Warnings of 'systematic attempt' to drive Christianity out of the Holy Land

Jerusalem Church leaders have warned of "a systematic attempt" to drive Christianity out of the Holy Land. 

The warning was issued in a statement on "the current threat to the Christian presence in the Holy Land" issued by the Patriarchs and leaders of local churches in Jerusalem. 

In the statement they voiced alarm over "frequent and sustained attacks" on clergy, churches and Christians in the Holy Land, including acts of vandalism, and attempts to intimidate believers.

The Church leaders blame the attacks on "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 vandalised and desecrated, and ongoing intimidation of local Christians who simply seek to worship freely and go about their daily lives," the statement reads.

"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."

Elsewhere the statement says that radical groups are using "underhanded dealings and intimidation tactics" to acquire strategic property in the Christian Quarter and evict Christian residents from their homes "with the aim of diminishing the Christian presence" and "disrupting the historic pilgrim routes between Bethlehem and Jerusalem". 

The Church leaders go on to thank the Israeli government for its commitment to upholding the security of Christians in the Holy Land, but say that this is not being followed through at the local level.

"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 churches properties," they say. 

The statement ends with a call to the authorities to uphold the rule of law and establish "a special Christian cultural and heritage zone" to "safeguard the integrity of the Christian Quarter in Old City Jerusalem". 

Responding to the statement, the World Council of Churches (WCC) acting general secretary Rev Dr Ioan Sauca said Christians in the Holy Land were a "threatened minority".

"The statement issued by the Patriarchs and Heads of Churches in Jerusalem highlights the increasing threat to the Christian presence in the Holy Land posed by attacks and incursions by radical groups who seek to destroy the religious and cultural diversity of the region," he said. 

"Recognizing the gravity of the threat accelerating the already tragically steep decline in the Christian presence, the WCC strongly supports the church leaders' call for an urgent dialogue with the political authorities of Israel, Palestine and Jordan with a view to addressing the challenges posed by radical groups and to protecting and supporting the Christian community."

He added: "The Christians of the Holy Land must be respected and valued as part of both the heritage and future of the region, and assured the same rights as others and protections appropriate to a threatened minority, for which the political authorities of the region are both legally and morally responsible."