US Church Leaders Slam Biden’s Visit as ‘Missed Opportunity’ – Mondoweiss
During his visit to the Middle East last week, President Biden visited the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, the alleged birthplace of Jesus. He was welcomed by church patriarchs, other clerics and Palestinian leaders. Greek Orthodox Patriarch Theophilos III read a letter to the president stressing the need for “active American intervention to protect Christian heritage and its presence in the Holy Land.”
Theophilos pointed to the unprecedented attacks by radical Israeli groups which, together with the police and the Israel Defense Forces, act with impunity, contributing to an environment that drives Christians out of Jerusalem.
According to a Press release by the Greek Patriarchate of Jerusalem, Theophilos spoke about Israel’s restriction of freedom of worship for Muslims and Christians, citing a recent example of occasions when Israeli police prevented worshipers from reaching Islamic and Christian holy sites .
The patriarch also denounced the illegal seizure of Palestinian property, pointing to “attempts to seize Christian real estate at the main entrance of [Jerusalem’s] Church of the Holy Sepulcher and historic route of Christian pilgrims to Jaffa Gate and New Gate.
The Greek Patriarchate reported that later, at a reception for Biden hosted by Israel’s President Isaac Herzog, Theophilos spoke again, stressing “the need to end the practices of radical Israeli groups that target to erase the Mosaic culture of the Holy City and eliminate its religious and cultural diversity, adding that the Christian heritage of Jerusalem is in danger due to the practices of these groups.
“Based on Biden’s interest in this trade,” the Patriarchy said, “[Theophilos] expects an invitation to the White House soon.
This was not the first time that Christian clergy in Jerusalem have spoken publicly about Israel’s failure to live up to its commitment to preserve Christian community as part of the city’s diversity. Earlier this year and in December last year, church leaders expressed their anger and called on Israel to respond to frequent and sustained attacks by radical Jewish groups.
On Tuesday, Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP) – a coalition of 30 American communions and church organizations – released a statement lamenting “that President Joe Biden’s visit to Israel and Palestine has done little to advance the cause of peace”. The statement released by church leaders continued, “While affirming the US-Israel relationship and the billions of US aid dollars that go with it, the president said almost nothing about Israel’s abuses with this aid against the Palestinians”.
The CMEP statement continues: “The joint statement adopted by President Biden and Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid condemned “terrorist attacks against Israeli citizens”. Yet during his visit, President Biden made no public mention of Israeli settler violence against Palestinians, Israeli soldiers’ violence against protesters and other Palestinians, including children, or the violent house demolitions and forced evictions, which reduce any chance of a peaceful resolution to the conflict.
“Bold statements supporting human rights and humanitarian needs could have sent a powerful message to all parties that the United States is serious about seeking a just and fair resolution to the conflict,” CMEP charged. . “President Biden’s trip was a missed opportunity for the United States to exercise that kind of leadership.”
Churches for Middle East Peace “urges the Biden administration to follow up on this visit with more explicit and direct public statements, to be backed up with tangible action as needed… [He] must demand no settlement expansion or forced evictions of Palestinians… And the administration must strongly and consistently oppose the litany of human rights abuses against Palestinians that occur regularly, often supported by US Defense Assistance funding.
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