The churches in Jerusalem made a plea to the Israeli government on Friday to ensure that Christians can worship openly throughout Easter and the days leading up to it. They expressed concern over the recent rise in violence and acts of sacrilege.
Easter, which in Christian tradition symbolizes the resurrection of Christ, falls this year on the same days as Passover and Ramadan. As a result, people of all three faiths are anticipated to swarm to the Old City in Israeli-occupied East Jerusalem.
Amid the scene of violent clashes between Israeli security forces and Palestinians in East Jerusalem, the churches issued a joint Easter message in which they urged "the overseeing officials to work cooperatively and collaboratively with us" in order to "help secure the safety, access and religious freedom of the resident Christian community and the millions of Christian pilgrims who visit the Holy Land each year."
Church leaders expressed their outrage over the fact that over the past year, "some of our churches, funeral processions and places of public gathering have become targets of attack, with some ceremonies being closed off to thousands of worshippers."
The Anglican archbishop of Jerusalem's chaplain, Donald Binder, noted that Israeli forces had recently restricted the number of Christians permitted to attend Easter services in the Old City.
He viewed this as "clear discrimination" on the part of Israeli authorities, given that tens of thousands of Jews and even more Muslims have unrestricted access to their respective Old City holy sites.
In recent months, there have been a number of attacks on Christian places of worship in Jerusalem, some of which have been attributed to Jewish extremists. Two men are accused of assaulting a priest in a church near the Tomb of the Virgin Mary earlier this month.
At the Church of the Condemnation, where Christians believe Jesus was whipped and given the death sentence, a statue was vandalized in February.