Israel paused a plan Feb. 21 to expand the Jerusalem Walls National Park in the area of the Mount of Olives and many Christian Holy Sites.
If completed, the National Park expansion plan would enclose many of the Holy Sites which now house churches that mark many of the stops that Jesus made on his way into Jerusalem at the beginning of Holy Week. Christian leaders responded to the initial plan with strong opposition, saying that they believed it was a measured effort to disrupt Christians’ ability to visit these Holy Sites and to have rights in the Holy City of Jerusalem itself.
Gil Zohar of Religion Unplugged writes:
Israel’s Nature and Parks Authority froze a controversial plan Feb. 21 to enlarge the Jerusalem Walls National Park that would enclose 68 acres of the Mount of Olives and the Kidron and Ben Hinnom valleys — which include many Christian holy sites.
Local church leaders had voiced their strong opposition to the INPA’s plan, denouncing it as a “premeditated attack on the Christians in the Holy Land,” according to a joint statement by the Greek Orthodox patriarch of Jerusalem, Theopolis III; the Roman Catholic Church custos of the Holy Land, Francesco Patton; and the Armenian patriarch of Jerusalem, Nourhan Manougian. The three leaders petitioned Israel’s environmental protection minister Tamar Zandberg, whose ministry is in charge of the INPA, to shelve the expansion plan.
While the Mount of Olives rising east of the Old City includes sites that are holy to the three monotheistic faiths, its slope is especially important for Christians because of the various churches that mark the events in the life of Jesus — from Palm Sunday, when he arrived in the holy city, to Friday, when he was arrested, tried and executed. The INPA said the expansion was meant to restore long-neglected lands and better preserve historical landscapes and that it would not harm the church properties incorporated into the national park.
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