Sunday, July 30, 2023

Jerusalem Patriarch warns of rising attacks on churches by Jewish extremists

Patriarch Pizzaballa: Christians in Holy Land want their rights respected -  Vatican News

Cardinal-elect Pierbattista Pizzaballa speaks about the upsurge of attacks against Christians by Israeli extremists, saying Christians in the Holy Land don’t want special protection, but their fundamental rights to be ensured.

Harassment and attacks against Christians in Israel are acts of a minority of Jewish ultra-nationalists that breed in a specific cultural context, not an expression of growing intolerance in Israeli wider society, the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, Cardinal-designate Pierbattista Pizzaballa, says.

Growing harassment and intimidation from Jewish estremists

Vandalisms targeting churches, cemeteries, and Christian properties in addition to physical and verbal abuse against Christian clergy have seen an upsurge in the past months in the Holy Land, amid ongoing political tensions within Israeli society, and re-escalation of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The most recent incidents have seen extremist Jews attempting to occupy churches in Haifa.

Speaking to Vatican News’ Jean-Charles Putzolu, Archbishop Pizzaballa, who will receive the red hat on 30 September, confirmed that acts of religious intolerance are not new, but have significantly increased in recent times, especially in Jerusalem, albeit they cannot be defined as persecution.

He said the increase is a matter of concern for Christians, but also for Israeli authorities, though efforts to reduce these incidents haven’t been very successful.

Patriarch Pizzaballa explained that the violence involves basically new generations of Israeli settlers in the Occupied Territories who have grown in a socio-cultural context of violence and polarization fuelled by some radical religious leaders.

Christians in the Holy Land don’t want special protections

The situation is making Christian communities more and more nervous. However, he said, Christians in the Holy Land don’t want special protections, but only respect of the fundamental rights that a democratic state should guarantee to all citizens and communities, irrespective of their religious affiliation.

Cardinal-designate Pizzaballa went on to say that despite police efforts to enforce the law and resulting in some arrests, the Israeli government doesn’t seem to pay enough attention to this issue, with the exception of President Isaac Herzog who recently spoke out against the increasing acts of violence, calling them shameful.

Although the current far-right Israeli Government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is not per se anti-Christian, according to Patriarch Pizzaballa, it has indirectly contributed to create a climate of tension and animosity in some circles of the Israeli society.

Reactions from Israeli society are reasons for hope

However, he said, there are “reasons for hope,  because these incidents have spurred  strong reactions  within Israeli society, even from Jewish religious leader: “I believe that over time this awareness of the problem will bear fruit”, the Patriarch said.