Your Eminences, Graces and Reverend Fathers:
Jesus Christ is the Same Yesterday, Today and Forever (Heb 13:8)
Greetings in the name of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ!
As you might well be aware, a number of Appeals have come out in the
past two weeks from many Churches and church-related organisations across
the world responding to the illegal seizure by Israel of lands belonging
to the Armenian Orthodox Patriarchate in the City of the Nativity of Bethlehem.
Here in Great Britain, there have also been four Appeals issued by (a)
the Armenian Orthodox Church, (b) the Armenian Orthodox Primates of France,
Germany and Great Britain, (c) the Oriental Orthodox Council of Churches
and (d) the Armenian Church and Community Council of Great Britain.
This controversy between the Armenian Orthodox Patriarchate and Israel
is over the seizure by Israel of 35 acres of church-owned land in an area
referred to by Armenians as Baron Der. This plot of land lies north of
the Aida Palestinian refugee camp, and south of the Tantur Ecumenical Centre.
To the east is the fortified Israeli shrine of Rachel's Tomb, the biblical
matriarch, which is considered one of the holiest sites in Judaism.
Baron Der, with its 165 agricultural acres and centuries' old olive
trees, was purchased legally in 1641 as the site of a summer residence
for the Armenian Patriarch and as a rural retreat for the Armenian monks
in the Holy Land. The olive trees supply the traditional oil that lights
the lamps over the birthplace of Jesus Christ in the Church of the Nativity
in Bethlehem as well as over the tomb of Christ in the Church of the Resurrection
(Holy Sepulchre) in Jerusalem. The land is also honeycombed with many caves
and Byzantine tombs that constitute part of much larger archaeological
troves in the Holy Land.
The Israeli plan proposes to erect over this plot a 40-metre barrier
that would splinter this Armenian property, render it useless as much as
result in the occupation of further land on both the Jerusalem and West
Bank sides of the dividing line. This barrier is meant to be part of a
350-km security wall being currently built by Israel around the West Bank
and parts of Jerusalem in order to separate the Palestinian territories
from Israeli-held areas.
The emergency seizure orders were issued late last month, and Israeli
officials have advised the Armenian officials that they are irreversible.
Consequently, the Armenian Patriarchate petitioned the Israeli High Court
of Justice in Jerusalem. To date, the case is still pending, and no judgement
has been forthcoming.
The Armenian Church and its faithful across the world are deeply concerned
about this development. Not only is such a seizure contrary to International
law and the Fourth Geneva Conventions, it could also signal further seizures
of Church property - whether Armenian or otherwise - in the future.
For this reason, and firm in our belief that Church trust remains sacred,
we appeal to all Heads of Churches, clergy, non-governmental and church-related
organisations in Great Britain to mobilise their efforts in protesting
against this seizure. We do this in our belief that the best way toward
resolving disputes is through reconciliation rather than confrontation.
We regret that this episode could only sour relations between the 'two
peoples and three religions' of the Holy Land and thereby render our Christian
ministry of reconciliation harder.
We thank you for all your efforts as we recall the Old Testament Prophets
Isaiah and Micah, 'They shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and
their spears into pruning hooks. Nation shall not lift up sword against
nation, neither shall they learn war anymore' (Is 2:4, Mic 4:3).
b Bishop Nathan Hovhannisian
BISHOP NATHAN HOVHANNISIAN
PRIMATE OF THE ARMENIAN CHURCH OF GREAT BRITAIN AND PONTIFICAL LEGATE
The Armenian Vicarage • Iverna Gardens • Kensington • London W8
Phone: (44-20) 7937 0152 • Fax: (44-20) 7937 9049