Armenian Orthodox Decry Seminarians Deportation Order
by Edward Pentin
Jerusalem - September 11, 2009
A brawl in Jerusalem between two seminarians of the Armenian Orthodox Patriarchate and a Jewish extremist over the weekend has drawn further attention to the offensive practice of spitting at Christians in the Holy Land, and questions over the authorities' response.
On Sunday evening, as a group of Armenian seminarians returned to the Convent of St James after their weekly procession in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, a Jewish youth wearing a kipa spat on them, according to a Palestine News Service report.
One of the seminarians then accosted the youth who responded by spitting again. The scuffle led to a brawl which police stopped by arresting two of the Armenian seminarians, both aged 18, and holding them for 24 hours. But on release, the Israeli Ministry of Interior issued a deportation order on them - a move met with strong protests from the Armenian Patriarchate.
"We are currently dealing with the situation, writing letters to all the parties involved," patriarchate spokesman Fr. Pakrad Bourjekian told Terrasanta.net by phone from Jerusalem Sept. 10. "This is the first time a deportation has ever been ordered." The Patriarchate sent an urgent message to Israeli President Shimon Peres and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, urging them to nullify the expulsion decision.
Fr. Bourjekian said his church was concerned that such deportations could become a precedent, and escalate to include monks, priests and bishops. "If authorities are not happy with any kind particular problem, it gives them an opportunity to use this kind sanction," he said.
He would also like to see the police doing more to protect them from the attacks, and to make such incidents an offense. In contrast to the deportation orders, the Jewish youths who provoked last weekend's attack were only detained for 10-15 minutes and released without charge.
"These attacks have a long history of several years," Fr. Bourjekian said, adding that the only cause of such incidents is the clothing and crosses the priests and religious wear. "This is the provocation that has caused these young extremist Jews to attack them," he said.
But although the incidents happen relatively frequently, they are only carried out by a small minority, according to American Franciscan Father Athanasius Macora, who, on behalf of the Custody, monitors the Status Quo agreement [a 19th century accord establishing territorial division among Christian communities in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, and the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem]. "It's deplorable and happens all the time - it happened to me today this morning as I was going to Mass," he said, adding that they don't usually "spit at you, they spit at the ground."
But he added that the Armenians are more often targeted because of their location. "The spitting against the Armenians happens frequently, and very often they have to have a police escort because of it," explained Fr. Macora. "That's because to get to the Jewish Quarter you have to go through the Armenian Quarter, so you have all these people going down to the Western Wall or wherever, and a small group of them from time to time spit."
Some sources say the perpetrators are not necessarily extremists, nor are they usually ultra-Orthodox Jews, but tend to be Jewish male youths belonging to settler or nationalist religious groups, sometimes no more than 12 or 13 years old.
Some perpetrators are occasionally banned from parts of the Old City as a punishment, but this is unlikely to resolve the problem. "The only way is through education," said Fr. Macora. "Jewish religious leadership must get up and speak out against these things - it must come from them and not from us. They need to say it's not acceptable, and address their own problems on their doorstep. If you have extremists, they need to be called back to sanity by their own people."
Fr. Bourjekian would like to see Christians coming together to address these kinds of problems and conflicts, especially to deal with what he believes is a more pressing matter: ongoing restrictions on visa renewals for priests and bishops.
Fr. Macora didn't think spitting incidents were increasing, but stressed it is nevertheless "very offensive." "I don't like it at all and I don't think anyone likes to be spat at," he said. "Also it's not against us, it's against Christ."