Yesterday we celebrated Jerusalem Day, commemorating Israel's liberation of eastern and southern Jerusalem from Jordanian occupation 38 years ago. As usual, our political leaders pledged their undying and sincere commitment to the continued unity of the city as the "eternal, undivided capital of the Jewish People." Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, always one to flaunt his commitment to Jerusalem, pledged to protect the city's unity by transferring NIS 40 million in budgetary funds to the municipal budget.
But talk is cheap. In the Arab sections of the city, the people tell a different tale. In recent months, they have come to live under the shadow of terror and intimidation by the Palestinian Authority. After an absence of four years, the PA, under the leadership of "democratically elected" chairman Mahmoud Abbas, has been reasserting its presence in the city.
The moment they are convinced they will not be directly quoted and no indication of their identity will be published, residents in neighborhoods like Silwan and Sheikh Jarrah all tell the same story: Hundreds of Arab Jerusalemites who hold Israeli identity cards and enjoy Israeli welfare benefits and health insurance, travel daily to Ramallah and Jericho to train in the various Palestinian security services. There they don their uniforms and wear their weapons. At the end of the day they return to Jerusalem and intimidate their neighbors.
These law-abiding Jerusalemites are threatened with abduction, torture, loss of livelihood and worse if they turn to Israeli authorities for any assistance other than welfare. If squatters move onto their land, they are not allowed to complain. If a husband beats his wife, she cannot turn to Israeli authorities for help. The address for all their grievances has now become the Palestinian militiamen – many of whom hold the ranks of colonel and general – living next door, in Jerusalem, the eternal, undivided capital city of Israel to which Sharon has pledged his undying commitment.
Arab participation in Jerusalem's municipal elections has, since the establishment of the PA, dwindled to near insignificance. This too is the direct result of intimidation. Since 1996, the PA's appointed mufti at the Temple Mount, Sheikh Ikrama Sabri – a Jerusalem resident himself – has ordered Arab Jerusalemites to boycott the elections.
Sabri has done more than that. Aside from preaching the genocidal destruction of Israel and the conquest of the US by Islamic fundamentalists, he has issued three death sentences for Arabs who sold land to Jews. Recently, he announced his intention to approve the death sentences issued by the PA for 15 people accused of assisting Israel in its counterterrorism efforts. Any lawyer worth a penny would say that in so acting, Sabri is guilty of murder. And yet no charges have been brought against him by the Israel's State Attorney's Office.
The issue of land sales to Jews is one of the most disturbing indications of what the PA's true goals are in its dealings with Israel. When the PA was first established in 1994, one of the first laws "promulgated" by then "justice" minister Freih Abu Meddin was to make the selling of land to Jews a capital offense. In short order, Arab land dealers started showing up dead in dumpsters in Ramallah and Jericho. Two were murdered in Jerusalem. Dozens of other Jerusalemites underwent torture at the hands of the PA militias.
IN 2001, after the massacre of 21 teenagers outside the Dolphinarium discotheque in Tel Aviv by a Palestinian terrorist, the government, in its one political move against the PA throughout the entire war, announced the closing of Orient House in Jerusalem and a clamp-down on all PA military and political activities in the city. Until that date, heads of state on official visits to Israel would make it a point to also visit the PLO's headquarters in the city, paying homage to its aspiration to take over Israel's eternal, undivided capital.
Since then, and until Abbas, the "reform" leader took power last November, the PA had gone underground in Jerusalem, and its Arab residents breathed a sigh of relief. But with the new legitimacy conferred on Abbas by the US and Israel, the PA is again asserting its terrorist authority over the residents of the city.
The newest victim of the PA's power grab is not an Arab at all, but the recently excommunicated Patriarch of the Greek Orthodox Church, Irineous I.
Since the PA was established, it has worked diligently to bring all the various Christian sects under its direct control. In the 1990s this involved terrorizing priests and nuns into submission. In Jericho and Hebron, the PA took control of the convents and churches of the White Russian churches and transferred them to the pro-PLO Red Russian church. In 2002, Fatah terrorists laid siege to the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem and held the priests hostage for weeks while ostentatiously desecrating the holy site.
Until the sacking of Irineous last month, the Greek Orthodox Church was the only church operating in Israel and the PA that retained its independence from the PA. Before Easter, Ma'ariv published a report that Irineous had committed the "crime" of leasing church property by the Jaffa Gate of the Old City to Jews. Seeing an opportunity, the PA immediately pounced on Irineous. As columnist Nadav Haetzni reported in Ma'ariv on Friday, PA ministers and militia commanders, equipped with Israeli VIP travel documents, descended on the Church of the Holy Sepulcher and organized attacks against Irineous, who was immediately condemned as a "traitor" and a "collaborator."
Irineous was summoned for an interrogation by PA Prime Minister Ahmed Qurei. His lawyer's arm was broken and his financial adviser was brutally beaten. Under the gun of PA intimidation, the church's Holy Synod convened and excommunicated Irineous last month. The PA took over the church's finances and incited an international scandal which brought Greece's deputy foreign minister to Ramallah, where he apologized to Qurei for Irineous's terrible crime.
As all of this was happening, Israel's government sat quietly on the side and did nothing. The attacks against Irineous were organized by a PLO-sponsored Arab Israeli priest, Theodosius Atallah Hanna. Hanna has repeatedly glorified suicide bombers and, indeed, called for Palestinians to become bombers in interviews to the Arab press. He is positioning himself to become the first Arab patriarch of the Greek Orthodox Church since the 16th century.
Aside from the fact that the current Arabization of the Greek Orthodox Church will signal the complete takeover of all Christian churches by the PA, it also has strategic significance for Israel's national security. The PA has now made clear that the prohibition of land sales to Jews extends even to foreigners. As well, the Greek Orthodox Church owns vast land tracts throughout Israel. In Jerusalem alone, the Knesset, the President's House and large swathes of Rehavia are owned by the church. With the church under PLO control, what will become of these lands when their current leases expire?
Jerusalem is the indivisible and eternal capital of the Jewish people. But from the passivity of the government in the wake of PA encroachment on the city, it seems that, rhetoric aside, our leaders are abandoning their duty to defend it.
Originally published in The Jerusalem Post.