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Excerpts from the 2023 Annual Report on 

Attacks on Christians in Israel and East Jerusalem

published in Jerusalem last week by the 

Rossing Center for Education and Dialogue

(Father Alexei has worked with this Center when teaching in the Holy Land)

Executive Summary:

This report analyzes the disturbing rise in hostilities towards Christians in Israel and East Jerusalem in 2023.  The desecration of Anglican cemetery tombs on January 1st, 2023, exemplifies a concerning trend of increased attacks, including spitting, physical and verbal harassment, property damage and disruptions of liturgies.   The context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, coupled with overlapping religious and national identities, complicates the understanding of incidents solely as attacks on Christian identity.   Additionally, a lack of consistent data collection methods hinders comparative analysis. 

But despite these limitations, a surge in various forms of hostility is noted.   Spitting, although pervasive, is challenging to track and prosecute, with victims often unaware of legal remedies and a prevalent tendency to accept such behavior out of humility.   Notably, this has evolved from a covert act to open and brazen actions against clergy, holy places, and even pilgrims.

The year 2023 also witnessed a worrying increase in severe property and physical assaults, especially affecting communities such as the Armenians in the Old City and the Polish monastery near Mea Shearim. When police intervention took place, it was helpful, emphasizing the critical need for swift condemnation by Israeli authorities and proactive measures to deter or halt harassment.

The targeting of Christianity is not, on the whole, explicitly encouraged by the political leadership or the Israeli authorities.  However, the rise in attacks correlates with a broader socio-political climate marked by a shift towards the far-right, growing nationalism, and an emphasis on Israel as a state for the Jewish population which has impacted the unique majority/minority dynamics of Jewish -Christian relations in the Holy Land.

In terms of identity of the attackers, data shows that the majority of perpetrators are Jewish individuals,  primarily young men identifying with the Religious Zionist  camp and ultra-nationalist stances.   It is critical to emphasize that harassing behaviors are not normative, and the majority of individuals, irrespective of their views on Christianity or other religious minorities, do not partake in such actions.

Media reports, both local and international, have placed a crucial role in 

highlighting the challenges faced by local Christians.   Local and state authorities have openly condemned the attacks – even though with some regrettable delays – and some prominent rabbis have also spoken against these actions.

In conclusion, this analysis underscores the urgent need for collaborative efforts to address escalating hostilities against Christians in Jerusalem, and advocates for a comprehensive approach involving condemnation by state and religious authorities, law enforcement, education, community  involvement, media engagement, and international awareness.

Key Findings:

Overview.  Numbers per categories of attacks:  in almost all instances, verbal harassment and spitting occur concurrently, but in order not to inflate the overall number of incidents, we have categorized each incident according to the dominant nature of the attack.

Harassment.  Examples include verbal harassment, attacks and protests during Christian gatherings, anti-Christian propaganda:  seven known cases of verbal harassment and four disturbances during liturgy or Christian gatherings.

Physical attacks. Examples include spitting, pepper spraying, hitting:   seven cases of violent attacks, almost all of which involved multiple victims  and approximately thirty formally reported cases of spitting.   Every clergy member the Rossing Center spoke with  in 2023 admitted to being spat at regularly, multiple times a week.

Attacks on Church properties. Examples include graffiti, trespassing, damaging statues, throwing of stones and garbage within Church properties, and arson:  one cemetery desecration and thirty-two documented cases of attacks on Church properties, including recurring disturbances, attempted trespassing, stone-throwing, and other forms of targeting aimed at specific properties.

Attacks on Christian private properties.  Examples include attacks on restaurants, stores, houses and cars:  two attacks – one attack on an Armenian restaurant at New Gate, and a case of graffiti on a private home reading “Ben Gvir [Minister of National Security of Israel] is here.”

Public signs defaced. Examples are anti-Christian incitement on public property (electricity poles):  six known cases.

Violations of Freedom of Religion or Belief.  Examples include requests to remove religious symbols, limitation of access to religious sites, limitations in freedom of movement to attend religious service, etc.  The Abbot of the Benedictine Dormition Abbey was asked to remove his pectoral cross while in a public space.  Some Coptic nuns were asked to remove their crosses while waiting to be attended to at the Emergency Room of a major hospital in Jerusalem.  One known case of limitation of access to a Jewish religious site.  Two cases of limitations in attending/performing Christian liturgy (Mount of Beatitudes in Galilee and Holy Fire Ceremony in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre).

Representation of Christian communities in mainstream Israeli media and online harassment. It is our intention to include in our reports an assessment regarding harassment and incitement taking place on social media platforms and through traditional media.  In 2023 we tracked the narrative regarding harassment of Christians and attitudes towards Christian presence in Jerusalem as portrayed in mainstream Israeli media, while cases of online incitement were monitored periodically and to the best of our knowledge.  In 2024, our monitoring activities will be conducted systematically.