Tuesday, June 2, 2015

"Great friend Israel" vs. Christians actually living in Israel

(Haaretz) - A violent confrontation broke out Monday morning on Mt. Zion in Jerusalem’s Old City when a group of Jews tried to prevent some 100 Orthodox Christian worshippers from praying in the complex housing the tomb of King David.

Access to the compound, whose upper floor houses the traditional site of the Last Supper, has been a source of friction in the past.

The Orthodox group was celebrating the holiday of Pentecost.

The Jews holed themselves up in the complex for a long period until police and Border Police removed them by force, so as to maintain the status quo at the site and allow the Christians to commemorate the holiday. Police also used force against journalists at the scene.

In negotiations that preceded their eviction, Jewish worshipers on the premises – including Rabbi Shalom Arush, head of the Kiseh Rahamim yeshiva, from the Bratslav Hasidic sect – presented a series of conditions for allowing the Christian service there. The terms were conveyed to the Orthodox worshipers via the police.

In the wake of the agreement that was struck, and unlike previous years, the Christians were not allowed to bring incense to the site, their bishop was not allowed to bring in a ceremonial rod with a crucifix, candles were not lit, and the number of persons allowed to reach the site of David’s tomb was limited to 10.

Pentecost is observed on three different dates by the various Christian denominations; the Orthodox Church marked it this year on June 1.

The service on Monday, led by Bishop Dorotheus and a group of clergymen and women and other worshippers, was more highly charged than the other denominations’ observances.

In response to the arrival of the Orthodox group on Monday, Rabbi Yosef Berger, who presented himself as one of the “rabbis of the tomb,” told the police, “Here at David’s tomb, [people] will not enter with a cross. It’s idol worship,” he said, and “an abomination.”

In addition, before the incident, a group of Jews dedicated to what they called “saving King David’s tomb” had called on members of the public to come to the site to prevent “idol worship” there.

On Sunday, a group of Jews unsuccessfully sought to disrupt a small procession of Armenian Orthodox worshippers in the Old City, but police also intervened. In the afternoon, Orthodox Christians began praying, under the watchful eye of security forces.

The official arrangements at the site, established by Israel’s Interior Ministry, allow Orthodox visitors, unlike the Catholic and Armenian worshipers, access not only to the upper chamber but also to the lower one, which Jewish tradition says is the site of King David’s tomb. The lower level is used by Jewish worshipers throughout the year.

Pentecost ־ a Christian holiday that shares some elements associated with the Jewish festival of Shavuot – is one of the very few occasions throughout the year in which Christians are allowed to pray at the site on Mt. Zion.
Last Sunday (May 24), when crowds of Jews marked Shavuot in the Old City, was also the date on which the Catholic Church marked the Pentecost. The Catholic media reported that some Jewish individuals shouted curses at the Christian worshippers, and the two groups had to be separated by Israeli police.

Custodian of the Holy Land, which oversees Christian holy sites in Israel for the Vatican, issued a statement in response to the incident, which read “these are ceremonies that occur every year, commemorating Christian holidays, and for hundreds of years have been part of the status quo in the area. In recent days, extremists have been trying to sabotage these ceremonies by using violence against worshippers. We find these events very troubling, and call on the state of Israel and the police to continue using all methods necessary in order to allow for prayer serves to be held, as they have been for hundreds of years.”

Last year, ahead of Pope Francis’ visit to Israel, police arrested 26 demonstrators for disturbing the peace at the complex. At the time, some 150 right-wing activists arrived at the complex and began demonstrating, allegedly attacking police officers with stones and bottles. Some of them entered the compound and barricaded themselves inside.


  1. So according to this article, Christians have "for hundreds of years" been allowed to worship at these holy sites, only being inhibited by some populist anti-Christian demonstrators in the last couple of years. Meanwhile, the police are pretty much dispersing these mobs for the sake of the Christians, with at least one case of them having made a limiting compromise with some Jewish religious leaders. And all the hoopla by the demonstrators is out of protectionism re: their own holy sites despite existing ordinances that still *accommodate* Christians. This is unfortunate, but seems hardly worth the over-generalizing reference to "Israel" in the title, nor the scare quotes. It seems to this reader like you're wanting the article to demonstrate something about the nation of Israel that it stops well short of doing.

    1. Please read any of the dozens of other articles I've posted on the treatment of Palestinian Christians. Many of the actions are done by non-governmental groups it is true (graffiti on churches, spitting on clergy, throwing stones at monks, etc.). Many of them are also very much government actions. Land grabs, forced moves, large walls, loss of property. Etc. Etc.

    2. That would be a significantly different issue politically, as this piece was meant to draw attention to treatment of *Israeli* Christians, yes? Btw, I'm not trying to offer a defense of Israel, per se. I'm wholly unqualified to do that. In full disclosure, I'm a recovering evangelical convert to Orthodoxy who was raised in an essentially (though not systematic) dispensational environment. So I've been trying to chip away at any knee-jerk defensiveness about Israel the state. That said, there seems to be a very disproportionate eagerness among Eastern Christians to fault-find with Israel while there would seem to be voluminous reasons for greater ire toward Hamas and the general Muslim population of Palestine. And that over-eagerness makes it hard for someone from my background to sort fact from fiction when it comes to the touchy issue of Israel/Palestine relations.

    3. Drawing a Palestine-Israel line like that would be difficult as Israeli expansion and the cutting out of Palestinian enclaves muddies the waters. I would encourage you to speak to Arab Christians who have lived near or under Israeli rule. It's a very real, visceral topic for them.

  2. " I would encourage you to speak to Arab Christians who have lived near or under Israeli rule. It's a very real, visceral topic for them."

    Actually, don't do that - they don't have perspective either. I tracked the website of an orthodox and educated Palestinian women (PhD in education if memory serves) who lives in a small village on the west bank for a number of years. One day (this was a few years ago), the majority Muslim population formed a mob and burned down a number of the Orthodox businesses/homes/etc. Who did she blame? Why, the Israeli government of course! This despite the fact that Islam has been oppressing her people for 1300 years. I realized then that if the wind blows hard in Texas, it is the Israeli governments fault in this sort of thinking.

    jklseattle is right, there is a certain willingness on the part of too many Orthodox to romanticize the "Palestinian Christian". This of course does not meant the romanticization of Israel by certain protestants is correct - it just means that both are false sentimentalization's.

    The image in the article refers to "48" years - which of course goes back to the war the Palestinians lost to Israel, the 3rd one they waged against their neighbors in a generation. I think they sort of lost any credible claim to the word "occupation" after the third bloody attack on Israel. I mean really, the Jews (or any other worldly government) is not going to allow wave after wave of attacks without actually doing something about it.

    What you have posted here Josephus Flavius is a propaganda piece. Like all good propaganda, it has many elements of truth in it - which of course are twisted to demonic ends...

  3. What about the Orthodox Christians now living in Israel who emigrated from the former USSR and are Russian-speaking. Most of these people are of mixed Jewish-Russian ethnicity. I read there is a mission church devoted to this group with an Israeli priest who converted to Orthodoxy. Where does this group fit in? Or is the group too small to be of significance politically?