Christians in the Holy Land 'systematically discriminated against'

Visitors stand near the newly restored Edicule, the ancient structure housing the tomb, which according to Christian belief is where Jesus's body was anointed and buried, seen at the completion of months of restoration works, at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem's Old City March 20, 2017.Reuters/Ronen Zvulun

A delegation of Catholic bishops to the Holy Land has called upon Israel to ensure equality for all citizens, including Christians.

In a communiqué released at the end of the Holy Land Coordination's annual visit to the region on Thursday, the bishops said that the principle of equality upon which Israel was founded 'urgently needs to become lived reality'.

They said Christians they had met during their visit were particularly concerned about the Nation State Law passed last year which defines Israel as 'the national home of the Jewish people'.

'Israel's Christians wish to live as full citizens, with their rights recognised in a plural and democratic society,' the bishops said.

They continued: 'Yet it is clear that at the same time they face profound difficulties across all aspects of their lives.

'We have heard that, along with other Palestinian Arab citizens and migrants living in Israel, many Christians find themselves systematically discriminated against and marginalised.'

The statement echoes the concerns of local Catholic leaders who said after the Nation State Law was passed last year that it would 'provide a constitutional and legal basis for discrimination among Israel's citizens'.

The Holy Land Coordination is an annual pilgrimage of Catholic bishops from Europe, North America and South Africa to advocate for a just peace in the region and express solidarity with Christians living in Israel and the Palestinian Territories.

This year's pilgrimage focused on Israel but the delegation also travelled to Palestinian communities where the bishops said 'the misery of occupation has been deepened by severe cuts to humanitarian funding by the US government'.

'Healthcare, education and other basic services for refugees are being increasingly threatened, exacerbating the ongoing violations of their fundamental human dignity. This cannot be ignored or tolerated,' they said.

'We call upon our own governments to help meet the funding gaps now faced by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) and redouble their efforts towards a diplomatic solution, with two democratic sovereign states of Israel and Palestine existing in peace.'

Members of the delegation included Bishop Declan Lang, the Bishop of Clifton and chair of the Holy Land Coordination; Bishop William Kenney, from the Archdiocese of Birmingham; the Bishop of Galloway in Scotland, William Nolan; and the Bishop of Down and Connor in Northern Ireland, Noel Treanor. The Anglican Bishop of Southwark Christopher Chessun also joined the pilgrimage.