The Church of the Holy Sepulchre in the Old City.
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
An incident between police and Coptic clerics that occurred outside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre has drawn accusations of police violence against the monks, after officers tried to break up the group of protesters who would not let Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) maintenance workers into the church.
A video of the incident that has circulated on social media shows several police officers handcuffing and dragging a monk, who refused to walk with them.
Police said they received a report about dozens of residents who were blocking the entrance to the church, preventing IAA workers from entry, who were there to fix a safety hazard.
Police said they initially spoke with protesters and warned them that if they did not leave the area and allow the workers to enter, they would have to be evacuated. According to police, the protesters ignored these warnings, leading one who refused to move to be arrested. “The fact that these are clerics does not allow them to disturb public order, to disobey police orders and to break the law,” the police spokesman added.
The monks were protesting the municipality’s refusal to allow them to oversee the repairs themselves.
Anba Angaelos, the Coptic Orthodox Archbishop of London, described the images from the incident as “alarming,” and criticized the “unprecedented and unacceptable violence used by Israeli police on Coptic monks, arising from the execution of an order that contravenes a standing Israeli court property ruling in favor of the Coptic Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem.”
Senior Palestinian official Saeb Erekat issued a strong condemnation of the incident, calling it a “blatant violation.” “This is a continuation of Israeli interference in the status quo of the Holy Sites as well as an aggression against the peoples of Egypt and Palestine,” Erekat said.
Hamas spokesperson Hazem Qasem stated on Wednesday evening that the incident is "another crime" committed by Israeli against the Palestinians and "reflects the racist and brutal demeanor of the Israeli occupation."
The dispute is between the Coptic and Ethiopian monasteries over the ownership of Deir El-Sultan, located on the roof of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Last year, the Church of the Archangel Michael was closed after a small stone fell from its ceiling. The dispute between the two churches caused a delay in the repairs, as the Coptic Church wanted to assert its ownership and conduct the repairs without state interference.
Analyst Alex Grinberg of the Middle East Center for Reporting and Analysis remarked: “They [the monks] said their protest is completely peaceful, but they evoked the sovereignty of Egyptian land and property and they said they are acting in the tightest coordination with Egypt’s embassy and foreign ministry.”
“Naturally, every church in Jerusalem acts on behalf of the interests of its national state and Egypt wants a foothold in Jerusalem,” he added. “Several years ago churches tried to create faits accomplis and precedents by means of setting [up] ladders or all those things that may look petty but have a big symbolic significance.”
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