Summary of Israeli targeted and escalating crimes and systematic aggression against Christian Holy Sites, properties, institutions, and Palestinian Christians in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including Jerusalem in 2023.
- Over the prolonged belligerent Israeli occupation, Palestinian Christians have been suffering from Israel’s discriminatory policies and practices, including illegal land confiscation, expropriation of properties, restrictions on freedom of worship, attacks on holy sites, in addition to persecution and harassment of religious personnel.
- Since the start of this year, Palestinian Christians have witnessed an alarmingly increased level of hostility and attacks by extremist Jewish settlers, including physical and verbal harassment, vandalism and attacks on churches on a daily basis.
- This year, countless hate crimes against Christians were documented in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including Jerusalem. For instance, an Armenian priest in Jerusalem reported to have been spat on over 90 times so far this year.
- From graffiti, that reads “death to Christians”, to cursing and violent physical assaults, Palestinian Christians, particularly in Jerusalem, are facing a shocking increase in attacks following the establishment of an extremist government in Israel.
- Today, the 13,000 Christians of Jerusalem make up just 1 percent of the population of the Holy City, and suffer from systematic discrimination, that translates into acts of hatred against them, under the watch and encouragement of Israeli officials and forces. It is important to note that most of the attacks on Christians in Jerusalem go unreported. For example:
- On the first day of the year, about 30 graves in the Mount Zion Protestant Cemetery were toppled over and vandalized by extremist Israeli settlers and have not yet been repaired.
- In January also, Israeli extremist settlers attacked the Armenian Convent of the Armenian Patriarchate in Jerusalem and climbed the Patriarchate’s walls to remove its flag. Further, a group of radical settlers attacked an Armenian restaurant at the New Gate in the Christian Quarter of the occupied city of Jerusalem, and threw chairs toward the restaurant and those who had been seated there. The attack came as extremist Israeli settlers cursed and chanted ‘Death to Arabs’ near Damascus Gate in occupied Jerusalem.
- In February, three extremist Israeli settlers stormed the Church of the Condemnation, located at the Second Station of the Via Dolorosa, smashed a statute of Jesus and attempted to set the church on fire.
- In March, Two Israeli extremist settlers broke into the Church of Gethsemane in the occupied city of Jerusalem, tried to sabotage the properties inside the church, and attacked the priests during Sunday Mass while hurling abusive remarks.
- These acts are not incidental or random, they are systematic, planned and emboldened by incitement and racist rhetoric and structured persecution and oppression against Christians and Christianity, and are part of a repeating pattern of attacks against Christian holy sites.
- The assaults are inherent in Israel’s illegal occupation and years of systematic and structural subordination and discrimination against the Palestinian people, Christians and Muslims, to ensure Jewish supremacy and erasure of Palestinian history and identity.
- Israel’s militarization of Christian religious ceremonies, and imposition of punitive measures through the combination of restrictions on access to churches, the subjugation of Holy Sites, and the brutal incessant violence inflicted on worshippers, violates the historical and legal Status Quo. For example:
- In April and during Easter celebrations, Israeli forces attacked Palestinian Christians and filled the gates of the Old City of Jerusalem with blocks and barriers, allowing only small numbers of Christians to enter. They also obstructed traffic in Khan Al-Zeit market and assaulted dozens of worshippers trying to cross the checkpoints and reach the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. Also, days prior to the Holy Fire Saturday, footage shows extremist Israeli settlers spitting at Christian nuns as they walked down the Via Dolorosa, a historical path in the old city of occupied East Jerusalem.
- Israel, the occupying Power, has long aimed to alter the historical and legal status and demographic composition of Jerusalem to ensure Jewish exclusivity and dominance, including through war crimes of forcible displacement, demolitions, and control over holy sites, all in violation of international law, including United Nations resolutions.
- These acts and practices have far-reaching consequences, and create a coercive environment that threatens Palestinian Christians’ presence in Jerusalem. The timing of these assaults during celebrations is not coincidental, as they aim to ignite a religious war and expel Palestinian Christians from their homes, their churches, and their Holy Land.
- Continued attacks against Muslim holy sites further highlight the systematic nature of such assaults that threaten to erase Jerusalem’s pluralistic character and reflect an innate disdain and hostility for Christianity and Islam. This is evident in the calls of extremist Jewish settlers to destroy Al-Aqsa Mosque and build the Jewish Temple in its place.
- Attacks on Churches, holy sites and Christian properties, are a persistent occurrence, that is not receiving the appropriate reaction, locally or internationally, despite appeals, requests, and protests made by the Churches of the Holy Land. For example:
- In June, an Israeli settler threw stones and smashed the stained-glass windows of the room of the Last Supper in Jerusalem, known as the Cenacle.
- During the Catholic Pentecost ceremony on Mount Zion, south of Jerusalem’s Old City, about 20 ultra-Orthodox Jews blew trumpets and cursed loudly to sabotage the ceremony. Loud noises, curses and harassment is practiced daily by extremist Jewish settlers, particularly in the Christian Quarter in order to create a coercive environment for Christians living in the old city of Jerusalem.
- In July, Two Israeli extremist armed settlers stormed the Orthodox Church complex in the Mount Zion area of occupied Jerusalem, spread items on the church ground and announced they would remain there. When a church official asked them to leave, the settlers started shouting insults and racist slurs towards him, telling him to “get out” of the grounds, and claiming, “Mount Zion belongs to the Jewish people”.
- These attacks are not only directed at Christians in the Occupied Territory, but also target Palestinian Christians beyond the green line. During the months of July and August, the Church and Monastery of Saint Elias in Haifa -also known as Stella Maris Monastery- was attacked several times and the attacks are still ongoing. On July 23, about 50 Israeli extremist settlers tried to break into the church. Local Christians and Muslims protected the Monastery from the attacks while the Israeli Police did nothing.
- In another incident, a group from a religious Jewish institute run by Rabbi Eliezer Berland were directed by the Rabbi to attack the same Monastery claiming rights to the place.
These racist acts and incidents continued during the month of August and here are also some examples:
- Early August: In a concerning incident, a young Armenian reported that Jewish settler attempted to urinate in front of the Saint George Monastery in the Old City of Jerusalem. The young Armenian intervened by pushing the intruder away to prevent him from insulting the Holy Site, leading to the intervention of the Israeli police, who not only defended the Jewish settler, but also detained the young Armenian for a period of 3 days.
- August 15: Armenians in Jerusalem reported instances of provocation from their Jewish neighbors on their Facebook page. They recounted disturbing claims of their Jewish neighbors insinuating ownership of their homes. One of the Jewish neighbors reportedly told some Armenians to “start packing-up”, raising widespread concerns among Armenian residents of Jerusalem.
- August 19: Israeli police prevented thousands of Christian worshippers from accessing the Mount of Tabor in the lower Galilee. This obstruction occurred during the annual celebration of the Feast of the Transfiguration.
- August 21: According to Wadi Abu Nassar, a group of radical Jews threw stones at the Angel Gabriel’s convent near Nazareth. A video documenting this criminal act captured the sound of stones hitting the convent, accompanied by the presence of young extreme Jewish men passing by and yelling in Hebrew, though exact words they used remain unclear.
- August 27: On the occasion of the Assumption of Virgin Mary, a traditional march to Jerusalem by Christian worshippers was disrupted by Israeli occupation forces. They didn’t only prevent entry to Jerusalem, but also employed force and shot tear gas at the worshippers at Checkpoint 300, which cuts Bethlehem and Jerusalem. They sealed off the checkpoint until late hours, and the reduced the numbers of issued permits significantly.
In Gaza and since the start of Israel’s genocide, Palestinian Christians, along with Churches and Christian institutions have not been spared from Israeli attacks:
- October 17: Israeli massive blast targeted Al Ahli Baptist Hospital in Gaza. Apart from its primary role in offering medical care to sick and wounded Palestinians, the hospital provided shelter for thousands of displaced Palestinians. The Israeli attack killed 500 Palestinians, many of them are children. The church adjunct to the hospital was also damaged. The hospital is run by the Arab Anglican Episcopal Church of the Holy Land.
- October 19: Israel carried out airstrikes targeting the complex of St. Porphyrios Greek Orthodox church in Gaza. The attack resulted in the destruction of the Church’s Council building killing of 17 Palestinian Christians, including 9 children, the oldest was 12 years old, while the youngest 3-months-old. Entire families were obliterated. 382 Palestinians sought shelter from indiscriminate Israeli bombardment.
- October 30: Israeli war planes bombed the Greek Orthodox Church’s Arab Orthodox Cultural and Social Center, where 1000 displaced Palestinians took shelter. The eastern section of the center was totally destroyed, which housed a gym, a theatre, administrative offices and open spaces. Israeli occupation forces have issued a warning to evacuate the center on October 29th, 2023. The center serves all members of Palestinians in Gaza in various cultural, social and sports fields.
- November 4: Israeli airstrikes targeted the Rosary Sisters School in Gaza, which is affiliated with the Catholic Church. The bombing has resulted in significant damage to the school’s internal structure and a large outdoor playground. One of the school buildings has collapsed.
- December 16: A Palestinian Christian mother and her daughter Nahida and Samar Anton were shot dead by Israeli sniper of the invading Israeli forces in Gaza. They were killed inside the Holy Family Catholic Church, where many Christian families has taken refuge, since the start of the Israeli aggression in Gaza. Seven more people were injured as they tried to protect others inside the Church compound.
The Covenant of the Sisters of Mother Theresa (Missionaries of Charity) was targeted by a rocket fired from an Israeli invading tank in Gaza. The building’s generator, fuel resources, solar panels and water tanks were destroyed, rendering it uninhabitable. The Covenant is home to over 54 disabled persons. They are currently displaced and without access to life-saving respirators.
- December 17: the YMCA building in Gaza City was bombarded with reports of loss of life and injury. the building and its nearby churches have been a place of shelter for hundreds of people since the beginning of Israel’s aggression on Gaza. The YMCA has always been a place of welcome, service and opportunity for everyone in its community.
- December 18: Israeli invading forces destroyed the walls of Ahli Baptist Hospital’s front entrance in Gaza and detained most of the staff there. They left two doctors and four nurses to tend over 100 seriously wounded patients. Israeli invading tanks parked on the rubble of the hospital’s entry wall, blocking every access to the hospital.
Armenians in Jerusalem are under attack
- November 15-16: On two separate occasions on the evening of November 15th and the morning of November 16th, armed Israeli settlers backed by private security guards stormed the Cows’ Garden premises (Goverou Bardez) in the Armenian Quarter in the old city of Jerusalem. This move aims to assert control over a land belonging to the Armenian Patriarchate of Jerusalem, which constitutes 25% of the American Quarter in an attempt to change facts on the ground. Two bulldozers accompanied them. The Armenian community stopped the trespassers from progressing, but Israeli police intervened at around 11:00 pm on November 15th in big numbers. Instead of removing the trespassers, the Israeli police arrested 3 members of the Armenian community, including a 17-year-old child.
- December 28: A group of Armenian clerics and seculars were reportedly attacked by a violent mob of Israeli settlers as they held a vigil at Jerusalem’s Cows’ Garden property currently used as a parking lot. A mobile phone video filmed by one of the priests showed the Armenians clashing with dozens of masked Israeli settlers apparently trying to drive them out of the property. Several of them were reportedly injured as a result.