In July 2017 the heads of the Churches in Jerusalem were compelled to make a public statement of their concern in terms of breach of the Status Quo governing the Holy Sites and ensuring the rights and privileges of the Churches. This statement was further followed by another joint appeal in September 2017, stressing the following concerns over repeated encroachment on the Status Quo:
“We now find ourselves united once again in condemning recent further encroachment on the Status Quo. In such matters as this, the Heads of the Churches are resolute and united in our opposition to any action by any authority or group that undermines those laws, agreements, and regulations that have ordered our life for centuries. We cannot stress strongly enough the very serious situation that this recent systematic assault on the Status Quo has had on the integrity of Jerusalem and on the well-being of the Christian communities of the Holy Land, as well as on the stability of our society.”
The appeal was signed by the following Patriarchs and Heads of Churches in Jerusalem: Patriarch Theophilos III, Greek Orthodox Patriarchate; Patriarch Nourhan Manougian, Armenian Apostolic Orthodox Patriarchate; Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa, Apostolic Administrator, Latin Patriarchate; Fr. Francesco Patton, ofm, Custos of the Holy Land; Archbishop Anba Antonious, Coptic Orthodox Patriarchate, Jerusalem; Archbishop Swerios Malki Murad, Syrian Orthodox Patriarchate; Archbishop Aba Embakob, Ethiopian Orthodox Patriarchate; Archbishop Joseph-Jules Zerey, Greek-Melkite-Catholic Patriarchate; Archbishop Mosa El-Hage, Maronite Patriarchal Exarchate; Archbishop Suheil Dawani, Episcopal Church of Jerusalem and the Middle East; Bishop Munib Younan, Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land; Bishop Pierre Malki, Syrian Catholic Patriarchal Exarchate; Msgr. Georges Dankaye’, Armenian Catholic Patriarchal Exarchate.
- “The Bill of Church Lands”.
On July 26th, an unprecedented draft law was put on the agenda of to the Knesset. It quickly gained support from about 40 lawmakers of the Knesset as their signatures appeared on the so called “Bill of Church Lands”. All the Churches are deeply concerned about the unpredictable consequences following the adoption of the draft law, as it is directed at the severe restriction of their rights on the properties and lands they currently own.
- “Jaffa Gate case”.
Another issue regarding the infringements on religious freedom in Israel took place in July 2017 when the Jerusalem District Court issued its ruling against the Church mainly in terms of two landmark hotel buildings that belong to the Jerusalem Patriarchate on the right of ownership in the Old City’s Jaffa Gate. In 2004, when the Patriarchate was headed by the now deposed Patriarch Irineos, an unauthorized contract for long-term leases was conducted with the
radical settler group Ateret Cohanim.
Taking account of the abovementioned observations, we express our utmost concern about the current situation with religious freedom in Israel. We call on the international community and the responsible human rights bodies to immediately intervene into the evolving confrontation in Israel in order to prevent further encroachment on the Status Quo.