A statue of Jesus Christ, defaced and toppled, in the Church of the Flagellation, Jerusalem, February 2, 2023


Ammar Awad, Reuters via Alamy Stock Photo

Blog Post

Anti-Christian Attacks in Jerusalem on the Rise in Recent Months

Whenever the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is referred to in religious terms, the two parties seen to be opposing each other are usually Jews and Muslims. Rarely does the discussion ever include Christians. Many people are even unaware that Palestinian Christians exist.

This fact appears to be changing due in part to the recent rise in attacks against Christian clergy and laypeople, as well as attacks on Christian churches and properties throughout Jerusalem and the rest of the country.

In late February 2023, adopting its first presidential statement on the question of Palestine in years, the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) introduced the term Christianophobia, alongside the terms Islamophobia and anti-Semitism. The statement read, in part:

The Security Council emphasizes the importance of the safety and wellbeing of all civilians, and calls for full respect for international humanitarian law, including the protection of the civilian population, and also calls for facilitating access of humanitarian workers to populations in need, and reiterates the need to take appropriate steps to ensure the safety and well-being of civilians and their protection.

The Security Council notes with deep concern instances of discrimination, intolerance and hate speech motivated by racism or directed against persons belonging to religious communities, in particular cases motivated by Islamophobia, antisemitism or Christianophobia.

The Security Council calls for upholding unchanged the historic status quo at the holy sites in Jerusalem in word and in practice, and emphasizes in this regard the special role of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan.1

Ironically, the current president of the UNSC in whose name the statement was issued, Lana Zaki Nusseibeh, comes from a Muslim Jerusalem family that has been charged with keeping keys to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre for over 850 years, with the consent of the Christians, in order to overcome the differences between Christian churches.2 Her Jerusalem-born family were displaced from Jerusalem in 1948 and live in exile. Nusseibeh has served as the United Arab Emirates Permanent Representative to the UN since 2013.

The Christian community in Jerusalem includes Latins, Greek Orthodox, Roman Catholics, Syriacs, and Armenians. They are mostly clustered in East Jerusalem, specifically in the Old City, Beit Hanina in the north, Beit Safafa in the south, and the neighborhood of al-Tur in the city center.3

Jerusalem is home to 95 churches, most notably the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in the Old City, considered the holiest Christian site, as it is believed to house the tomb of Jesus.4

The main entrance to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the holiest site in Christianity, in Jerusalem’s Old City.

The main entrance to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in the Old City of Jerusalem, shown here on July 10, 2019



Pronounced Uptick of Anti-Christian Attacks in 2023

Ever since the far-right wing government took power in Israel at the beginning of 2023, there has been a marked uptick in anti-Christian attacks in Jerusalem and beyond.

The year began with the desecration of over 30 graves in the historic Protestant burial ground in the Mount Zion cemetery adjacent to Jerusalem’s Old City on January 1, an act that was widely condemned by, among others, the United States5 and the United Kingdom (including the Archbishop of Canterbury). The latter termed it a “blasphemous act.”6 The vandalism was partially caught on security cameras, and the perpetrators appeared to be Orthodox Jews.7

A strong statement was issued by the Patriarchs and Heads of the Churches of Jerusalem regarding this vandalism:

We the Patriarchs and Heads of the Churches in Jerusalem are deeply disturbed at the wanton desecration of more than thirty gravestones at the Protestant cemetery on Mt. Zion on New Year’s Day.

Particularly troubling are the scenes recovered from the security camera footage from that afternoon. They reveal two young men wearing kippas and tallit kattans maliciously smashing to pieces a stone carving of the second Protestant Bishop of Jerusalem, numerous stone crosses, and the tombstones of Christian police officers of Mandate Palestine.

The choice of these specific targets signals to us that the perpetrators of these criminal deeds were clearly motivated by religious bigotry and hatred of Christians. Moreover, we note that this is not the first such attack upon this cemetery, but part of a repeating pattern of attacks against Christian sacred sites on cemeteries on Mount Zion and elsewhere that have been on the rise over the past decade . . .

Moreover, these acts cannot be seen as isolated incidents but as a clear and systematic attempt to bring about exclusivity in favor of one side, and a fierce attack on the historical Status Quo enshrined in our beloved Holy Land and upheld by International Law, which ensures the protection of mutual respect and religious rights.8

. . . these acts cannot be seen as isolated incidents but as a clear and systematic attempt to bring about exclusivity in favor of one side.

Patriarchs and Heads of the Churches in Jerusalem

Anglican Archbishop Hosam Naoum inspects vandalized graves in the  Mount Zion cemetery, Jerusalem, January 4, 2023.

Anglican Archbishop Hosam Naoum inspects vandalized graves in the Protestant burial areas of the Mount Zion cemetery outside the Old City of Jerusalem, January 4, 2023.


Eddie Gerald, Alamy Live News

Throughout January, Jerusalem’s Armenian community buildings were defaced with slurs such as “revenge,” “Jesus is a monkey,” “death to Christians,” “death to Arabs and gentiles,” and “death to Armenians.”9

On the evening of January 27, a gang of religious Jewish teens threw chairs into an Armenian restaurant that is located just inside the Old City’s New Gate.10

On January 28, two Jewish extremists tried to obstruct traffic near the Armenian Patriarchate in the Old City. They also hit a car of young Armenians driving home to the Armenian Quarter, which is adjacent to the Jewish Quarter.

On January 30, the Chancellor of the Armenian Patriarchate in Jerusalem, Father Aghan Gogchian, issued a statement describing this attack:

On the 28th of January 2023, late at night, two Jewish Israeli extremists on their way towards the Wailing Wall proceeded to attack a vehicle carrying two Armenian passengers returning home from work. The two Armenians exited their vehicle and respectfully asked the assailants: “Why do you attack us? This is our neighborhood; we are only coming back home from work. We have always respected the Jewish community, why do you act this way toward us? What have we ever done to you?”

One of the extremists started shouting: “You do not have a neighborhood over here! This is our country! Leave our country!”

The young Armenian men cordially replied: “This is also our country! This is our home! We were born here, we have nowhere else to go!” The other extremist then suddenly pepper-sprayed one of the Armenians at point-blank range and fled the scene. The two Armenians chased the aggressors to hand them over to the local authorities; however, due to the injuries sustained from the attack, they were not successful and subsequently went to the hospital . . . On their way back . . . the aggressed Armenians immediately filed a complaint to the police, who then detained the two Israeli-Jewish extremists responsible for the attack. At dawn, they released . . . the one who was responsible for the pepper spray attack.11

An hour later another group of Jewish extremists breached the Patriarchate by climbing the walls and tried to remove the flags of the Patriarchate and of the Republic of Armenia, presumably because the former features a cross. The police detained one of the Armenians rather than the trespassers, placing him under house arrest pending trial.

For years, the Armenian clergy has been regularly spat on and shouted at,12 but it reports that the atmosphere has become much more violent and angry since the new right-wing Israeli government took power.

The increase in attacks brought condemnation from the Republic of Armenia. “We are deeply concerned by recent acts of violence and vandalism targeting Christian religious institutions in Jerusalem, including the Armenian Patriarchate, and Armenian residents of the Old City,” the Armenian foreign ministry spokesperson, Vahan Hunanian, tweeted on January 30.13

On the morning of Thursday, February 2, a man entered the Chapel of the Condemnation in the Church of the Flagellation in the Old City of Jerusalem. Christians believe this church is built on the site where Pontius Pilate handed over Jesus for execution, the first of the Stations of the Cross. The vandal struck a wooden statue of Christ with a hammer, defacing and toppling it from its pedestal. He was caught on video shouting, “Listen, if you’re going to film me, that’s fine, because we cannot have idols in Jerusalem! This is a very serious matter. We cannot worship stones of false gods in Jerusalem.”14 The police arrested the vandal, a 40-year-old American tourist and Orthodox Jew, and sent him for psychiatric examination.15

The atmosphere has become much more violent and angry since the new right-wing Israeli government took power.

A statue of Jesus Christ, defaced and toppled, in the Church of the Flagellation, Jerusalem, February 2, 2023.

A statue of Jesus Christ, defaced and toppled by Jewish extremist vandals, in the Church of the Flagellation, Jerusalem, February 2, 2023.


Pater Nikodermus Twitter feed, February 2, 2023.

Just five weeks into the new year, this was the fifth attack against Christians, their places of worship, and their properties in the Holy Land, compared with 13 in the whole of 2020 and 9 in 2021, according to figures collected by the Jerusalem Inter-church Center and the Protecting Holy Land Christians campaign, which covers various Christian churches.16 In a statement, the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem said, “It is no coincidence that the legitimation of discrimination and violence in public opinion and in the current Israeli political environment also translates into acts of hatred and violence against the Christian community.”

“Welcome to the new Christian-hating Israel, encouraged and supported by the current government!” tweeted Father Nikodemus Schnabel of the Dormition Abbey, just outside the Old City walls of Jerusalem.17

Speaking with Jerusalem Story, Dimitri Diliani, the head of the Jerusalem-based National Christian National Coalition of the Holy Land, expressed concern that the repeated Israeli attacks are “aimed at weakening the Christian presence in Jerusalem and especially in the Old City.” He said, “They aim to remove the Christians from the Muslim-Christian Palestinian identity, and anyone who is not a Jew is a target.”18

The leaders of Christian churches in Jerusalem, including the Greek Orthodox Church, Catholic Church, and others, have spoken publicly about the mounting challenges faced by Christian communities in Jerusalem.

A statement issued on April 1 by church leaders charged that the Israeli authorities have reneged on promises of protection:

As we have all seen in recent months, escalating violence has engulfed the Holy Land. Local Christians have increasingly suffered adversities. For over the past year, some of our churches, funeral processions, and places of public gathering have become targets of attack; some of our holy sites and cemeteries have been desecrated; and some of our ancient liturgies, such as the Palm Sunday Procession and the Holy Fire Ceremony, have been closed off to thousands of worshipers. This is despite our agreements to cooperate with the governing (Israeli) authorities, and to accommodate any reasonable requests that they might present . . .

While we will persevere in these good-faith efforts, we ask the overseeing officials to work cooperatively and collaboratively with us, even as we call upon [the] international community and local residents of goodwill to advocate on our behalf, in order to help secure the safety, access, and religious freedom of the resident Christian community and the millions of Christian pilgrims annually visiting the Holy Land—as well as the maintenance of the religious Status Quo.19

Backgrounder What Is the “Status Quo”?

The Status Quo agreement on Jerusalem’s holy sites, enacted in the Ottoman era, seeks to prevent conflict between religious groups. Increasingly, it is being violated.

During Easter week, the Vatican-appointed Latin Patriarch Pierbattista Pizzaballa said in an interview with AP conducted in his office in the Christian Quarter, “The frequency of these attacks, the aggressions, has become something new . . . These people feel they are protected . . . that the cultural and political atmosphere now can justify, or tolerate, actions against Christians.”20

While the Israeli government has committed to protecting the rights of all religious minorities in Jerusalem, the actions of radical groups are threatening the safety and long-term viability of Christian worship and presence in the city.

A Climate of Impunity

What makes this situation even more concerning is that all these incidents were caught on surveillance cameras, yet rarely have arrests been made, and even when they are, no serious consequences ensue, creating a presumption of impunity for anyone considering following suit.

On March 19, during Lent, two men, one carrying an iron bar, entered the Church of Gethsemane in East Jerusalem, where the tomb of the Virgin Mary is Iocated, and physically attacked an archbishop and two priests. Although the Israeli police claimed the attack was carried out by a mentally deranged foreign tourist, it was later revealed that the attacker was an Israeli-born Christian who was temporarily transferred to a mental hospital.

In a subsequent statement, the Patriarchate called this attack “an atrocious terrorist crime that cannot be justified under any circumstances.” It also said:

The Patriarchate also emphasises that terrorist attacks, by radical Israeli groups, targeting churches, cemeteries, and Christian properties, in addition to physical and verbal abuse against Christian clergy, have become almost a daily occurrence that evidently increases in intensity during Christian holidays. This dismal situation hasn’t drawn any appropriate reaction, locally or internationally, despite appeals, requests, and protests made by the Churches of the Holy Land. It is painfully clear now that the authentic Christian presence in the Holy Land is in great danger.

The Patriarchate affirms that attacks on Christian holy sites, properties, heritage, and identity constitute a violation of international law, which explicitly calls for the protection of religious sites in Jerusalem and emphasises the need to respect this basic human right to worship freely.21

According to Diliani, the Israeli government’s support for extremist attacks takes various forms: “The first is logistical and material support for extremist religious schools that sponsor Jewish terrorism intellectually. The second is the political cover given by ministers from the government who call for violence and armed settlers. Finally, the third . . . is the historical neglect of places of worship, which has allowed some churches and mosques to be turned into synagogues in some towns.”22

Upcoming Holy Weekend

Despite the attacks, Christians in Jerusalem are preparing to celebrate the Feast of Resurrection this Sunday. However, Diliani expects the authorities to repeat the repressive measures it takes in conjunction with the Christian holidays every year. For example, last year, the police limited attendance at the ceremony to 4,000 people, including only 1,800 inside the church itself and sealed off the main entrances to the Christian Quarter, blocking the faithful from even reaching the area. Normally, up to 11,000 attend.23 Indeed, this year the police have announced similar restrictions.24

Judging from what has happened in previous years, the upcoming Easter celebration and especially Sabt al-Nur (Holy Fire Saturday) could be problematic. Holy Fire Day, which is the Saturday before Easter according to the Orthodox calendar, falls on April 15 this year. On this day, the light comes out of the tomb and is passed on to the faithful around the world.

The celebration is a popular Jerusalem event that attracts huge crowds.

Blog Post The Holy Light: From Jerusalem to the World

The Miracle of the Holy Fire in Jerusalem thrilled worshippers who managed to get in to see it, but thousands were blocked by new police restrictions that caused community outrage.

Posted in:



Statement by the President of the Security Council,” S/PRST/2023/1, United Nations Security Council, February 20, 2023 (emphasis added).


Rasha Abou Jalal, “Jerusalem’s Christian Population Dwindles Further,” Al-Monitor, April 8, 2022.


Abou Jalal, “Jerusalem’s Christian Population.”


Jacob Magid, “US Condemns ‘Despicable’ Vandalism of Christian Cemetery in Jerusalem,” Times of Israel, January 6, 2023.


Rina Bassist, “Outrage at Desecration of Historic Protestant Cemetery in Jerusalem,” Al-Monitor, January 4, 2023.


Bassist, “Outrage.”


Patriarchs and Heads of the Churches in Jerusalem, “Statement on the Recent Vandalism and Desecration of the Protestant Cemetery on Mt. Zion,” Diocese of Jerusalem, January 2, 2023.


Lazar Berman, “As Attacks on Christians Become More Frequent, a Crisis Looms for Israel,” Times of Israel, March 30, 2023.


Berman, “Attacks on Christians.”


Judith Sudilovsky, “Armenian Orthodox: Spitting Incident Shows Racism, Hate,” Crux, November 18, 2021.


“Attack on Jerusalemite Armenians”; “Yerevan Deeply Concerned by Recent Acts of Violence Targeting Armenian Residents, Patriarchate in Jerusalem,” Armen Press, January 30, 2023.


TOI Staff, “US Tourist Arrested for Vandalizing Statue in Jerusalem Old City Church,” Times of Israel, February 2, 2023.


Clothilde Mraffko, “In Jerusalem, Attacks on Christians Are on the Rise,” Le Monde, February 4, 2023.


As quoted in Mraffko, “In Jerusalem.”


Interview with the author, April 7, 2023.


Isabel Debre, “Holy Land Christians Say Attacks Rising in Far Right Israel,” Washington Post, April 13, 2023.


Interview with the author, April 7, 2023.


Joseph Krauss, “Israeli Restrictions on ‘Holy Fire’ Ceremony Ignite Outrage,” Los Angeles Times, April 23, 2022.


Associated Press, “Church: Israel Limiting Rights of ‘Holy Fire’ Worshippers,” US News, April 12, 2023.

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