The Israel Parks Authority announced on Monday it would shelf for the time being a controversial plan to include the Christian holy sites on Jerusalem’s Mount of Olives in a national park. The big churches in the Holy Land protested loudly.
The Armenian, Catholic and Greek Orthodox Churches wrote to Tamar Zandberg, Minister of Environmental Protection. They expressed concern about the plan, saying it would disrupt the long-standing status quo and charged the Jewish state with trying to “nationalize one of Christianity’s most sacred sites and transform its character.”
According to Farid Jubran, consul-general of the Catholic Church’s Custody of the Holy Land, placing Church-owned property on the Mount of Olives in Israeli hands could have only one purpose – to assimilate and erase every non-Jewish presence on this sacred mountain.
Shortly after the churches protested, the Parks Authority said it would freeze the plan, which was due to be approved by the Jerusalem Planning Committee on March 2. Officials said the plan would not be tabled again until after appropriate consultations and discussions with all relevant bodies, including the local churches.
A statement by Israeli human rights groups and peace organizations called the plan to expand the Mount of Olives park an attempt to marginalize Palestinian residents, thereby preventing the development of Palestinian neighborhoods and increasing the Jewish religious and national importance of the Mount of Olives. The statement criticized the plan as part of various measures to consolidate Israel’s sovereignty in East Jerusalem.