Respect and tolerance in short supply in Jerusalem

Respect and tolerance in short supply in Jerusalem

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The two nuns were standing outside the Church of the Flagellation in Jerusalem when six men dressed in traditional Jewish Orthodox clothes and black hats passed by. The first man spat as he passed the nuns, and others followed with the same act of disrespect. The scene was captured on video that has been widely shared.

In another video from the old city of Jerusalem, Christians carrying a wooden cross pass by a Jewish man who also cursed the Christian faithful.

These were not isolated acts. A month earlier the same church that the nuns were standing outside was vandalized by a religious Jew, whose attempt to torch the building was stopped by a vigilant guard. A nearby Anglican cemetery was also vandalized and two people carrying out the destruction of the crosses on the Protestant church were captured on security cameras.

At least 80 such acts of physical and verbal abuse were recorded in the first three months of 2023. Much of the hate, such as spitting at nuns and clergy, goes unreported. A large number of attacks take place in the Armenian quarter, which is next to the Jewish quarter.  For the most part, even when these incidents are reported there is rarely any accountability.

The government of Israel, which claims to represent world Jewry and accuses its opponents of antisemitism, is failing to stop the rhetoric and actions of some of its its senior ministers that encourage anti-Islamic and anti-Christian behavior

Daoud Kuttab

Church clergy and lay Palestinian Christians have been sounding the alarm about this for years. This year the violence and hate speech have significantly increased, largely because of the Jewish supremacy rhetoric that has filled the airwaves since the most far-right extremist government in Israel’s history was formed in December. The Knesset is considering a law that would criminalize the Christian ministry in Israel. Its language, directed at Christians, would make soliciting an adult to change their faith punishable by one year in jail, increasing to two years if the person being solicited was a child.

While much of the anti-Christian activity is blamed on rogue individuals or groups, the Israeli government itself has also acted against Christians this year. Previously Israel has allowed some of the small Christian community in Gaza to participate in Christmas and Easter celebrations in Bethlehem and Jerusalem. This year, despite having initially issued Easter travel permits to 739 Palestinian Christians from Gaza, the government then canceled the permits without explanation.

There is a much bigger problem with the number of Christians permitted to attend the annual Holy Fire celebrations. Sabt Al-Nour is a parade of lights that emerges from the Church of the Holy Sepulchre on the Saturday before Orthodox Easter, with the light symbolically passed to churches around the world. For centuries, up to 10,000 worshippers have attended this event, but Israeli police have cut attendance this Saturday to 1,800 for what they describe as safety reasons. These restrictions are yet another clear violation of the long-standing agreement that regulates sensitive religious issues in Jerusalem and Bethlehem. Church leaders and the government of Jordan, which is the custodian of Christian and Muslim holy places in Jerusalem, have publicly criticized the Israeli action.

The government of Israel, which claims to represent world Jewry and accuses its opponents of antisemitism, is failing to stop the rhetoric and actions of some of its its senior ministers that encourage anti-Islamic and anti-Christian behavior. In light of events in Palestine, a UN Security Council presidential statement in February read: “The Security Council notes with deep concern instances of discrimination, intolerance and hate speech motivated by racism or directed against persons belonging to religious communities, in particular cases motivated by Islamophobia, antisemitism or Christianophobia." The statement was read by Lana Nusseibeh, the UAE’s permanent representative at the UN. Her family, Muslims from Jerusalem, were given the keys to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre with the consent of Christians. Thus a Palestinian Muslim family has had the duty of opening and closing Christianity’s most important church for over 800 years, the kind of mutual respect and tolerance that is so desperately needed in Jerusalem.

The city is the cradle of the three main Abrahamic religions. In the past, conquerors who have tried to monopolize Jerusalem for the benefit of a single religion or ethnicity have invariably failed. The lesson of history is the need for respect and tolerance both in act and in deed.

  • Daoud Kuttab is a Palestinian journalist from Jerusalem. He is a former Ferris Professor of Journalism at Princeton University. Twitter: @daoudkuttab
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