Jerusalem’s Churches: “Esplanade blitzes must stop”

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Leaders of Christian Churches in Jerusalem are watching with great concern as the events currently taking place in the Esplanade of the Mosques unfold. And they are calling all parties to respect the status quo, the understanding reached back in the days of the Ottoman Empire, which regulates relations between the various religious groups present in the area and protects the Holy Sites of all religions within the city.

This call came in the form of a joint declaration published in Jerusalem, which has been the centre of provocation, clashes and attacks around Haram Al Sharif, the “sacred enclosure” of mosques where the Temple once stood. Right-wing Jewish nationalist groups are claiming their right to go and pray there in an increasingly open manner; Muslims see this as an act of blatant provocation. After the attack against one the movement’s leaders a day or so ago - Rabbi Yehuda Glick, who has been campaigning to have the Temple rebuilt, in the place of the al Aqsa Mosque – Jerusalem has become the scene of non-stop clashes and attacks. On Wednesday, two Israelis were deliberately run over by a Palestinian at a light rail stop. Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been trying to restore calm by repeating that there are no plans to make any changes to Haram al Sharif. But his words openly contradict what has been said by some members of parliament and representatives of his own government. They made some aggressive statements during a visit to the Esplanade in recent days.

This extremely tense situation - which many have already described as the potential start to a new Intifada – is causing huge concern to the leaders of Jerusalem’s Christian communities. The text, which carries the signatures of the Latin Patriarch Fouad Twal and the Custos of the Holy Land, Pierbattista Pizzaballa, reads as follows: “We, the Heads of Churches in Jerusalem, wish to express our serious concern regarding response to recent activity on Haram al Sharif which has included both full closures and some limitation of access to Al Aqsa Mosque. These events have been provoked by acts of extremism which are becoming a phenomenon both here in the Holy Land and in the wider region.We condemn threats of changes to the status of the Holy Sites from wherever they may come. The Holy Sites need constant watchful protection so that reasonable access to them can be maintained according to the prevailing statusquo of all three Abrahamic faiths. The existing agreed Status Quo governing these sites needs to be fully respected for the sake of the whole community. Any threat to its continuity and integrity could easily lead to unpredictable consequences which would be most unwelcome in the present delicate political climate.”

The statement was published on the very day 5,000 police agents were deployed throughout Jerusalem as it is feared fresh violence could break out during Friday prayers. Clashes are already taking place in the East part of the city. During a funeral service held this morning for one of the victims of the light rail incident, the Sephardi Chief Rabbi of Israel, Yitzhak Yosef spoke out against the actions of Jewish nationalists who have been going to the Esplanade, saying: “We must stop them. This is the only way to prevent the Israeli people whom shedding any more blood,” he said in bold terms. Yosef reiterated the theory put forward by the Orthodox Jews that praying on the Esplanade is a sacrilegious act. “It is inconceivable that lower ranking rabbis should be debating what Israel’s most important and authoritative rabbis have always said in relation to such issues,” he added.

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By Giorgio Bernardelli/ Vatican Insider