During the week in which Christians around the world celebrate Jesus’ resurrection, church leaders in Jerusalem chose to breathe new life into historic libels to demonize Jews and the Jewish State. It is not unusual for anti-Jewish rhetoric to increase in the midst of Holy Week. In fact, it is a consistent pattern reminiscent of blood libels perpetrated by the church for centuries.
In an interview with The Associated Press during the week of Easter, the Vatican-appointed Latin Patriarch, Pierbattista Pizzaballa – head of the Roman Catholic Church in the Holy Land – made overt politicized allegations against the Israeli government and police, reflecting ancient libels that vilify Jews through charges proven false by facts.
In her AP article, “Holy Land Christians say attacks rising in far-right Israel,” published April 13, 2023, Isabel Debre states:
The head of the Roman Catholic Church in the Holy Land has warned in an interview that the rise of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s far-right government has made life worse for Christians in the birthplace of Christianity.
The influential Vatican-appointed Latin Patriarch, Pierbattista Pizzaballa, told The Associated Press that the region’s 2,000-year-old Christian community has come under increasing attack, with the most right-wing government in Israel’s history emboldening extremists who have harassed clergy and vandalized religious property at a quickening pace…
“The frequency of these attacks, the aggressions, has become something new,” Pizzaballa said during Easter week from his office, tucked in the limestone passageways of the Old City’s Christian Quarter. “These people feel they are protected…that the cultural and political atmosphere now can justify or tolerate actions against Christians.”
Except for a reference to three specific incidents including the vandalization of church property that will be discussed below, neither Debre or Pizzaballa provide proof for the claim that there has been a recent increase in anti-Christian attacks on individuals as described in the interview.
Without substance, these accusations therefore appear to be a perpetuation of decades of criticism of Israel and support for the Palestinian cause – regardless of who leads the government in Jerusalem – maintained by various denominations and rooted in historical and theological error.
Historical and Theological Error Exposed
In this video, Archbishop Atallah Hanna, the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem, denies Jewish connection to the land of Israel and openly calls for a Palestinian state to be established “from the river to the sea.” The hoped-for Palestinian state between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea would mean the elimination of the Jewish State, as Hanna makes abundantly clear.
Archbishop Hanna’s denial of Jewish connection to the land is quite similar to claims made by Rev. Mitri Raheb, a Lutheran pastor from Bethlehem. In 2010, while speaking at a conference hosted by Bethlehem Bible College, a disseminator of virulently anti-Israel propaganda, he said:
Israel represents Rome of the Bible, not the people of the land. And this is not only because I’m a Palestinian. I’m sure if we were to do a DNA test between David, who was a Bethlehemite, and Jesus, born in Bethlehem, and Mitri, born just across the street from where Jesus was born, I’m sure the DNA will show that there is a trace. While, if you put King David, Jesus and Netanyahu, you will get nothing, because Netanyahu comes from an East European tribe who converted to Judaism in the Middle Ages.
Raheb’s statement provides a clear demonstration of the Palestinian version of classic Christian replacement theology, which maintains that Christians and the church have replaced Jews and Israel in the purposes of God. In other words, there is no reason for Jews or Israel to exist.
Palestinian replacement theology takes this belief one step further through the claim that Jews did not exist in the Holy Land until recently – and even those who claim to be Jews are not. According to Raheb’s theology – which also rewrites history – Palestinians are the true indigenous people of the land.
Of course, to support this assertion, adherents have to deny all historical and archaeological evidence that testifies of Jewish presence in the land for over 3,000 years. They also have to rewrite the Bible to support the theologically inaccurate conclusion of their rewritten history – that Jesus was a Palestinian.
One more example of adherence to this type of replacement theology by Christian clergy is demonstrated through a quote from Riah Abu El-Assal, the former Anglican bishop of Jerusalem. He said, “We are the true Israel…No one can deny me the right to inherit the promises, and after all the promises were first given to Abraham and Abraham is never spoken of in the Bible as a Jew.”
The complete ignorance and/or intentional denial of realities such as Jesus’ Jewish DNA, the well-documented history of Jewish life in the land, and what the biblical text says concerning the relationship of Abraham to the Jewish people is symptomatic of the disease of antisemitism that has plagued the church for centuries.
This ignorance/denial forms the foundation of the belief, shared by a variety of Christian clergy in Israel, that Jews have no right to be there. Therefore, it is no surprise that church leaders in Jerusalem and beyond consistently level politicized allegations such as the ones broadcast by Debre in her article – charges reminiscent of ancient libels that vilify Jews through accusations proven false by facts.
Facts Expose False Accusations
Unfortunately for Pizzaballa, the following evidence exposes the error of three libelous charges he chose to make in the midst of the celebration of Jesus’ resurrection. These allegations are:
- Christians “feel authorities don’t protect their sites from targeted attacks.”
- “Israeli police haven’t taken most attacks seriously.”
- “These people [Jewish perpetrators of attacks] feel they are protected … that the cultural and political atmosphere now can justify, or tolerate, actions against Christians.”
As will be seen below, these charges are proven false by the fact that the Israeli police have issued strong statements concerning the actions they take to protect religious property, and by the fact that the perpetrators of documented cases of vandalism have been arrested and prosecuted. In other words, actions against Christians are not tolerated by Jewish police!
Ironically, Pizzaballa’s statements provide evidence of how safe it is for him as a member of a minority population in Israel to speak against the government. Yes, Pizzaballa – and all others for that matter – is free to criticize the nation in which he lives because Israel’s government protects his right to do so. Its Declaration of Independence states that Israel:
…will foster the development of the country for the benefit of all its inhabitants; it will be based on freedom, justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel; it will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture; it will safeguard the Holy Places of all religions; and it will be faithful to the principles of the Charter of the United Nations. (Emphasis added)
The fact that Israel implements these high standards to the best of its ability is testified to by the reality that Israel is the only country in the Middle East where the Christian population continues to grow. In contrast to surrounding countries and the Palestinian Territories which persecute and expel Christians, the number of Christians living in Israel grew from just under 40,000 in 1950 to more than 183,00 by the end of 2021.
Three Specific Incidents Mentioned by Debre
In January 2023, two teenagers were arrested and charged with causing damage and insulting religion after knocking over at least 28 grave markers and crosses in a Protestant cemetery near Mount Zion in Jerusalem. The perpetrators were arrested and charged with the crime within the same week in which it occurred.
In light of this fact, one has to question if it is justifiable to allege – as Debre and Pizzaballa do – that Israeli police don’t take the attacks seriously? Is it even honest to say that authorities don’t protect religious sites or that perpetrators are protected by the state?
This is a particularly relevant question in light of the Police Spokesperson’s statement, released the same week as the arrest of the two suspects in this case. In this video, Chief Superintendent Assaf Harel, head of investigations and intelligence of the David region of the Jerusalem District police, speaks concerning the case and the ensuing actions of the police.
In relation to the same incident, the commander of the Jerusalem district police met with the Greek Patriarch on January 5, 2023 and he stated: “Any damage to religious institutions and sites is serious, and harms the unique and delicate life that exists for the members of all religions in the city.”
And on January 6th, the Israel Police tweeted:
“We have a continued commitment to maintaining security and order, as well as an uncompromising and determined fight against lawbreakers wherever they are.”
So how, in good conscience, can Debre and Pizzaballa maintain that Israeli police don’t take the attacks seriously, that authorities don’t protect religious sites, and that perpetrators are protected by the state?
In February, a Jewish American tourist knocked over a 10-foot-tall statue of Jesus and smashed its face with a hammer. This disturbing event occurred at the Church of the Flagellation on the Via Dolorosa. As he smashed the face of the statue, the perpetrator yelled, “No idols in the holy city of Jerusalem!”
According to the official twitter account of the Israel Police, “Police officers from the David Precinct, together with border police officers and with the assistance of the church security guard, arrested a suspect in the act.”
Another tweet on the same day states: “The Israel police takes damage to religious institutions and sites very seriously. The police will continue to act with determination against violence and vandalism in the holy sites of all religions.”
Again, how can Debre and Pizzaballa maintain, in good conscience, that Israeli police don’t respond quickly to protect religious sites, since they arrested this suspect in the act of committing the crime?
In March, a man from southern Israel entered the basilica beside the Garden of Gethsemane, where church tradition says the Virgin Mary is buried. Interrupting an ongoing service, he threatened a priest with a metal rod before being arrested. According to the police report, there were no injuries. The Israel Police issued the following statement:
“We view violence of any kind with severity and will continue to act against incidents of violence in general and incidents of violence in holy places in particular, with a firm, uncompromising hand in order to bring the perpetrators to justice.”
Statement from the Israel Police
In addition to the particular statements concerning each of the three incidents cited above, the Israel Police issued the following statement on April 8, 2023:
The Israel Police take acts of bullying, violence, and vandalism of any kind with severity. All incidents were dealt with quickly and decisively by the police and suspects involved were arrested.
In one of the cases of vandalism, an indictment has already been filed against those involved (vandalizing the cemetery) and in another case, the investigation has ended and the case has been transferred to the prosecutor’s office.
In other cases, the investigation is still underway with the aim of bringing those involved to justice.
The police maintain continuous contact with all community leaders and clergy in the Old City, and are dedicated to investigating these cases of violence, as well as vandalism.
Israel Police forces are working diligently to maintain security, order, and freedom of worship for members of all religions and denominations. Areas of police focus include houses of worship, and the religious sites within the Old City. We will continue to act accordingly against all criminals until they are brought to justice.
In her article, Debre did not even mention – much less quote – any of the statements issued by the Israel Police. She chose instead to promote a one-sided narrative of politically charged allegations against the Israeli government and police under a thinly-veiled guise of reporting so-called news.
Debre either doesn’t understand, or doesn’t care, that Pizzaballa’s unsubstantiated indictment of the current leadership is reminiscent of ancient libels against the Jewish people and is a continuation of decades of criticism of Israel and support for the Palestinian cause maintained by various Christian denominations – regardless of who leads the government in Jerusalem.
Israel’s Declaration of Independence guarantees freedom of religion, conscience and language for all, as well as the protection of all holy sites. The Israel Police demonstrated a commitment to these values through the prompt arrest of suspects in the specific cases addressed above and through the statements they issued.
The fact that Israel upholds its core values, outlined in its Declaration and ensured by Israeli law, is demonstrated by the ongoing and remarkable increase in its Christian population while the number of Christians continues to decrease in surrounding areas due to persecution and lack of equal rights for all.
Rather than acknowledge that the documented attacks on Christian property and a priest were perpetrated by extremists who were promptly arrested by Jewish police, Debre and Pizzaballa chose to accuse the Israeli government and Jews in general of a systematic effort to drive Christians from the Holy Land.
Facts expose the false accusations for what they are. At best, they are uninformed. At worst, they represent an intentionally deceitful perpetuation of historic anti-Jewish libels. Whatever the case, Debre and Pizzaballa should know better and be ashamed.