Israel Drops Contentious Plan to Seize Christian Holy Sites

The Mount of Olives is a major site of Christian pilgrimage. (Photo: via Wikimedia Commons)

Israel has dropped a contentious plan to nationalize large sections of the Mount of Olives, one of Christianity’s holiest sites, following an outcry from major church leaders in occupied Jerusalem, the Middle East Monitor reported.

The plan called for expanding the Jerusalem Walls National Park to encompass Christian holy sites on Jerusalem’s Mount of Olives, which since ancient times has been a major site of pilgrimage for Catholics, the Eastern Orthodox and Protestants. Property owned by several churches in the city would have been seized under the plan.

The Armenian, Catholic and Greek Orthodox churches petitioned Israel’s environmental protection minister, Tamar Zandber, whose department oversees the Parks Authority. They protested the plan, describing it as an attempt to “eliminate, any non-Jewish Characteristics of the Holy City by attempting to alter the Status Quo in this holy mountain.”

Around the same time, a visiting delegation of Democrats from the US House of Representatives also expressed their concerns over the plan. They raised the potential Israeli takeover of Christian holy sites with Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett during a meeting last week.

The plan was slated to come before the Jerusalem Municipality’s Local Planning and Construction Committee for preliminary approval on March 2. The hearing was originally scheduled to take place on April 10 but was recently moved up. That will no longer be the case.

On Monday, however, Israel’s Nature and Parks Authority said that it was backing down from a contentious plan.

The authority said it has “no intention of advancing the plan in the planning committee, and it is not ready for discussion without coordination and communication with all relevant officials, including the churches, in the area.”

Prior to Israel’s creation in 1948, Palestinian Christians were the second largest religious community, making up more than 11 percent of the total population. The waves of ethnic cleansing which the Palestinians call the Nakba (“Catastrophe”) have reduced their number to its present “extinction” level.

Israel’s violent capture, illegal annexation and military occupation of Jerusalem has accelerated the flight of Palestinian Christians from their country. Human rights groups have described Israel’s rule over the territory as a form of apartheid under which Christian Palestinians are also treated like second and third-class citizens.

(MEMO, PC, Social Media)

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