The Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem Theophilos III believes radical Israeli groups aim to drive the Christian community from the old city reports Haaretz, citing a recent Op-Ed written by His Beatitude in the Times of London on Saturday.
“Our presence in Jerusalem is under threat,” the patriarch wrote.
“Our churches are threatened by Israeli radical fringe groups. At the hands of these Zionist extremists the Christian community in Jerusalem is suffering greatly, he said.
“Our brothers and sisters are the victims of hate crimes. Our churches are regularly desecrated and vandalized. Our clergy are subject to frequent intimidation.”
According to Haaretz, ‘by singling out extremists as Israeli, Theophilos’s criticism was more personal and trenchant than that of a collective statement issued by the heads of other churches in Jerusalem before Christmas.’
‘Their statement spoke of “frequent and sustained attacks by fringe radical groups” but stopped short of identifying them as Israeli.
‘A U.S. State Department report published last year on religious freedom around the world said Christian clergy and pilgrims continued to report instances of ultra-Orthodox Jews in Jerusalem harassing or spitting on them.’
In response to the Patriarch’s piece, an Israeli official said the reality on the ground for Christians was completely different, citing a Foreign Ministry statement on Dec 22 that rebutted the earlier church leaders’ claims.
“Since the day it was established, the State of Israel has been committed to freedom of religion and worship for all religions, as well as to ensuring the freedom of access to holy sites,” the ministry statement said.