The World Council of Churches (WCC) has expressed concern over the infringement of religious freedom on Christians in the Holy Land.
It follows an incident where more than a thousand Orthodox Christians were denied access to Mount Tabor, the site of the transfiguration of Jesus.
A ban had been issued to prevent assembly at the site over safety concerns.
The WCC says there has been repeated harassment of Christians in Jerusalem, Haifa and elsewhere, and local churches in Jerusalem have been issuing statements asking for help and the protection of the Indigenous Christian presence.
Fr Fadi Diab, who is rector of St Andrew's Episcopal Church in Ramallah, told Premier he welcomes the WCC's intervention.
“I think it is right to issue such a statement because what we've been experiencing for so many years, but intensifying over the last two years, is more restrictions on Christians who want to reach their holy sites.”
Fr Fadi says the Christian presence in the Holy Land has been dwindling over the last 75 years. He says the Christian community now makes up only two per cent of the Holy Land and just one per cent in Palestine.
“The political conflict and the economic challenges have caused many people to leave the country. So, that is why we have many churches in Israel today that are empty. But in the last two years with the rise of the right, many extremists want to claim these holy sites as their own. For example, in Haifa, the cave of Prophet Elijah, which has been for centuries a Christian site, is now invaded by Jewish extremists who want to occupy the place and claim it for themselves."
In the statement, the WCC 's General Secretary Rev Prof Dr Jerry Pillay, said: “No less than 1,000 cars waited at multiple checkpoints [at Mount Tabor] set up by the Israeli police, and were consequently delayed for two-and-a-half hours. Among those who were stopped was Dr Audeh Quawas, executive committee member of the World Council of Churches. The faithful were surprised that a ban was issued to prevent assembly on Mount Tabor and the open area, and that the police cited safety concerns for the participants. A few days previously, a meeting took place between the Orthodox Council in Nazareth and the Israeli authorities, where it was agreed that the event would take place. Impediment of the Christian celebration on Mount Tabor comes in the aftermath of repeated harassment of Christians in Jerusalem, Haifa and elsewhere.
"The World Council of Churches views with concern the infringement on religious freedom, the denial of worship, and the constraints on the life of the Christian community in the Holy Land under the pretext of safety and security as unacceptable. The World Council of Churches calls upon the Government of Israel to allow Christian worship and community events to proceed freely, and to protect the rights of religious freedom for all people.”
Fr Fadi added: “What happened on Mount Tabor is not new. This has been intensifying mainly by the nationalist groups in Israel who do not wish to share the land with any other, whether that is a Christian or a Muslim. These groups wish to have the Holy Land only for themselves and not for any anyone else. The issue here is political rather than religious.”
Read the full statement of the WCC general secretary here WCC general secretary statement on Christians denied access to holy site | World Council of Churches (oikoumene.org)