Religious nationalism Israel | 07 September 2023

Israel: Increasing attacks on Christians need to be taken seriously

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The newly appointed Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, Pierbattista Pizzaballa, discussed the recent attacks on Christians in Israel in an interview with the Catholic News Agency which was published on 26 August 2023. He told how the attacks are concentrated in two areas: i) in the Old City in Jerusalem and ii) in the North, in Haifa. In Haifa, the attacks are linked to a small radical Jewish sect that believes the tomb of the Prophet Elisha is located in the Catholic Stella Maris monastery on Mount Carmel. In Jerusalem, the violence is linked to certain ultra-Orthodox Jews who, in the words of the Patriarch, “see pagan symbols in the presence of Christians and Christian symbols”. Pizzaballa made clear that while there were problems of coexistence and violent incidents, it would be incorrect, in his view, to regard this as persecution since the situation is not as hostile as in other regions. He also emphasized that 90% of the Israeli population have nothing to do with these radical groups. The Patriarch stated that he had met with both the Israeli government and police and indicated that there is now more awareness of the problem for Christians than previously.

World Watch Research analyst Henriette Kats comments: “The Patriarch puts the increasing pressure and violence against both Christians and Christian places of worship and other buildings in Israel in a correct perspective: Perpetrators from radical groups form only a small part of Israeli society and are concentrated in specific areas which give them high visibility. As Pizzaballa mentioned, it was good that President Herzog showed his support for Christians through his visit to the monastery on 9 August 2023. It is also important that these incidents - both in Haifa and in Jerusalem - are taken seriously and followed up by the police to prevent any escalation. The Patriarch does not want to label the problems faced by Christians as ‘persecution’ as he does not consider the situation comparable to the gruesome activities of groups like Islamic State (IS). Indeed, the pressure Christians in Israel are experiencing, has thankfully not reached the same horrifying levels as seen under IS in Iraq and Syria. However, religious oppression often starts in small ways and can grow over time, which is why it needs to be monitored and dealt with. It is crucial to remain vigilant and not simply accept attacks against Christians in Israel as part of normal life."


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