Viewpoint: Religious freedom must be protected in the Holy Land

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Abraham’s House – Image LPJ

Reverend Mae Elise Cannon and Sir Jeff Abood write: There should be no difference between religious freedom and its expression in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories. Thus, we are very dismayed by the decision of the Israeli Minister of Homeland Security, taken on October 26, to ban cultural events for children which were to take place in a Catholic institution in East Jerusalem, the House of Abraham.

We join the Assembly of Catholic Ordinaries of the Holy Land in expressing our deep disappointment at this recent decision. The cancellation of the event is not simply an interference in the internal work of the House of Abraham, but more fundamentally marks a new step taken by the Israeli government to weaken the Christian presence in Jerusalem. We represent a diverse group of communions and national church organizations that strive to encourage American policies that actively promote a just and lasting peace in the Middle East. We, and the organizations we represent, remain deeply concerned that these recent actions threaten peace and undermine religious freedom in the region for people of all faiths.

The cancellation of this recent cultural event for children represents yet another example of an unprecedented continuing pattern of discrimination against Palestinians in general and Christians in particular. Additionally, the cancellation of the House of Abraham event reminds us of 2018, when the joint actions of the Greek Orthodox, Armenian Apostolic and Catholic leaders of the Holy Sepulcher were forced to close the doors of the Church of the Holy -Sepulcher. At the time, in a rare and desperate move to keep Christian life alive in the Holy Land, church leaders said they decided to close the doors of the church in response to “the systematic campaign against the Churches and the Christian community in the Holy Land. “Before that, the Churches and Christians of the Holy Land were the subject of many other lawsuits, including the confiscation of Church lands, destruction of Church property, denial of religious freedom, actions discriminatory against Christian schools and attempts to suppress taxes, exempt status of churches.

The canceled event at Abraham’s House was purely cultural, supported and sponsored by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), the Finnish Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Austrian Development Cooperation. The assertion by Israeli officials that the event was “funded and sponsored” by the Palestinian Authority and did not have the required written permission does not hold water. So we cannot understand the rationale for such a harsh and unjustifiable decision. From the beginning, the goal of this house was and is to create a peaceful and constructive environment in the neighboring context.

In Jerusalem, we see more aggressive and repressive attitudes on the part of the Israeli local authorities towards all who are considered Palestinians, especially since the majority of Christians living in the Holy Land are also Palestinians. Not all Palestinians, whether Christians or Muslims, currently have protected rights of religious expression in the Holy City. For the sake of the shared holy city of Jerusalem, the Israeli authorities must extend religious protection to all religious groups, including Christians, Muslims and Jews. Without privileging the religion of one group over another.

The Holy See has always been of the opinion – and we agree – that Jerusalem should be open to all equally. Jerusalem must be an inclusive and non-exclusive, welcoming and non-rejecting city, as it is sacred to the three monotheistic religions and of extreme importance to both Israelis and Palestinians.

Reverend Mae Elise Cannon, ordained in the Evangelical Covenant Church (ECC), is the Executive Director of Churches for Peace in the Middle East (CMEP). Sir Jeff Abood is the Coordinator of the Catholic Advisory Group of CMEP and Knight of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulcher.

CONNECTIONS

Abraham’s house – www.secours-catholique.org/la-maison-abrahams-a-jerusalem

Catholic Ordinaries condemn Israeli decision to cancel event at House of Abraham in Jerusalem www.lpj.org/posts/catholic-ordinaries-condemn-israeli-decision-to-cancel-event-at-abraham-s-house-in-jerusalem.html

Key words: Holy Land, Jerusalem, Rev. Dr Mae Elise Cannon, Sir Jeff Abood, House of Abraham, House of Abraham, Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem

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