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How Politics Created an Unnecessary Dispute between Jerusalem Churches and the Israeli Government

March 12 2018

On February 25, the Greek Orthodox, Franciscan, and Armenian clergymen who jointly control Jerusalem’s Church of the Holy Sepulcher took the unprecedented decision of closing the church to protest the municipal government’s plan to begin taxing church land—that is, the real estate that Christian churches own and rent out as a source of income, not the actual properties used for religious functions. Thanks to the intervention of Prime Minister Netanyahu, the parties have since reached a solution, and the church was reopened after three days. Amit Barak explains how the dispute spiraled out of control:

The situation surrounding the lands threatens the Greek Orthodox patriarch Theophilos III’s seat. . . . [T]o satisfy [his critics within the church and without], he bashed Israel. He launched an international campaign, meeting with various world leaders and accusing Israel of persecuting Christians. I am of the opinion that he does not believe his own condemnations of Israel. . . .

To understand what is behind the controversy, one must understand the land issue. On some of the church lands in Jerusalem (especially those held by the Greek Orthodox patriarchate), residential neighborhoods were built after the lands were leased by the church to the Jewish National Fund (JNF). In recent years, the Greek Orthodox church decided to sell the land. This is a highly sensitive and very political issue. The church’s previous patriarch, Irenaios I, was unseated after he carried out such a move. Once news spread that the current patriarch, Theophilos III, was offering land for sale as well, various elements within the Greek Orthodox church began to protest and thus threaten Theophilos [who promptly bashed Israel].

These elements identify completely with the pro-Palestinian movement [and] with the Joint Arab List [in the Knesset], which are coordinating their actions with their allies in the Palestinian Authority and Jordan. In addition to their political opposition to selling land to Jews, they also criticized the low prices at which lands were [previously] sold in order to gain support among an Arab public that does not necessarily identify with their political line. . . .

Over the last five years, there is a process under way within the Christian Arabic-speaking community of integrating into Israeli society and enlisting in the IDF or in national service, [offered by the Israeli government as an alternative to conscription]. . . . It should be self-evident that the current dispute harms such positive developments.

Read more at Mida

More about: Israel & Zionism, Israeli Arabs, Israeli Christians, Jerusalem, Jewish National Fund

Hamas’s Dangerous Escalation in Gaza

June 22 2018

As Hamas has stepped up its attacks on communities near the Gaza Strip—using incendiary devices attached to kites and balloons—Israel has begun to retaliate more forcefully. In response, the terrorist group has begun firing rockets and mortars into Israel. Yoav Limor comments:

What made Wednesday’s rocket salvo different is that ‎unlike previous flare-ups on the border [since 2014], this time it ‎was Hamas operatives who fired at Israel, as opposed ‎to Islamic Jihad or the ‎rogue terrorist group in the coastal enclave. ‎Still, Hamas made sure the attack followed most of ‎the familiar “rules”—only [firing] at night and only at the ‎ communities in the vicinity of Gaza, and apparently while also ‎trying to minimize any casualties, to avoid further ‎escalation. ‎. . .

The first reason [for the shift in tactics] is Israel’s own change of policy ‎with regard to kite terrorism. It took Israel far ‎too long to define the incessant waves of incendiary ‎kites sent over the border as actionable acts of ‎terror, but once it did, the IDF began ‎systematically countering them, including firing ‎warning shots at terrorist kite cells and targeting ‎Hamas assets in Gaza in retaliation.‎

The second reason is Hamas’s own frustration and ‎distress in Gaza. Since the border-riot campaign was ‎launched on March 30, some 150 of its operatives ‎have been killed and the Israeli military has ‎carried out over 100 strikes on Hamas positions in ‎the coastal enclave, all while Hamas has nothing to ‎show for it. ‎In this situation, Hamas is searching for [some sort of victory] by declaring that “bombings will be ‎met with bombings,” as Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum ‎said Wednesday, in order to portray itself as defending Gaza from ‎Israel.‎ . . .

Hamas is banking on Israel opting against a military ‎campaign in Gaza at this time so as not to split its ‎focus from the [developments in Syria], but it is sorely ‎mistaken if it thinks Israel will simply contain ‎kite terrorism or shy away from action given the new ‎equation it has presented. ‎At some point, Israel’s patience will expire.

Read more at Israel Hayom

More about: Gaza Strip, Hamas, Israel & Zionism, Israeli Security