Attacks on Palestinian Christians and Muslims are increasing

As attacks on Palestinian Christians and Muslims are increasing in Palestine/Israel, Sabeel continues to work with other organizations and the community to protect the freedom of religion for Palestinians of all faiths.

In response to pressure from Church leaders, on 29 April, a bipartisan group of eight Members (Republican and Democrat) of the U.S. Congress sent a letter in solidarity with the Palestinian people to Secretary of State Antony Blinken about protecting the freedom of religion for people of all religions in Palestine/Israel. The members of Congress expressed deep concerns about the increase in attacks against churches and the Christian community in Jerusalem. They expressed concerns about the humanitarian and economic consequences of the decline in the Christian presence in Jerusalem as a result of the violence. The letter notes that many programs led by Christian churches address the medical, educational, and humanitarian needs of people of all religions in Palestine/Israel and Jordan. It also states that Christian tourism to historic Palestine brings $3 billion to the economy.

Over thirty organizations sent a letter to the bipartisan group of eight Members of the U.S. Congress to thank them for the letter and express their organizations’ deep concern about the situation.

On Thursday 21 April, Sabeel along with a group of organizations and community leaders filed a complaint against the Israeli police in the High Court of Justice, the supreme court of Israel. The police had notified the leaders of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre that they would allow only  1000 people inside the Church for the annual Holy Fire service which occurred this year on 23 April. This is more than 90% lower than the number allowed to enter in previous years: 11000. The Church leaders rejected this new limit and said that they would not honor it, because it is a violation of the freedom of worship.

The High Court asked the community to reach a deal with the police. But no agreement was reached. The Court made the decision that no restrictions should be imposed in the Christian Quarter because there is no reason for any restrictions. The Court decided they would allow 4000 people inside and around the Church on the day of the festivities and imposed extra measures. On the day of the Holy Fire service, many people were not allowed to access the Church. Some feel that the police were more violent with the community because of the High Court decision. Even diplomats and community members were not respected and were badly treated by the police.

Sabeel has worked on a petition to support the Church leaders in standing against the Israeli government’s restrictions. Close to 4000 people have signed the petition and shared it with decision makers in their own countries. In 2010 and 2014, the community also appealed to the High Court to end restrictions on the rights of Palestinian Christians to attend services at the Church and to protect the freedom of worship. But the Court refused to take a position and said the police should respect the right to freedom of worship. The Israeli police have continued to create more restrictions.

According to the tradition of the Church, each year on the day before Orthodox Easter, a flame miraculously appears inside the empty tomb of Jesus in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. The flame is captured by the Greek Patriarch of Jerusalem and is shared with thousands of Palestinian Christians and pilgrims who cheer as the church bells ring and hold candles. The Fire is quickly passed from candle to candle. As it has for centuries, the Holy Fire is brought to the different corners of the world. Lanterns holding the flame are put into cars and driven to Gaza, Ramallah, Bethlehem, and the border crossings with Egypt and Jordan.”

In addition, there have been an increase in attacks on Muslim Palestinians and Muslim cemeteries as well as restrictions on access to the Al-Aqsa Mosque and other mosques. The Israeli military have increased their attacks on Muslim worshippers at Al-Aqsa, especially during Ramadan and Passover this year. The Israeli military regularly arrests Palestinians trying to worship and injures them with rubber bullets and tear gas. Meanwhile, Israeli settler groups who want to build a third Jewish temple where Al-Aqsa sits (on the Haram Al-Sharif / Temple Mount) continue to visit the holy site, harass worshippers, and try to hold religious activities there.

Sabeel presented a workshop for participants in the Taizé Community gathering

On Tuesday 10 May, Omar Haramy, the Director of Sabeel, presented a workshop in Jerusalem for participants in the Taizé Community gathering, a group of 300 Christian young people from around the world. The Churches of the Holy Land, the Ecumenical Institute of Tantur, and the Taizé Community asked Sabeel to give a workshop for young Christians between the ages of 18 and 35, from Europe and other continents. The workshop is part of a gathering in the Holy Land from 8-15 May. This week of prayer, reflection, and sharing is called, “Journeying Together to Sources of Hope”. The theme was chosen based on the scripture: “We struggle because we have placed our hope in the living God…” (I Timothy 4:10). Taizé is a Christian ecumenical organization in the Burgundy region of France.

Ecumenical meeting for Palestinian clergy

On Monday 9 May, Sabeel held an ecumenical meeting for Palestinian clergy. The meeting was held in the villages of Aboud and Birzeit in the West Bank. Over 42 clergy and their spouses attended the one day meeting. The meeting included a visit to Father Raji Khoury, a Greek Orthodox priest who is over 90 years old. A committed member of Sabeel, Father Raji has not been able to participate in Sabeel programs because of a medical condition. Sabeel updated the clergy on our recent work, including the community health insurance initiative and other projects. We also received their feedback on the issues affecting their communities. Churches are the center of the community and know what’s happening in the community.

A meeting about the Holy Fire service restrictions

On Tuesday 3 May, Sabeel held an in person meeting for the Christian community in Jerusalem about the Holy Fire service restrictions. The group wished each other happy Easter and discussed the restrictions and thought collectively about how to address the increasing challenges faced by our community. Sabeel and many in the community have started to prepare for next year’s Holy Fire service and to hold education and advocacy campaigns to challenge the restrictions on the freedom of worship. 

Visiting groups to Sabeel

On Monday 2nd  May, Sabeel met in person with a group visiting from Switzerland. This was the second in-person group-visit Sabeel has hosted since the pandemic began. Sabeel discussed with the German-speaking group the work of Sabeel , Palestinian Liberation Theology, and the political and theological challenges that the Palestinian people experience.

Sabeel has been getting more requests from groups to set up in-person visits. According to some in the tourism and pilgrimage sector, tourism and pilgrimages in Palestine/Israel in March, April, and May 2022 returned to 30% of pre-pandemic levels.

A study about the challenges that young Palestinian christians faces in the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza.

On Friday 29 April, Sabeel attended the launching of a new important study by the Pontifical Mission, the Catechetical Office of the Latin Patriarchate, Juhoud for Community and Rural Development, and the Youth of Jesus Homeland-Palestine. The study highlights the experiences and challenges faced by young Palestinian Christians in the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza. The event was held in Ramallah. As a partner to these organizations working in the Christian community, Sabeel looks at studies like this very seriously as they give us updates on the conditions of our community.

A petition in support of freedom of worship in Jerusalem

Sabeel has worked on a petition to support the Church leaders in standing against the Israeli government’s restrictions. Close to 4000 people have signed the petition and shared it with decision makers in their own countries. In both 2010 and 2014, the community also appealed to the High Court to end restrictions on the rights of Palestinian Christians to attend services at the Church and to protect the freedom of worship. But the Court refused to take a position and said the police should respect the right to freedom of worship while also taking responsibility for security and organization. The local churches reject the claims of the police that the restrictions are in favor of the community. Prior to the occupation of East Jerusalem, the Christian community used to worship in the thousands with no problems documented. The Israeli police have continued to create more restrictions despite the instructions of the Israeli High Court.

According to the tradition of the Church, each year on the day before Orthodox Easter, a flame miraculously appears inside the empty tomb of Jesus in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. The flame is captured by the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem and is shared with thousands of Palestinian Christians and pilgrims who cheer as the church bells ring and hold candles. The Fire is quickly passed from candle to candle. As it has for centuries, the Holy Fire is brought to the different corners of the world. Lanterns holding the flame are put into cars and driven to Gaza, Ramallah, Bethlehem, and the border crossings with Egypt and Jordan.

‘The People’s Patriarch’ in Spanish

On Saturday 23 April, the film ‘The People’s Patriarch: Reflections with Patriarch Michel Sabbah’ was launched in Spanish. The film looks at the reflections of the Emeritus Latin Patriarch on the conditions of the Church today in Palestine. Close to 100 people in Spain and in the Spanish-speaking world attended the online event. The film was directed by Mohammad Alatar and produced by Dr. Lily Habash.


Holy Fire restrictions

On Thursday 21 April, Sabeel joined a group of Christian organizations and community leaders who filed a complaint against the Israeli police in the High Court of Justice, the supreme court of Israel. The police had notified Church leaders that they would allow only 1000 people inside the Church for the annual Holy Fire service which occurred this year on 23 April. This is more than 90% lower than the number allowed to enter in previous years which is 11,000. The Church leaders rejected this new limit and said that they would not honor it, because it is a violation of the freedom of worship.

The High Court asked the community to reach a deal with the police. But no agreement was reached. The Court made the decision that no restrictions should be imposed in the Christian Quarter because there is no reason for any restrictions. The Court decided they would allow 4000 people inside and around the Church on the day of the festivities. On the day of the Holy Fire service, many people were not allowed to access the Church. Some feel that the police were more violent with the community because of the High Court decision. Even diplomats and community members were not respected and were badly treated by the police.