The ICoHS December Newsletter

Christian leaders condemn latest attack on Jerusalem’s Romanian Church

Christian leaders have condemned the latest attack on a church in Jerusalem.  For the fourth time in a month, Israeli radicals have attacked the Romanian Orthodox Church in the city’s Musrara neighbourhood. On Monday, March 1st, the assailants set fire to the entrance of the church which was quickly extinguished by the Priest in charge.

The Council of Catholic Churches issued a statement of solidarity with the Romanian Church saying “We unite with the Orthodox Churches and all other churches in Jerusalem and strongly condemn such acts of sabotage that not only harm the lives of Christians, but also harm many of those who still believe in dialogue and mutual respect.” These actions contradict the spirit of peaceful coexistence between the plurality of religious communities in the city. The statement added, “All political and religious authorities in the city must unite in condemning these actions, which have been repeated in recent months in Jerusalem.” They demanded the Israeli authorities to seriously investigate these incidents and to bring the perpetrators to justice.

The attack is an example of the hostility Christians face in the birthplace of their faith. Two weeks earlier a similar incident occurred when radicals destroyed the CCTV cameras of the Romanian Church and attempted to set the door on fire. Speaking at the time, the Patriarch of Jerusalem, Theophilos III, described it as an event “that reflects the extent of the Israeli extremists’ hatred for the Christian religion in general, and the Orthodox Church in particular.” In response to the outcry the United Nations Alliance for Civilizations released a statement condemning such acts of intolerance and called for “mutual respect of all religions and faiths and for fostering a culture of fraternity and peace.”

Commenting on the most recent attack ICoHS CEO, Anita Delhaas, has said “such attacks reveal the level of intolerance many Christians endure, but also the solidarity shared by the different denominations in the faith.” The attack took place just days after a group of senior church leaders in Jerusalem appeared before the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Christianity in the Holy Land. Members of the APPG, which include the Archbishop of Canterbury and politicians from four parties, quizzed the church leaders about the repeated attacks and the failure of local authorities to take meaningful action against the radical groups behind them.

The ICoHS January Newsletter

“By the power of the Holy Spirit may you abound in hope” 
Romans 15:13

Much of the pessimism which blighted 2020 has continued into the beginning of 2021.  In spite of our continued lock downs in different parts of the world, including the Holy Land, we must not forget the intolerable plight of our Christian brothers and sisters in the Holy Land, especially at the end of the Christmas period which is often a time of great joy and energy in the birthplace of Jesus.

Without the custom of pilgrims and little government support, Christian businesses have struggled to remain open.  This has exasperated the divisions in the area and continues to cast doubt over the future of Christians in the Holy Land.  In response to this, ICoHS has directed $30,000 raised through your generosity in the Bethlehem Star event to assist struggling Christian families, helping them with school tuition and medical needs.

We are excited to share our plans for the coming year which has not been deferred by the pandemic. We will be holding our Summit this September in Westminster Abbey, bringing together leading voices on Christians in the Holy Land. This will be followed by a similar event in Washington DC in the United States of America.

As the only organisation to receive a mandate from all 13 churches in Jerusalem, we are pleased to announce the start of our “Feasts of the Holy Land” series. We will start with the Feast of St. Simeon with a live-stream on February 16, the day before Latin Ash Wednesday leading into lent and Holy Week.

This series aims to bring Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant communities together to celebrate these ancient traditions that are often less popular in modern times.

Looking forward to virtually meet you during our live-stream on February 16, in which we will share interesting facts about Saint Simeon, give you an opportunity to meet clergy from the Holy Land, roam the streets of Jerusalem with Bassem (a tour operator) and visit the Monastery of Saint Simeon in the Qatamon area.

Anita Delhaas- van Dijk

Chief Executive

The Ongoing Plight of Jerusalem’s Christians

The ongoing plight of Jerusalem’s Christians is receiving renewed attention in the media. This article, published by the American Conservative, links the recent arson attack at the Garden of Gethsemane to a concerted campaign by radical groups to drive Christians from the Holy Land. A spate of similar attacks over the last decade have resulted in very few convictions, with police reluctant to acknowledge any political or religious motivation behind crimes targeting Christians. At the other end of the wedge are attempts by the same radical groups to fraudulently acquire church property in the Christian Quarter of Jerusalem. If these attempts are successful it would fundamentally alter the Christian character of the ancient city, which in turn undermines the continued presence of Christians in the Holy Land.

Attack on Gethsemane Church “seeks to drive Christians from the Holy Land”

The most senior Christian leader in Jerusalem has described Friday’s arson attack on the Church of Gethsemane as “a crime inspired by an extreme ideology that seeks to drive Christians from the Holy Land.”

His Beatitude Theophilos III, Patriarch of Jerusalem, condemned the attack carried out by a 49 year old Israeli radical. The man was restrained on site by the Church guard and Muslim and Christian bystanders, before being arrested by Israeli police.

On Friday 4 December the man entered the church at the Garden of Gethsemane on Jerusalem’s Mount of Olives, and poured a flammable liquid which he set fire to. A Byzantine floor mosaic and wooden pews were damaged in the fire, which was extinguished before causing widespread destruction or injury.

The Custody of the Holy Land is the body responsible for the protection of Christian holy sites in Jerusalem. Fr Ibrahim Faltas from the Custody called the attack “a crime, a crime that shouldn’t happen in a church in the Holy Land.”

Patriarch Theophilos, who has repeatedly called for greater protection for Christian sites in the Holy Land, added “I call on the international community to take its role in protecting Christian shrines, and preserving the indigenous Christian presence in the Holy Land.”

Only last week, the Patriarch appeared at online events in Westminster and Washington DC to promote this message. On Thursday 2 December he spoke to a US State Department conference, hosted by US Ambassador for International Religious Freedom, Sam Brownback. On Monday 30 November, the Patriarch was a guest of honour at the inaugural meeting of a new All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Christianity in the Holy Land in the UK Parliament.

Commenting on the attack on the Gethsemane Church, the Chair of the new APPG, Steve Double MP, said: “This attack at a site of great significance to Christians worldwide reveals the threat that radical groups pose. Incidents like this demonstrate why we have established a new APPG on Christianity in the Holy Land to help ensure it remains a place where Christians can continue to live, flourish and thrive.”

Anita Delhaas, Chief Executive of the International Community of the Holy Sepulchre, an organisation established to support the churches of the Holy Land, said “Christians in the Holy Land face many challenges to preserve their ancient heritage and present livelihoods. More than ever, Holy Land Christians need friends, supporters and advocates in Europe and America to speak up and take action to prevent incidents like this from happening in the first place.”

Condemnation of the attack has also come from the Jewish community. Rabbi David Mason, a trustee of the Council of Christians and Jews, said “We deplore this attack on a Christian Holy Site in Jerusalem. Jewish people around the world stand in solidarity with our Christian brothers and sisters wherever they face persecution because of their faith. Attacks like this redouble our efforts to improve relations between faith communities and build societies based on peaceful coexistence.”

For all enquiries contact Will Neal:

The ICoHS May Newsletter

“Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit”.

Galatians 5:25

The Christian presence in Jerusalem and in the Holy Land is vital for all!

This was the message of the Heads of Churches and European Union Heads of Missions during last week’s meeting in Jerusalem.

After a month of turmoil and violence many Christians, Jews and Muslims are affected by the conflict in the Holy Land.  The church is taking the first steps towards reconciliation, as they meet local and international community leaders to engage in dialogue to seek sustainable solutions.  ICoHS is exploring how we can help facilitate this discussion in the coming months in order to tackle some of the root causes which resulted in the outburst of violence.
During this month’s events in the Holy Land, ICoHS connected church leaders with media, which allowed them to voice their concerns in Europe and the United States (see our website for the opinion article in “The Hill” or our Pentecost Event with Archbishop Hosam Naoum interview with the BBC).

We participated virtually in the Freedom of Religion and Believes (FoRB) meeting to update participants about what was happening in the Holy Land.  This resulted in Ms. Fiona Bruce, the MP’s Special Envoy for FoRB, to forward our message to Minister Cleverly for his consideration.

In addition, we were invited to join in the dialogue with Abrahamic Faith Leaders in the UK and had the privilege to convey the voice of the Christians in the Holy Land.
In July we hope to participate in the International Freedom of Religion Summit in Washington DC.  Together we aim to gain political support for global religious freedom movement and embolden religious groups, civil society and government to take stands for religious freedom.

ICoHS continued this month with its series on “Feasts of the Holy Land” as we started May with the celebration of Orthodox Easter, followed by Ascension Day and Pentecost.  Our virtual visit to the Holy Land on Pentecost (see our website  for the Pentecost Event) attracted 1000+ viewers on YouTube, LinkedIn and Facebook.

Next month we conclude both research-projects we commissioned on the Role of Christianity in the Holy Land and the Rapid Assessment of Christian Schools (of five denominations).  The findings of the research on the “Role of Christianity in the Holy Land” will be presented on October 13, 2021 in London.  We hope to invite key Church leaders from the UK as well as the Holy Land (Covid19 restrictions permitting) to this important event at Saint Margaret’s Church, Westminster Abbey.  In our next Newsletter we will share more information about this upcoming event.

ICoHS continues to collect funding for medical needs. Millions of dollars are pledged for emergency assistance to Gaza in response to the destruction, however, there is a real lack of medicines in other parts of the Holy Land, in particular in the Bethlehem area. 

During this pandemic many people cannot afford basic medicines.  We invite you to support our brothers and sisters in the Holy Land in this difficult period

Our bank account details are:

For UK donors:
Account Name: International Community of The Holy Sepulchre
Sort Code: 20-80-57
Account Number:10426857

For International donors:
Bank: Barclays
IBAN: GB38 BUKB 20805710426857

Please reference: Medical Campaign

Thank you for your prayers for the Peace of Jerusalem!

Warm regards,
Anita Delhaas-van Dijk
Chief Executive

Jerusalem churches are calling for intervention from the international community

Jerusalem churches are calling for intervention from the international community to stop the recent spiral of violence in the Holy Land.

In a statement, the Patriarchs and Heads of Churches said they are “profoundly disheartened

and concerned about the recent violent events in East Jerusalem. These concerning developments, whether at the Al Aqsa Mosque or in Sheikh Jarrah, violate the sanctity of the people of Jerusalem and of Jerusalem as the City of Peace. The actions undermining the safety of worshipers and the dignity of the Palestinians who are subject to eviction are unacceptable.

The special character of Jerusalem, the Holy City, with the existing Status Quo, compels all parties to preserve the already sensitive situation in the Holy City of Jerusalem. The growing tension, backed mainly by right-wing radical groups, endangers the already fragile reality in and around Jerusalem.”

Subsequent escalation in Gaza and Israeli cities has caused loss of life and widespread destruction. The International Community of the Holy Sepulchre echoes the churches’ call for peace and an immediate cessation of violence and provocation.

ICoHS has been in regular contact with the churches to offer support. The Patriarch of Jerusalem, His Beatitude Theophilos III, emphasised the need to recognise “the right of Sheikh Jarrah’s residents to express their righteous concerns and to live in their neighbourhoods with dignity and respect, away from the policy of expulsion and displacement, also noting the danger of the rise of the extreme right” that is behind the forced displacement.

The Latin Patriarchate called it “a question of justice for the inhabitants of the city to live, pray and work, each according to his/her own dignity; a dignity bestowed upon humanity by God himself.” It called on the authorities to “protect the special character of Jerusalem, called to be the heart of the Abrahamic faiths, a place of prayer and meeting, open to all and where all believers and citizens, of every faith and belonging, can feel at home, protected and guaranteed.”

Bishop Sani Ibrahim Azar of the Lutheran Church condemned violations of the status quo agreement, which “only serves to fuel tensions and increase hatred among Israelis and Palestinians.” The status quo agreement “guarantees the three religions, and two people access to their holy sites during religious celebrations. In the last weeks, we have already seen violations of this agreement when Christians were harassed and denied access to the Church of the Resurrection for the Holy Fire and Easter celebration.”

ICoHS’ Chief Executive, Anita Delhaas, has said “for too long hateful ideologies have been allowed to go unchecked, and the result is what we are witnessing in Jerusalem. Frequent attacks on holy sites, threats and intimidation of worshipers, and mob behaviour in the city’s streets reflect alarming intolerance towards other religious communities. Those in positions of authority must take action to address this urgently and challenge the radical ideologies that seek to drive ancient communities from their homes in the Holy Land.”

ICoHS is committed to supporting the churches’ mission to promote peace and justice where everyone’s rights to security and freedom of religion are protected. The health and education ministries of the churches are more important than ever but these are overstretched and depend on the generous support of friends in the international community.

In addition to material support, the churches would value your prayers at this time, particularly for:

  • The safety of their congregations, staff and buildings while there is incitement and violence being directed towards minority groups
  • Courage and protection for the teachers and healthcare workers that care for children and vulnerable people in their communities
  • Wisdom for church leaders as they seek to promote peace in dialogue with their interreligious counterparts and national authorities
  • The international community to use its influence to bring about an immediate end to violence and for those promoting it to be brought to justice

The ICoHS April Newsletter

“A new commandment I give unto you, that ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another”.

John 13:34

We started April with the Easter celebration according to the Gregorian calendar and are in the middle of Holy Week according to the Julian calendar as we approach the end of the month.

Preparations for Orthodox Easter are in full swing in the Holy Land. We are happy to inform you churches are open, albeit with some restrictions, and local people are invited again to participate in century old traditions such as the Holy Fire ceremony.

Earlier this month we heard the good news about the cancellation of the seizure of the “Imperial Hotel” at the entrance of the Jaffa Gate against the claims of the radicals. Although this is not the end of the road for this decade old battle, but it’s a positive step forward. The cancellation of the seizure imposed by the Israeli District Court, contributes greatly to strengthening the position of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem in its battle to preserve Christian Heritage properties on the pilgrim route at Jaffa Gate.

Unfortunately, during the past days, events and confrontations in the city of Jerusalem are very concerning.
Church leaders and King Abdullah of Jordan denounced the fierce attacks launched by radicals, since the beginning of the holy month for Ramadan and the Holy Week for the Christians, against worshipers at the Damascus Gate and its surroundings.

The Patriarch of the Latin Church in Jerusalem Pierbattista Pizzaballa, also expressed his appreciation for King Abdullah’s commitment to free access to the Holy Places and the respect of the Status Quo in Jerusalem, and his promotion for inter-religious harmony.

The Orthodox Patriarch Theophilos III is also keen to guarantee freedom of worship for all and calls on everyone to respect the sanctity of the holy month, maintain peace and safety. He stressed that Jerusalem will remain the gate to heaven and the key to peace.

Besides the tensions in the streets of most major cities in the Holy Land, schools are experiencing increased stresses, due to the lack of finance/school tuitions. While, medical health care institutions are dealing with lots of confusion around the vaccination programs for Covid19.

Education in the Holy Land

Most education institutions have re-opened their doors for students, but have difficulties paying salaries and maintaining school buildings. ICoHS will commission a rapid-assessment next month, looking at the education system supported by the Syriac, Coptic, Orthodox and Evangelical Lutheran churches. The results of this rapid-assessment will function as building blocks for innovative projects to improve the overall education for children in the Holy Land.

Health care in the Holy Land

ICoHS will continue to collect funding for medical needs. Due to the pandemic health care in the Holy Land has become urgent and many people cannot afford basic medicines. We invite you to follow our social media fundraising campaign in the coming weeks.

As tensions build up in the Holy Land, ICoHS will work with international media drawing attention to the importance and necessity of all the people of the Holy Land to freely participate in all the religious celebrations.

Wishing all, who celebrate Easter according to the Julian calendar a blessed time as they remember the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.

We value your prayers for the peace of Jerusalem.
Warm regards,

Anita Delhaas- van Dijk
Chief Executive.

Jerusalem churches call for peace amid violent clashes

Jerusalem churches have appealed for peace in the wake of recent violent clashes in the city. Senior church leaders are deeply concerned by the confrontations and in particular the coordinated activity of radical groups that target religious minorities. 

The clashes come at a particularly sensitive time as Muslims fast during the holy month of Ramadan and Orthodox Christians mark the holy week before Easter. The unrest coincided with restrictions on Muslims gathering to breakfast outside Damascus Gate, and were exacerbated by inciteful demonstrations from radical groups.

“Jerusalem is holy to three religions, and believers of all these religions must be respected and enjoy freedom to observe their customs and traditions without fear or intimidation” His Beatitude Patriarch Theophilos III said in a statement. He called on “everyone to respect the sanctity of the holy month, maintain peace and safety for worshipers, and to enable freedom of worship and access to holy sites with respect and dignity, as guaranteed by international laws.” The Patriarch stressed the importance of “respecting the existing legal and historical status of Jerusalem and the Hashemite guardianship over the Islamic and Christian holy sites.”

Those concerns were echoed by Anita Delhaas, Chief Executive of the International Community of the Holy Sepulchre, said “for too long hateful ideologies that target religious minorities have been allowed to go unchecked, and the result is what have witnessed in Jerusalem recently. Frequent attacks on holy sites, threats and intimidation of worshipers, and mob behaviour in the city’s streets reflect alarming intolerance towards other religious communities. Those in positions of authority must take action to address this urgently and challenge the radical ideologies that seek to drive ancient communities out of the Holy Land.”

For all enquiries contact Anita Delhaas: / +31638479343

Notes to editors

His Beatitude Theophilos III has served as the Patriarch of Jerusalem since 2005. The See of Jerusalem was founded by St James the brother of Jesus. The Patriarch of Jerusalem is acknowledged by the Israeli, Palestinian, and Jordanian authorities, as well as by the other Patriarchs and Heads of Churches in Jerusalem, as the senior Christian leader in the Holy Land. The International Community of the Holy Sepulchre was established in 2018, uniquely with the support of all 13 Patriarchs and Heads of Churches in Jerusalem, to secure a brighter future for the Christian community in the Holy Land. It connects Holy Land Christians to the global Christian community, ensures their voices are heard, and directly supports the Christian presence in the Holy Land and the work of its churches.

The ICoHS March Newsletter

But God commended his love toward us, in that, while we were sinners, Christ died for us”.

Romans 5:8

As I write this month’s newsletter we are in the middle of Holy Week.  A time of reflection in preparation for (Latin) Easter early April.  Eastern Orthodox Churches base their liturgical calendar on the Julian calendar and will celebrate this important Feast early May.

Bishop Graham Tomlin of Kensington recorded 9 Holy Week reflections as a “Virtual Pilgrimage” which can be viewed on our website and they are also available on Premier TV and Premier Radio as podcasts.

In order to create an international community, we are planning to organize an informal Zoom Call “Tea & Talk” on Monday 5 April at 4 PM UK time and want to invite 30 people to join us to meet with Rev. Nabil Shehadi and Chef Zaki Ma’ayeh and learn more about culinary traditions during the Feast of Easter in the Holy Land.  Our participants will have the opportunity to meet with families in the Holy Land and learn how they are celebrating during this time.  If you like to join – please register on Eventbrite “Feasts of the Holy Land – Tea & Talk Event” or connect with us directly.

Slowly but surely Covid19 restrictions are lifted and we are pleased to know that all churches in the Holy Land are open and local people are able to attend Easter celebrations.  Travelling to the Holy Land is still restricted and the economic situation for many families is becoming increasingly difficult.  In particular many people are in need of medicines and medical support.  The story of the Khoury* family is one of many stories we recently heard from our friends in the Holy Land:

The Khoury* family with five members: father, Issa* mother, Sarah* two daughters Samira* and Dunia* and a boy called Daniel*. The eldest daughter, Samira is in high school now and she is under much pressure. A friend of the family explained how the hard circumstance this family is going through. The father, Issa is the main supporter for the family. His wife Sarah, never worked and is going through hard times because she is diabetic and she cannot work. Issa worked in a souvenir shop, where they had tourists coming every day especially in high seasons. When Covid19 spread in Bethlehem in March 2020, his boss gave him two month’s salary out of sympathy, but then ended the contract with everyone in the souvenir shop. Issa recently bought an apartment and cannot pay his loan and now having to survive with the basic needs and the medicine for his wife Sarah.  Samira recently discovered that she is, like her mom diabetic.  Samira is depressed and not knowing how to deal with the situation. To add to the pain, they all have Corona now and are not able to buy the basics like vitamins or pain killers.  The Khoury family is in need of medicine.  Samira needs lab tests, medicine and injections.

(*) These names are not their real names in order to protect their privacy. Please help us support families in the Holy Land!  You can go to our website and donate through our Stewardship or Signatry accounts and we will ensure with our church partners that medicines will reach the families in need during this Easter period.
Jesus died for our sins, and He has risen from the dead to pave the way for the bright future of humanity!
Warm regards,

Anita Delhaas- van Dijk
Chief Executive

The ICoHS February Newsletter

”Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer” 

Romans 12:12

There is lots of good news to share this month, but unfortunately also some bad news…
The bad news is that there was again an attack on a church in the Holy Land.  Last December the church in Getsemane suffered an attack, early February the Romanian Orthodox Church in Musrara was vandalized by Israeli radicals.  Video footage shows the assailants attempting to gain entry by smashing a lock to the front gate of the church and destroying its CCTV cameras.  His Beatitude, Theophilus III, Patriarch of Jerusalem described it as an event “that reflects the extent of the Israeli extremists’ hatred for the Christian religion in general, and the Orthodox Church in particular”.  It is important that the Christian community comes together to present a unified voice in condemning such actions
More bad news is that the measures combatting Covid19 are affecting the Christian community in the Holy Land.  The lack of income and social security leave many families in dire conditions. 

The All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG), of which ICoHS holds the secretariat, invited church leaders in Jerusalem on February 25 to inform Parliamentarians in the UK on current issues in the Holy Land.  We offered a platform to engage with one another and ask questions on how the local church is advocating for Christians during this time of pandemic.

The International Community of the Holy Sepulchre started to distribute the funds raised from the Bethlehem Star event among 7 schools, 2 institutions and 3 different projects from different local churches (Latin, Orthodox, Lutheran and Syriac) in the Bethlehem area to support with tuition fees, medical needs and food packages.  Local volunteers helped with the distribution under the supervision of Father Ibrahim Faltas of the Custody of the Holy Land.

More good news is that Georgia Kamberi joined our ICoHS Team in London.  Georgia will be assisting with communications and events.  Eoin O’loghlen will continue to be involved with us through the Good Faith Partnership.

Last time we mentioned our plans for a meeting in London and Washington DC.  The prolonged (travel) restrictions of the global pandemic forced us to re-evaluate our plans.  ICoHS is now planning to organize high-level meetings in London and Washington DC in September – most probably it will be a hybrid event (small group of people meeting physically and making the event available virtually for a larger group).  We hope to present an interesting report on Christianity in the Holy Land and will share soon more about this exciting opportunity.

This month we also started with our new live-stream series on “Feasts of the Holy Land”.  If you missed the live-stream on February 16 – please watch the YouTube video below:

As we prepare for (Latin) Easter, we are creating a special “Holy Land Pilgrimage” which will be available daily on our website and on Premier TV during Holy Week as part of our series “Feasts of the Holy Land”. We invite you to share this virtual pilgrimage with your church community, family or friends.

Thank you for your continued support and prayers.  If you are not yet an ICoHS-founding member, please visit our website at and sign up as founding member allowing us to continue to bring the Holy Land “closer to home” and encouraging the Christians in the region.

Anita Delhaas- van Dijk
Chief Executive

Hearing on Christianity in the Holy Land

The APPG welcomed four senior church leaders from Jerusalem to a virtual hearing on Christianity in the Holy Land on 25 February. It was the first ever joint appearance by the Orthodox and Latin Patriarchs of Jerusalem at a UK event, and they were joined by Archbishop-elect Hosam Naoum of the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem, and Pastor Carrie Ballenger of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land.

The Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby formally welcomed the guest clergy to parliament, to answer members’ questions about the status of Christianity in the Holy Land. The challenges brought about by the pandemic featured heavily, and the panel described the ever-growing hardship that Christian families and churches are facing through unemployment, uncertainty, and a lack of government support.  

Patriarch of Jerusalem Theophilos III outlined the pressures on churches and their communities. With many families relying on welfare services provided by the church, the Patriarch said “church funds are inundated with requests while no school fees or rents are coming in.” Despite churches all taking measures to reduce costs, the reduction in their income coupled with increased pastoral demands is putting huge strains on their finances. 

Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem Pierbattista Pizzaballa said “the pandemic has completely shaken the Latin Church. Even through the intifada the churches were open, but now they are closed.” He cautioned that the worst effects of the pandemic were still to come saying “2021 will be even harder for Christian families, as savings will have dried up.” The economic crisis facing families is going to place a long-term strain on the churches and Christian social institutions which provide the health, education and welfare services upon which many depend.

Aside from the pandemic, MPs and peers asked about other pressures on the Christian community. Pastor Ballenger warned that “the Holy Land is seeing the long-term emigration of its Christians because of the intolerable conditions they face.” In addition to the economic situation, the issue of the permit regime was cited as an example; this prevents a Christian in Israel from living with a Palestinian Christian spouse as they are invariably denied the relevant permit. It creates huge strains on family life and mental health and has the effect of requiring Christians in Israel to leave the country if they want to live with their Palestinian spouse.

The panel was also asked about an alarming spate of attacks on Christian holy sites and places of worship. While the police often dismiss these hate crimes as the actions of petty criminals, their links to known radical groups which seek to drive Christians from the Holy Land is rarely acknowledged. Church leaders stressed that these radical groups do not reflect wider societal attitudes towards Christians, but the unchecked campaign of attacks creates an impression that Christians are not being adequately protected by the police or criminal justice system. 

Asked about the Middle East peace process, the unanimous response was that religious communities should be consulted and included, especially where Jerusalem is involved. Patriarch Theophilos said “where conflicts are so entwined with religion, and where religion is often said to be part of the problem, it is important that religious communities are listened to so that they can be part of the solution. Our churches strive to be bridge builders and peacemakers. To this end, we are determined to make our contribution with our friends in Israel and Palestine, with people of all faiths and with parliaments around the world to foster peace and reconciliation in our time.”

The rare joint appearance by these Jerusalem Heads and representatives of Churches demonstrated one very positive aspect of Christianity in the Holy Land today. Unity amongst the Jerusalem churches is at a high-point. Archbishop-elect Naoum, who in May will become the Anglican Archbishop in Jerusalem, serves as Secretary to the Council of Patriarchs and Heads of Churches in the Holy Land. Speaking about the role of the council he said, “the voice of moderation and reconciliation is very strong within our narrative.” It is this unity which is enabling the churches to now speak as one about the current challenges facing Christians in the Holy Land. 

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