Palestinian interfaith officials have warned against monopolising the city of Jerusalem by the Israeli government and the effects that would have on Christianity and Islam.
Hanna Issa, secretary-general of the Palestinian Authority‘s Muslim-Christian Committee said that more than 95 percent of Jerusalem had already been “Judaised” by Israel, and that “Greater Jerusalem” would alter the city’s identity and importance to Christianians and Muslims.
“Israel wants to establish its so-called ‘Greater Jerusalem’ on an area of 600sq km, which would mean the destruction of the city’s churches and mosques,” Issa said.
The warning came during the 9th International Conference on the Holy City of Jerusalem on Wednesday, which kicked off in the occupied West Bank city of Ramallah.
The conference was attended by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and numerous delegations from across the Arab and Muslim world.
Munib Masri, chairman of the Jerusalem Endowment, stressed Jerusalem‘s importance for both Muslims and Christians.
“The world must understand that there can never be peace until the Jerusalem file is satisfactorily resolved,” he said.
He added: “Jerusalem requires practical initiatives and financial support with a view to strengthening the resolve of its people.”
Speaking at the event, Youssef Edies, Palestinian minister of religious endowments, described Jerusalem as “the birthplace of religions”.
“We must focus on Arab, Muslim and international efforts on resisting the fierce Western onslaught against the Holy Land,” he asserted.
Since then, Israel has built more than a dozen housing complexes for Jewish Israelis, known as settlements, some in the middle of Palestinian neighbourhoods in East Jerusalem.
Israel’s settlement project, which is aimed at the consolidation of Israel’s control over the city, is also considered illegal under international law.
About 200,000 Israeli citizens live in East Jerusalem under army and police protection, with the largest single settlement complex housing 44,000 Israelis.
Such fortified settlements, often scattered between Palestinians’ homes, infringe on the freedom of movement, privacy and security of Palestinians.
Last Saturday, a United Nations envoy accused Israel of trying to block him and other diplomats from a pre-Easter “Holy Fire” ritual in the packed Jerusalem church Christians revere as the burial site of Jesus.
Robert Serry, the UN’s peace envoy to the Middle East, said in a statement that Israeli security officers had stopped him and a group of Palestinian worshippers and diplomats in a procession near the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, “claiming they had orders to that effect”.
Last month, the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem said church authorities had applied for around 600 permits for Palestinian Christians in Gaza to travel to Jerusalem to celebrate Easter, but none were granted.
Father Ibrahim Shomali, chancellor of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, said: “We have to have free access to the Holy Land, free access to our holy places.”