French Catholic church Maison D'Abraham in east Jerusalem is accusing the Israel Police of failing to investigate robbery and harassment complaints filed by the church recently.
"The Israel Police are not protecting us," the church's director, Father Michael O'Sullivan, told Ynet. "Only in the past month we had two incidents with a large Volvo truck which intentionally hit our entrance gate and escaped. After the second incident we filed a complaint with the police, but nothing happened. They didn't even send a policeman here to look into our claims."
Maison D'Abraham, a serene oasis in the midst of the Ras al-Amud neighborhood, was founded in 1964 at the request of Pope Paul VI during his visit to the Holy Land. In his vision, the pope saw the church as a place which would fulfill the needs of Christian pilgrims visiting Jerusalem without financial means.
Every year, thousands of tourists from all around the world visit the church, which also serves as a guesthouse. Recently, however, the church and its tenants have been suffering from harassment and theft.
According to Father O'Sullivan, the recent incidents are only a few examples of the lawlessness the church's tenants are forced to live with. "We suffer from burglaries, theft and harassments, but the police are not doing anything or just pretending to be doing something. About two years ago we caught a thief red-handed, turned him into the police, but he was released the next day. Two months later he began stealing again."
One of church's guest rooms (Photo: Noam Moskowitz)
But sometimes, O'Sullivan says, no action is better than a direct encounter with the police. "About a month and a half ago, during the Silwan riots, police forces entered out compound without any permits or orders and searched the area. They ignored our questions and just entered without our approval and began moving things around," he said.
According to the church's director, the tenants live with a sense of insecurity. "Tourists and pilgrims are regular victims of burglaries, pickpockets and the theft of purses and passports. There are a number of known 'hot spots' in Christian centers, like the Seven Arches Hotel, Via Dolorosa, St. Anne's Church, the Lions Gate, and here too. The police are aware of the phenomenon, but are not working to defend the pilgrims and tourists."
Tourism Ministry: Israel's image damaged
The church's director claims that a nearby Jewish settlement, Maale Zeitim, received much treatment from the law enforcement authorities. "If only one small thing happens in Moskowitz's settlement (one of the main Jewish donors to Jewish communities in east Jerusalem), they arrive in large forces."
This shows that there is discrimination in Jerusalem, he adds. "This is the real point. The Arab residents, who are an integral part of the city, and we, are not equal residents in the eyes of the State."
The Vatican office in east Jerusalem was also approached by the church following the incidents.
"Christian churches in Jerusalem have a special status since the Ottoman era, but we do not feel secure and equal. I expected more from the only country claiming to be a democracy in the Middle East," says O'Sullivan.
"I come from Ireland, and I have learned that democracy has its price. I also come from what is known as 'the free world,' where citizens are supposed to be treated equally. This is the biggest challenge to Israeli democracy."
The Tourism Ministry said in response that it "view incidents in which tourists and tourism sites are harmed as extremely severe. This causes serious damage to Israel's image and tourism industry.
"The ministry is working in cooperation with the Jerusalem Police, which is responsible for handling and enforcing this issue. Due to its importance, the ministry has allotted funds to the tourist police operating in the city. The ministry will be in touch with the church's director in the coming days to discuss the situation and the required solutions."
The police have yet to respond to the claims.
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