Kollek Chides Church Leaders for Statement on the Uprising

Jerusalem Mayor Teddy Kollek hit back hard Thursday at a number of prominent local Christian church leaders who had publicly criticized Israel the day before over its handling of the Palestinian uprising in the administered territories.

“It seems that Islamic terrorism and threats by leaders of the intifada have forced the heads of the Christian churches to give in to their dictates,” said the mayor. “I suspect that this is the background to their criticism of the Israeli government.”

“I regret their pronouncement, even if they were under pressure,” he said.

Kollek was reacting to a statement published Wednesday by the heads of the Greek Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Armenian, Syrian Orthodox and Anglican churches in Jerusalem, protesting Israel’s “excessive use of force” and “unprovoked harassment” against Palestinians.

The first three denominations are the largest among the Christian churches in the Holy Land. All told, an estimated 50,000 Christians, most of them Palestinians, live in East Jerusalem and the West Bank.

The church leaders’ statement called on the international community to work for “a just and speedy solution of the Palestinian problem.”

“In Jerusalem, on the West Bank and in Gaza, our people experience in their daily lives constant deprivation of their fundamental rights because of arbitrary actions deliberately taken by the authorities,” the statement said.

It spoke of “unarmed and innocent people being killed by the unwarranted use of firearms.” It attacked arrests without trial and demolition of Arab homes, and singled out for special condemnation “frequent shooting incidents in the vicinity of holy places.”

The statement demanded that Israel respect free access for all believers to all holy places — a veiled reference to the current restriction placed by the authorities on West Bank residents who wish to worship at the mosques on the Temple Mount. The ban was imposed after mass rioting there earlier this month, when rock-throwing spread to the Western Wall area.

Kollek noted sourly in his response the church leaders’ “silence and lack of condemnation when terrorists kill Jews, when stones are thrown at worshipers at the Western Wall and when Jewish cemeteries in Jerusalem are desecrated.”

There have been frequent instances of desecration at the Jewish cemetery on the Mount of Olives.

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