Biden should give peace in the Holy Land a chance
By Ben Joseph*
(UCA News) – The churches of Jerusalem, where every square inch of land signifies history, heritage and authenticity for the three Abrahamic faiths, are eagerly awaiting the visit of US President Joe Biden next month.
Biden will visit the Middle East July 13-16 as part of his three-country tour of Palestine, Israel and Saudi Arabia. The itinerary is set in a time of growing unrest and diminishing Christian presence in the land where Jesus lived to preach the Gospel and died.
Due to decades-long violence, Christians belonging to the Eastern and Eastern Orthodox Catholic and Protestant Churches are emigrating en masse from Jerusalem. Deprived of its Christian presence, the Holy Land could eventually be reduced to a museum, attracting foreign visitors and international pilgrims to discover the relics of its ancient multi-religious coexistence.
Commenting on the visit of the Catholic President to the Holy Land, Theophilus III, the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem, pointed out that Israeli extremist groups, with the tacit support of the government in power, threaten the life of Christian communities.
The Greek Orthodox Patriarchate, the second-largest landowner in Israel after its government, lost three properties in the Jaffa Gate neighborhood of occupied Jerusalem’s Old City last week after Israel’s Supreme Court ruled rejected his request to cancel a suspicious agreement. .
As the much-acclaimed peace process between Israel and Palestine is stalled with no way back, unilateral annexation plans are initiated by individual actors and illegal settlements are on the rise.
Asking the US administration to distance itself from radical formations, the patriarch urged Biden to find a solution to attacks on churches and monasteries “perpetrated by extremist groups, in the silence of official Israeli authorities”.
Palestinian Christians in Israel are concentrated in the Galilee in northern Israel and around Jaffa and central Israel. In the occupied Palestinian territories, Christians mainly reside in the areas of Jerusalem, Bethlehem and Ramallah, which serves as the de facto administrative capital of Palestine.
Bethlehem has just one in five Christian families – a decade earlier they made up more than 84% in Jesus’ birthplace. In Israel, Christians represent 2% of its 9.5 million inhabitants.
In 1922, when the curtain fell on the Ottoman era, Christians constituted 11% of the population of Palestine, which is now reduced to just 1%.
Archbishop Yasser Ayyash, Patriarchal Vicar of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church, who is in full communion with the Pope, has asked President Biden to put on his agenda the violence perpetrated by extremist groups in the Holy Land.
Hosam Naoum, Archbishop of the Anglican Church of Jerusalem, Jordan and the Middle East, called for greater awareness within the international community of the pitfalls that endanger the Christian presence throughout the Holy Land.
The three-country trip will begin in Israel and Biden will visit East Jerusalem, home to the holiest sites in Judaism, Christianity and Islam, such as the Temple Mount, al-Aqsa Mosque and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.
East Jerusalem is recognized as part of the State of Palestine by 138 nations. It is occupied by Israel after it was captured in the 1967 Six-Day War. The Palestinian Authority is demanding that East Jerusalem be made the capital of a future Palestinian state and Biden’s visit could give Palestinians false hope about his future.
The US president’s trip to Israel aims to increase the Jewish state’s integration into the volatile Middle East region. The Indo-Abraham Accord and the I2U2 four-nation grouping (the United States, the United Arab Emirates, Israel, and India) will be used by President Biden as a stepping stone to gaining greater acceptance of Israel in the region .
India, which wields great influence in the Middle East with its large expatriate labor force, will support Israeli and American companies to market their cutting-edge technologies among Middle Eastern countries.
From Israel, Biden will fly directly to Jeddah — a rarely used route that requires Saudi approval — which aims to normalize ties with the Jewish state and Saudi Arabia.
Biden will also travel to the West Bank to meet Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. The meeting will probably take place in Bethlehem.
Abbas will pressure Biden to reopen missions for Palestinians in Jerusalem and Washington as his plummeting popularity among Palestinians is exploited by Hamas, an Islamic resistance movement fighting for statehood independent Islam in historic Palestine.
Biden’s efforts are aimed at maintaining Israel’s military superiority in West Asia and strengthening the US government’s strategic ties with Israel, the only nation among the nine nuclear powers that does not admit to possessing nuclear weapons.
Missiles and weapons will not bring peace to the three Abrahamic religions which are tied to the politics of ethnic identity in the Holy Land. It would be better for all of them if Biden gave peace in the Holy Land a chance.
*The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of UCA News.