In 1st, Israel advancing plan to expand national park onto E. Jerusalem church lands

The Church of the Russian Ascension, towering over the Mount of Olives, dates back to Helena, the mother of Byzantine emperor Constantine. (credit: Shmuel Bar-Am)
Visiting US lawmakers raise concern with PM about move slated to clear preliminary hurdle next month; church leaders blast plan to ‘nationalize one of Christianity’s holiest sites’

By Jacob Magid | The Times of Israel | Feb 20, 2022

“This is a brutal measure that constitutes a direct and premeditated attack on the Christians in the Holy Land, on the churches and their ancient, internationally guaranteed rights in the Holy City.”
— letter from Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem Theopolis III, Catholic Church Custos of the Holy Land Francesco Patton and Armenian Patriarch of Jerusalem Nourhan Manougian 

Israeli officials are preparing to advance an unprecedented project to expand a national park onto church-owned lands and Christian holy sites in East Jerusalem, sparking fierce opposition from local Christian leaders, The Times of Israel has learned.

The move would not strip the landholders of their ownership, but it would give the government some authority over Palestinian and church properties and religious sites, leading church officials and rights groups to characterize the measure as a power grab and a threat to Christian presence in the Holy Land.

Opponents of the project also highlight the ties the state body advancing the plan has to nationalist groups that are working to anchor Jewish presence in contested East Jerusalem areas, including the flashpoint Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood. Rights groups believe the planned park expansion is part of a larger nationalist strategy to “encircle” Jerusalem’s Old City by taking control of adjacent areas of East Jerusalem.

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