The Latin Catholic Patriarch of Jerusalem has just publicly denounced the attitude of the Israeli government, accused of stirring up the hatred of Jewish extremists against Christians in the Holy Land, whose living conditions have continued to deteriorate over the months.
Pierbattista Pizzaballa is a high prelate known for his discretion and moderation. Also, when he denounces the responsibility of the current Israeli government in the multiplication of anti-Christian acts in the Holy Land, there are many who hold their breath.
Questioned by the Associated Press agency on April 13, 2023, the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem stated that the Christian community in the region has faced an increasing number of attacks since the coming to power of the “Netanyahu VI” government, reputed to be most right in the history of the Jewish state.
“The frequency of these attacks, of these aggressions, is something new,” worries Bishop Pizzaballa. According to him, the aggressors “feel protected, because now the political climate seems to justify, or at least tolerate, such actions being perpetrated against Christians.”
A finding which, according to the high prelate, undermines the commitment of the authorities to respect freedom of worship, a commitment sealed in stone by law 75 years ago, when the State of Israel was founded.
But since then, the waters of the Jordan have flowed: the government formed on December 29, 2022 by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has among its members sulphureous personalities such as the Minister of National Security, Itamar Ben-Gvir, who no longer counts the criminal convictions against him since 2007 for incitement of anti-Arab hatred and his support for extremist Jewish groups.
“The right-wing militias are there to Judaize the Old City and the other lands, and we think there is nothing holding them back now,” laments the Reverend Don Binder, Anglican minister in the Old City, who clarifies that these are good “Christian places of worship which have become the main target of fundamentalists.”
The approximately 15,000 Christians still present in Jerusalem today, the majority of whom are Palestinians, before the Six Day War numbered 27,000. And the prospects for 2023 are far from rosy: according to Yusef Daher of Inter-Church Center, an association which identifies acts of religious discrimination, the current year could be the worst for Christians in more than ten years.
“Physical assaults and harassment of clergy often go unreported,” notes Yusef Daher, who documented at least seven serious cases of vandalism of Church property from January to March 2023, a sharp increase from six similar cases recorded over the whole of 2022.
And this does not take into account the project to transform the Mount of Olives into a national park: a real “spoliation” in the eyes of Msgr. Pizzaballa. A project that the Prime Minister has promised to block – but can his word be trusted? – since the outcry of American evangelicals who are traditionally one of the strongest supporters of the State of Israel abroad.
But, whatever the case, “the current escalation risks generating more violence and setting up a situation that will be very difficult to change,” warns the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem.