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Greek Orthodox patriarch under fire for praising Israel’s freedom of religion

Senior PLO official says Theophilos III ‘very well informed of Israeli violations,’ even within his own community

PLO official Hanan Ashrawi at her office in Ramallah, January 31, 2012 (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
PLO official Hanan Ashrawi at her office in Ramallah, January 31, 2012 (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

PLO Executive Committee member Hanan Ashrawi on Wednesday condemned Greek Orthodox Patriarch Theophilos for praising Israel’s freedom of worship, saying the cleric deliberately ignored “Israeli violations” on the issue.

“We are seriously concerned by the statement of the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem, Theophilos III, who praised Israel for being a ‘democracy’ that ‘respects freedom of worship,’” Ashwari said in a statement sent to the media.

“Theophilos III is very well informed of the Israeli violations of the freedom to worship of his own community during Easter and is also aware of the occupation of the Saint John Convent nearby the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, today turned into another illegal Israeli settlement,” she said, a likely reference to a permit approved by the capital’s city hall for a single Jewish structure in the Silwan neighborhood of East Jerusalem.

Ashrawi accused the patriarch’s message on religious freedom of contradicting the facts on the ground for Palestinian Christians. She said that “thousands of Palestinian Christians cannot access their own Holy Sites in Occupied East Jerusalem due to Israel’s illegal annexation Wall and other movement restrictions.”

President Reuven Rivlin speaks with Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem Theophilos III at his residence in Jerusalem in honor of the upcoming New Year, on December 27, 2016. (Mark Neiman/GPO)
President Reuven Rivlin speaks with Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem Theophilos III at his residence in Jerusalem in honor of the upcoming New Year, on December 27, 2016. (Mark Neiman/GPO)

“Undoubtedly, Patriarch Theophilos knows very well the situation of thousands of Palestinian families including hundreds of Christian families that have been divided due to racist Israeli citizenship laws” Ashrawi said.

“We call upon Patriarch Theophilos III to work for justice and peace of the oppressed rather than covering up the daily violations of the oppressors,” she concluded.

The statement came a day after the patriarch, speaking on behalf of the Christian leaders during a meeting with President Reuven Rivlin, said, “We take the opportunity of this holiday gathering to express our gratitude for the firmness with which you defend the freedoms that lie at the heart of this democracy, especially the freedom of worship.”

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