(ZENIT News – Asia News / Jerusalem, 03.21.2023).- The Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem and Primate Theophilus III, together with the Synod, all the clergy and faithful, “condemn the atrocious terrorist attack,” which took place on Thursday morning, March 19, during Sunday’s Liturgy, at the hands of two Israeli extremists.” Thus read the note of the leaders of the Christian community of the Holy Land, commenting on the attack on Mary’s Tomb, one of the most important churches for the Orthodox, located in front of the church of Gethsemane. The authors of this “atrocious crime tried to physically harm Archbishop Joachim, who was trying to celebrate the office,” and “one of the priests,” stated the press release, all of which took place, among other things, during “the time of Lent, which prepares for Easter.
According to the Christian leaders, the attacks are a natural consequence of the escalation of hate speeches and incitement to violence, which is happening increasingly in Israel, especially at the level of leaders, which ends up tainting the society. Christians are the objective of the attacks, but Muslims are not spared either, in a constant spiral of hatred, provocation, violation of the status quo, and a strategy of tension, which threatens to break out in an open conflict.
Local sources informed that two radical Jews, of the south of Israel, brandishing an iron bar, burst into the church of Mary’s Tomb, one of the most important places of the Orthodox tradition of the Holy Land, frequent destiny of pilgrims, located in the eastern sector of the Holy City. The pair tried to destroy and disfigure sacred objects kept inside the building and attack the Bishop physically and two priests who were celebrating the Sunday office. The aggressors were taken by surprise by some faithful inside the building and detained until the arrival of the Security Forces. In the afternoon, the police confirmed the detention of a 27-year-old man from the south, without giving more information on the suspect’s identity.
Bilal Abu Nab, a vendor who works near the church, said to AFP that two Jews perpetrated the attack, one of whom wore a “kipá” (a traditional headdress) and the other a “tzitzit” (shawl). One of the priests was wounded in the head. This new “terrorist” attack took place at a time of profound tension in the Holy Land, and for different motives: in the first place, Israel’s internal crisis, where tens of thousands of people have come out repeatedly onto the streets, together with Judges and Magistrates, to protest against the reform of justice of the Government led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Added to this is the existing confrontation between Israelis and Palestinians (in the West Bank and Gaza), fuelled also by Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir’s walkabout in the Esplanade of the Mosques, which runs the risk of becoming a new intifada. Finally, the confessional tensions and the violence of extremist Jews against Christians (and Muslims): the last episode goes back to early February, against the Church of the Flagellation, while at the beginning of the year extremist groups profaned a cemetery on Mount Sion and earlier attacked other objectives, among them a church near the Cenacle, the Basilica of Nazareth itself and Catholic and Greek-Orthodox buildings.
The Greek-Orthodox Patriarch stressed in the note that the attacks against sacred places, properties, patrimony and Christians’ identity are a violation of International Law. The Christian leaders are calling openly for the “protection” of Jerusalem’s religious places and stress the need to respect religious liberty, a fundamental human right. Finally the Christians ask the International Community for security and protection, in particular, for the church of the Holy Sepulcher.