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October 23, 2017

Another Chapter in Yusef Daher’s One-Man Propaganda War

HS Entrance.jpg

The confined spaces of the Old City of Jerusalem present real problems for Israeli officials during celebrations of the Easter Triduum. In particular, the Church of the Holy Sepulcher and its narrow courtyard present a nightmare for officials responsible for crowd control in the Old City. Sadly, Yusef Daher, executive secretary of the Jerusalem Inter-Church Center, currently located at the Monastery of St. Anne in the Old City, uses Israel's response to these difficulties as a pretext to accuse Israeli officials of oppressing the Christian community in Jerusalem. (Photos: Dexter Van Zile)

Yusef Daher really ought to be ashamed of himself.

For at least a decade, he has used his status as executive secretary of the Jerusalem Interchurch Center — currently located in St. Anne’s Monastery near the Lion’s Gate of the Old City — to de-legitimize the Jewish state.

It’s bad enough that Daher, a Christian, has posted images on social media that valorize Palestinian violence against Israeli civilians, but to make matters worse, he has used his status as a “Christian peacemaker” to portray legitimate Israeli security measures as a violation of religious freedom in Jerusalem. The problem is that if Israeli officials did not impose some sort of crowd control on Christian celebrations in Jerusalem, people might get killed in stampedes. It's happened in the past.

Here are the details.

Daher periodically condemns Israeli security officials for keeping a tight rein on the crowds of Christians that gather to participate in Good Friday and Easter services in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in the Old City of Jerusalem. Sadly enough, irresponsible Christian leaders in Jerusalem have cooperated with Daher’s efforts to demonize Israel.

In an article published by the Catholic News Service in April 2014, Daher complained that pilgrims intent on watching Good Friday and Easter services at the Sepulcher are kept away from the Church and are forced to watch the events on a large TV screen near Jaffa Gate. Pilgrims, Daher said, “are kept behind iron barricades as if they are in prison.”

The same article quotes church leaders in Jerusalem as they accuse Israel of “tampering with the traditional celebrations and local heritage.”

Daher said that Israel disrupts pilgrims on Good Friday service and that this “often disturbs people who are in prayer and creates tension.” He also declared that Israeli police have acted violently against worshippers and that there have been arrests.

The article also states that “Daher noted that pilgrims are prevented from standing in the church’s courtyard even though a three-meter-wide corridor would be enough for people to pass through in an emergency.”

Interestingly enough, the same article quotes Father Juan Maria Solane from the Pontifical Institute Notre Dame of Jerusalem Center that police needed to restrict the number of people entering the church to avoid a repeat of stampedes in the 18th century that cost people their lives.

“I have seen many accidents at the Holy Sepulcher,” Solana told CNS. “The Holy Sepulcher is overcrowded at these ceremonies and there can be accidents which nobody wants to see. Elementary prudence counsels us not to allow so many people in the Holy Sites.”

Daher engaged in a similar gambit in 2010, when Palestinians complained that Israel started imposing excessive security measures during Holy Week in 2005. The CNS article includes the following passage:

“It was simply too much,” Yusef Daher, executive secretary of the Jerusalem Inter-Church Center, said of the security measures. “There was a new kind of iron barricade and there were too many police. They were rude, pushing priests and old people. They don’t understand the feelings of the people (who) are going to pray.”

The same article provides some context, declaring that the Church of the Holy Sepulcher has only one exit and that “police say they must limit the number of people who enter the church in order to prevent a fire hazard during the Holy Fire ceremony.”

To get a sense of what’s at stake (and of the unreasonableness of Daher’s criticism) it’s necessary to take a look at the courtyard in question.

Parvis for Blog.jpg

The above photo, taken on Saturday, October 14, 2017, shows just how confined things are in the courtyard (or parvis) of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. There are 200 or so people in the courtyard outside the church and it’s pretty full. On the celebrations of Good Friday and Easter, the same space would be filled with thousands of people. In the event of a disturbance, many people could die in a vain attempt to flee the parvis, which has only two exits, which are pictured below.

Redeemer Entrance to Parvis Two.jpg

This photo shows the entrance and exit point that feeds out toward another landmark in the Old City, The Church of the Redeemer. As you can see, it's a pretty narrow exit.

Mosque of Omar Entrance to Parvis A.jpg

This photo shows the entrance and exit point that leads in the direction of the Mosque of Omar which is just to the south of the church. Again, it's a pretty narrow exit. Large numbers of people would have a difficult, if not impossible, time exiting in a hurry through this narrow passage way. It presents real challenges to crowd control when large numbers of people are present.

As one can see from the photos, these entrances are not sufficient to allow for the quick an easy passage of people seeking immediate escape. It’s easy to understand why stampedes took place in the 1800s. Even under normal conditions, crowds get bogged down moving in and out of courtyard. If, God forbid, there were a panic of any type, people would get killed and predictably enough, Israelis would be blamed for not doing more to provide order in the city.

Given his tendency to attack Israel, Daher would probably be one of the loudest critics of the Jewish State should a catastrophe take at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. One can only hope that Israel continues to do its job and protect pilgrims from stampedes at the Holy Sepulcher. And maybe, just maybe, Daher can abandon his vitriolic attacks on Israel and thank Israeli officials for their efforts to keep Christians safe.


Posted by dvz at October 23, 2017 03:31 PM

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