeli government to settle the status of these Christian heritage properties that sit on the Christian pilgrim route, and through the committee headed by Minister Elazer Stern. We were assured that there would be no changes to the facts on the ground in the Christian Quarter while these negotiations are ongoing. The actions of Ateret Cohanim this week violate that assurance.

In occupying the Greek Orthodox Church’s property, the Little Petra Hotel, Ateret Cohanim has committed criminal acts of break-in and trespass. They act as if they are above the law, with no fear of consequences.

This issue is not about the individual properties, but about the whole character of Jerusalem, including the Christian Quarter. The Little Petra Hotel stands on the pilgrim route for the millions of Christians who visit Jerusalem each year. It is our heritage, and speaks of our very existence in this place.

Israeli radical extremist groups like Ateret Cohanim are already targeting and hijacking our beloved old city of Jerusalem and imposing their illegitimate and dangerous agenda on all sides. We refuse this and we say: this will lead to instability and tension at the time when all are trying to de-escalate and build trust, to build towards justice and peace. Acts of coercion and violence cannot lead to peace.

We demand that this criminal group immediately cease their tresspass and get out of our heritage property. We demand that they halt their criminal activities on the Christian pilgrim route and in our beloved Old City.

Statement On Situation In Ukraine by His Beatitude Patriarch of Jerusalem Theophilos III

With heartfelt regard, we follow the distressing crisis in Ukraine in the last days and we stand deeply concerned for the human suffering of all our brothers and sisters in Christ.

The strongest power of the Christian is prayer. With other Christian leaders around the world, we therefore call upon all Christian people to join in prayer for our world and for the people of Ukraine.

Here in Jerusalem, we raise our prayers in the place of the Crucifixion and Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ that God would grant wisdom and courage to all Leaders and parties concerned. May He enlighten their minds so that dialogue and unity would be sought, and lasting peace would prevail.

Statement on the Current Threat to the Christian Presence in the Holy Land

Throughout the Holy Land, Christians have become the target of frequent and sustained attacks by fringe radical groups. Since 2012 there have been countless incidents of physical and verbal assaults against priests and other clergy, attacks on Christian churches, with holy sites regularly vandalized and desecrated, and ongoing intimidation of local Christians who simply seek to worship freely and go about their daily lives. These tactics are being used by such radical groups in a systematic attempt to drive the Christian community out of Jerusalem and other parts of the Holy Land.

We acknowledge with gratitude the declared commitment of the Israeli government to uphold a safe and secure home for Christians in the Holy Land and to preserve the Christian community as an integral part of the tapestry of the local community.   As evidence of this commitment we see the government’s facilitation of the visit of millions of Christian pilgrims to the holy sites of the Holy Land.   It is therefore a matter of grave concern when this national commitment is betrayed by the failure of local politicians, officials and law enforcement agencies to curb the activities of radical groups who regularly intimidate local Christians, assault priests and clergy, and desecrate Holy Sites and church properties.

The principle that the spiritual and cultural character of Jerusalem’s distinct and historic quarters should be protected is already recognised in Israeli law with respect to the Jewish Quarter. Yet radical groups continue to acquire strategic property in the Christian Quarter, with the aim of diminishing the Christian presence, often using underhanded dealings and intimidation tactics to evict residents from their homes, dramatically decreasing the Christian presence, and further disrupting the historic pilgrim routes between Bethlehem and Jerusalem.

Christian pilgrimage, in addition to being the right of all the Christians around the world, brings great benefits to Israel’s economy and society. In a recent report by the University of Birmingham, it was highlighted that Christian pilgrimage and tourism contributes $3bn to the Israeli economy. The local Christian community, while small and decreasing in number, provides a disproportionate amount of educational, health and humanitarian services in communities throughout Israel, Palestine, and Jordan.

In accordance with the declared commitment to protect religious freedom by the local political authorities of Israel, Palestine, and Jordan, we are requesting an urgent dialogue with us the Church Leaders, so as to:

  1. Deal with the challenges presented by radical groups in Jerusalem to both the Christian community and the rule of law, so as to ensure that no citizen or institution has to live under threat of violence or intimidation
  2. Begin dialogue on the creation of a special Christian cultural and heritage zone to safeguard the integrity of the Christian Quarter in Old City Jerusalem and to ensure that its unique character and heritage are preserved for the sake of well-being of the local community, our national life, and the wider world.