Terror and violence convulse the Holy Land--Christians 'caught in the middle'

"We Christians have nothing to do with the dispute over the Temple Mount. But yet we still suffer. We're caught in the middle."

By Oliver Maksan

JERUSALEM—Weeks of violence in the Holy Land, marked by a spate of attacks by Palestinians on Jews, is beginning to have an impact on Israel’s Christian community.

The Old City in Jerusalem, with its Jewish, Christian and Muslim sacred sites, is much emptier than usual. The shops in the Christian quarter are feeling the impact. "The customers are staying away," Alfred told international Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need, as he stood behind the counter in his empty shop full of crucifixes, rosaries and icons. "People are really afraid of coming here. A lot of pilgrim groups have already cancelled. And that's just the beginning."

"Many Christians in Jerusalem live off the pilgrims. We pay a price for every wave of violence, every intifada and every war in Gaza. I go into debt every time to get through the subsequent slack period. And what's more I'm not alone. I have to feed my family and pay the children's school fees. I can't go on like this for much longer," the man added in a pessimistic tone. "We Christians have nothing to do with the dispute over the Temple Mount. But yet we still suffer. We are hit harder because we're a minority. We're caught in the middle."

Jerusalem's Temple Mount.jpg

Father David Neuhaus, S.J, an Israeli Jew who converted to Catholicism and who is in charge of pastoral care for the Hebrew-speaking Catholics who fall under the Latin Partiarchate, commented on the conflicts surrounding the Haram Al Sharif, the Noble Sanctuary, as the Muslims call the Temple Mount, which—also held sacred by Jews but not accessible to them for worship—is the setting of the Dome of the Rock and the al-Aqsa Mosque: "I do not believe that the [Israeli-Palestinian] conflict is turning religious but rather that [the warring parties are] exploiting religion in order to make it an even more intractable and insoluble conflict.

"The hierarchy [of the Catholic Church] has repeatedly called for a return to sanity, to negotiations, to seeking for a way that allows Israelis and Palestinians, Jews, Muslims and Christians to live in peace. The hierarchy [of the Catholic Church], largely Arab in composition, is also very sensitive to the question of justice and the repressive nature of the occupation of Palestinian lands. However, at the same time violence is rejected in all its forms."

Father Neuhaus is concerned that Christians who are Palestinians and Christians who are Israeli citizens will split along national lines. "[This] is a real challenge for the Church. It is also a golden opportunity to practice within the Church what we preach. Whereas national divisions are real, especially in our conflict situation, even more real must become the unity of Christians—because of their shared faith and hope."

Jerusalem's Temple Mount; ACN photo

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