Churches in Jerusalem appealed to the government Friday to ensure Christians are able to worship freely during Easter and its run-up, expressing concern at mounting violence and acts of desecration over the past year.
Easter, which marks the resurrection of Jesus Christ in the Christian tradition, coincides again this year with the Muslim holy month of Ramadan and the Jewish festival of Passover, and followers of all three faiths are expected to throng to Jerusalem’s Old City.
During the same period last year, East Jerusalem was the scene of clashes between Israeli security forces and Palestinians, some of them Christians.
In a joint Easter message, the churches asked “the overseeing officials to work cooperatively and collaboratively with us,” to “help secure the safety, access and religious freedom of the resident Christian community and the millions of Christian pilgrims annually visiting the Holy Land.”
Church leaders denounced the fact that “over the past year, some of our churches, funeral processions and places of public gathering have become targets of attack,” with some ceremonies “closed off to thousands of worshipers.” Israeli police clashed with mourners during the funeral procession of Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, a Christian, in scenes that sparked international uproar last May.
“And this despite our agreements to cooperate with the authorities in power,” they complained.
Donald Binder, chaplain to the Anglican archbishop of Jerusalem, noted that in recent years Israeli forces had limited the number of Christians allowed to attend Easter ceremonies in the Old City.
To him, such a practice was “clear discrimination” by Israeli authorities, given the fact that “tens of thousands” of Jews and “even more” Muslims freely access their Old City holy sites.
Israel says it safeguards freedom of worship for all faiths in Jerusalem.
Christian places of worship in Jerusalem have seen a wave of attacks in recent months, some of them blamed on Jewish extremists.
Earlier this month, two men allegedly attacked a priest in a church at the Tomb of the Virgin Mary.
In February, a statue of Jesus Christ was vandalized at the Church of the Condemnation, where Christians believe Jesus was flogged and sentenced to death.
A month earlier, dozens of Christian graves were desecrated at the Anglican cemetery on Mount Zion, where Christians believe Christ’s Last Supper took place.
“As we have all seen in recent months, escalating violence has engulfed the Holy Land,” the church heads wrote in their Friday missive. “Local Christians in particular have increasingly suffered.”
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.