FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Washington, D.C. - April 27, 2022
Churches for Middle East Peace Opposes Violations of Status Quo and Calls for Commitment to Religious Freedom
Holy Fire Saturday, the day before Orthodox Easter, is one of the most sacred days in the Orthodox Christian tradition in the Holy City of Jerusalem. On April 11, 2022, the Israeli government announced it would restrict attendance for Christian worshipers during the Holy Fire Ceremony at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and in the Old City of Jerusalem. Thousands of pilgrims, including internationals and hundreds of local Palestinian Christians, hoped the Israeli government would reverse its orders and allow everyone access to worship and participate in the ceremony of passing the flame that represents the light of Christ being spread around the world.
On April 23, during this sacred day for Christians, Israeli security and police separated Palestinian and Arab speaking Christians and non-Arabs into two different lines with security barriers. Western and International Christians received permission to enter the Old City and received the flame from Holy Saturday, while Arabic-speaking and Palestinian Christians were excluded and prohibited from entering. This incident led to several Arab Christians being assaulted by Israeli police. Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP) condemns discrimination against Palestinians and Arab Christians and calls for a commitment to religious freedom for all faith traditions. Eventually, international Christians and Arab Christians were able to overcome the police restrictions and share the fire as they struggled to touch their candles in an attempt to share the symbolic light representing freedom in Christ.
Numerous times over the past month, the historic Status Quo has been violated. Increased attempts by Jews to illegally worship on the Temple Mount have added to increased tensions. Since 1967, Jews have been prohibited by the Chief Rabbinate of Jerusalem from entering and observing religious practices on the Temple Mount. On Thursday, April 14th, six extremists attempted to sacrifice a goat at the holy site of Haram al-Sharif, which outraged many Palestinians and led to increased violence in Jerusalem. As Muslims began celebrating the holy month of Ramadan, Israeli police raided the al-Aqsa mosque while Muslim worshipers were praying. Israeli police beat Muslim worshipers and journalists and imprisoned hundreds of Palestinians. Churches for Middle East Peace is grieved by the violence enacted against Muslim worshipers and opposes violations of the Status Quo.
In a phone conversation, King Abdullah of Jordan stressed to President Joe Biden the importance of preserving the Status Quo at Haram Al-Sharif/Temple Mount in Jerusalem. CMEP calls on Secretary of State Blinken and the Biden Administration to support the Status Quo at Haram Al-Sharif/Temple Mount and protect the religious freedom of all who call Jerusalem holy. CMEP believes Jews, Christians, and Muslims should have access to their historical holy sites and should be able to worship freely without fear of harm and violence.
Formed in 1984, Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP) is a coalition of more than 30 national church communions and organizations, including Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant, and Evangelical traditions that works to encourage US policies that actively promote a comprehensive resolution to conflicts in the Middle East with a focus on the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict. CMEP works to mobilize US Christians to embrace a holistic perspective and to be advocates of equality, human rights, security, and justice for Israelis, Palestinians, and all people of the Middle East.