On December 13, the diocese of Jerusalem released a joint statement by the Patriarchs and Heads of Christian Churches in Jerusalem who underscore their concerns with rising acts of violence against Christians in the Holy Land. They ask for dialogue, for greater protection for Christians throughout the Middle East, and also for a special cultural heritage area for Christians in Jerusalem.

It was entitled Statement on the Current Threat to the Christian Presence in the Holy Land.**

“Throughout the Holy Land,” starts the statement, “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,” it continues, “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 statement ends with a request: “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, and 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.”

On Tuesday, Israel responded.

The Israeli embassy to the Holy See today released a press communiqué from Lior Halat, spokesperson for the Israeli minister of foreign affairs in response to the statement by leaders of Christian Churches of Jerusalem:

“The accusations that appear in the statement by church leaders are baseless and distort the reality of the Christian community in Israel.

”The Christian population in Israel – including in Jerusalem Dash enjoys for freedom of religion and of worship, is constantly growing, and is part of the unique fabric of Israeli society.

”Since the day it was established, the State of Israel has been committed to freedom of religion and worship for all religions, as well to ensuring the freedom of access to holy sites.

”The statement by church leaders in Jerusalem is particularly infuriating given their silence and the plight of many Christian communities in the Middle East suffering from discrimination and persecution.

”Religious leaders have a critical role to play in education for tolerance and coexistence, and church leaders should be expected to understand their responsibility and the consequences of what they have published, which could lead to violence and bringing harm to innocent and bring harm to innocent people.

“The State of Israel wishes all Christians in the Holy Land and across the world a merry Christmas and a happy new year.”

** (Statement on the Current Threat to the Christian Presence in the Holy Land. – The Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem (