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February 8, 1999, NEW YORK -- National Council of Churches General Secretary Joan B. Campbell has joined 26 other U.S. church leaders in letters – released publicly this morning (Feb. 8) – protesting the Israeli government policy of confiscation of identification cards from East Jerusalem Palestinians, with the consequent loss of right of residency in Jerusalem.
The two letters – one to the Israeli government and the other to the three principal heads of churches in Jerusalem – were sent for delivery today. The first was addressed to the Israeli Ambassador to the United States, Zalman Shoval, in Washington, D.C., and the second to Patriarch Diodoros I (Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem), Patriarch Michel Sabbah (Latin Catholic Patriarchate of Jerusalem), and Patriarch Torkom Manoogian (Armenian Apostolic Patriarchate of Jerusalem).
Last October, the three Jerusalem church leaders had written to the Israeli Minister of the Interior, expressing deep concern about the 600 percent increase over two years in the number of cards being confiscated. "Hard-working and peace-seeking Christians are being forced out of the city…(M)any of these families or individuals face losing their access to the city of their birth through the revocation of their residency rights," they wrote.
"We must remind you that what impacts Palestinians in general doubly impacts the Christian Palestinians in particular," the Patriarchs wrote. They called on the State of Israel to safeguard the rights of the Christian communities, halt future confiscations and rescind recent changes in its policies. Since the Patriarchs’ letters, there has been no change in Israeli policy.
Led by their U.S. counterparts in the Greek Orthodox, Armenian Orthodox and Roman Catholic hierarchies, top Orthodox, Protestant and Roman Catholic leaders wrote a strong letter of support to the Jerusalem patriarchs and addressed their own letter of protest to the Israeli Ambassador to the United States.
In that second letter, the church leaders wrote, "The churches in the Holy City of Jerusalem are not composed only of stones, but more importantly are communities of faithful, worshipping believers. Any further dimunition of their numbers or weakening of their vitality is a matter of great concern to the churches everywhere."