In a letter to Minister Tamar Zandberg sent on 18 February, the heads of churches described the plan as an attempt to “minimize, not to say eliminate, any non-Jewish characteristics of the Holy City.”
The plan called for expanding the Jerusalem Walls National Park to include property owned by several churches in the city.
Currently, the national park, which was created after the Six-Day War, in 1968, extends over the Palestinian village of Silwan, the Hinnom Valley and land abutting the Old City’s walls.
“In recent years,” the letter reads, “we cannot help but feel that various entities are seeing to minimize, not to say eliminate, any non-Jewish characteristics of the Holy City by attempting to alter the status quo on this holy mountain.”
The heads of churches said that these entities have failed due to the objection and lack of cooperation from the churches. “After their attempts failed, they resorted to statutory powers by advancing a plan to declare vast parts of the mountain as a national park,” reads the letter. "This is a brutal measure that constitutes a direct and premeditated attack on the Christians in the Holy Land, on the churches and on their ancient, internationally guaranteed rights in the Holy City.
The heads of churches added, that, 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.
The Nature and Parks Authority said it was freezing the plan, which was to be approved on 2 March.
The World Council of Churches (WCC) has been monitoring and consulting on this issue through its Jerusalem Liaison Office and the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel, in cooperation with Israeli human and planner rights organizations. The WCC's Jerusalem office follows closely all matters of concern to the churches in Jerusalem and plays an active role on the ground by way of media monitoring, advocacy and information sharing in this respect.
Earlier in February, the WCC expressed concern about violence against Christians in Palestinian Authority areas.
WCC acting general secretary Rev. Prof. Dr Ioan Sauca called on the Palestinian Authority to investigate recent attacks on Christians in the West Bank, and to ensure justice and dignity for all citizens.
Sauca called on the Palestinian Authority to uphold the law, prosecute the perpetrators, and take steps to ensure that no such attacks or violations or Christian properties occur in the future.
“The WCC takes note of the statement by the Palestinian Authority’s Higher Presidential Committee for Church Affairs in Palestine, condemning the attacks and promising legal and protective action,” said Sauca “WCC, while sending prayers for a speedy recovery to those who were injured in the attacks, continues to monitor the situation, and looks for implementation of the commitment by the Presidential Committee that legal measures will be taken to guarantee the rights of all.”
On 19 February, church representatives, along with representatives from the WCC Jerusalem Liaison Office and the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel joined activists and diplomats, as well as the mayors of Bethlehem and the village of Bahaleen at the Tent of National to stand against recent attacks.