The Israeli government is backing away from a plan to absorb Christian holy sites on Jerusalem’s Mount of Olives into a national park after many Christian leaders protested.
The Mount of Olives has great spiritual significance to Christians, as the location was where certain events in Jesus’ life took place, with various churches having been built on the site as a result.
Israel’s Nature and Parks Authority announced Monday that it will abandon the plan, which the agency argued would help preserve the local environment and wouldn’t harm the churches present.
As reported by The Associated Press, INPA said on Monday that it has “no intention of advancing the plan in the planning committee and it is not ready for discussion without coordination and communication with all relevant officials, including the churches, in the area.”
Known officially as Plan 101-674788, the proposal would have expanded the borders of the Jerusalem Walls National Park to include a large portion of the Mount of Olives.
The National Park was created in the 1970s, according to Times of Israel, with the original border intentionally encompassing several Christian holy sites and churches.
Last week, Middle East Christian leaders sent a letter to Environmental Protection Minister Tamar Zandberg opposing the proposed acquisition.
Signed by Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem Theopolis III, Catholic Church Custos of the Holy Land Francesco Patton and Armenian Patriarch of Jerusalem Nourhan Manougian, the letter called the plan “a brutal measure that constitutes a direct and premeditated attack on the Christians in the Holy Land.”
“Under the guise of protecting green spaces, the plan appears to serve an ideological agenda that denies the status and rights of Christians in Jerusalem,” they stated.
“Regretfully, this is not the first time the INPA is playing a hostile role against the Churches and the Christian presence in the Holy Land. We are saddened to see such an important Authority being misused in this way.”
Last December, the patriarchs and heads of churches in Jerusalem issued a joint statement calling for, among other things, the creation of a special cultural heritage zone for Christians in Jerusalem.
The church leaders stated at the time that while they appreciated the Israeli government’s commitment “to uphold a safe and secure home for Christians in the Holy Land,” they believed the commitment was being undermined by “local politicians, officials and law enforcement agencies to curb the activities of radical groups.”
“The principle that the spiritual and cultural character of Jerusalem’s distinct and historic quarters should be protected is already recognized in Israeli law with respect to the Jewish Quarter,” the church leaders said last year.
“Yet radical groups continue to acquire strategic property in the Christian Quarter, with the aim of diminishing the Christian presence, often using underhanded dealings and intimidation tactics to evict residents from their homes, dramatically decreasing the Christian presence, and further disrupting the historic pilgrim routes between Bethlehem and Jerusalem.”