Israel arrests Palestinian archbishop during protest against church takeover

July 12, 2015

Archbishop Atallah Hanna. Photo: al-Araby al-Jadeed.

Israel arrested a prominent Palestinian Christian leader on June 27 during a demonstration in the Hebron area of the occupied West Bank.

Atallah Hanna, activist and Archbishop of the Orthodox Patriarchate at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, was detained and interrogated by Israeli occupation forces as dozens of Palestinian and foreign activists had gathered to protest the takeover of a Palestinian church compound by Israeli settlers, al-Araby al-Jadeed reported that day.

“[Israeli] occupation forces prevented the activists from reaching the building,” Hassan Barajiya, an activist from the National Committee Against the Wall and Settlements, told al-Araby al-Jadeed. “They managed to arrest Archbishop Atallah Hanna, who was close to the soldiers, and take him to the side.”

Archbishop Hanna was subsequently transferred to the Etzion detention centre in a nearby Israeli settlement, where he was issued a summons to return for interrogation before eventually being released.

Beit al-Baraka, the church compound where the protest was staged, is situated between the al-Aroub refugee camp and Hebron, a Palestinian city in the southern West Bank.

The compound was secretly purchased three years ago, through a Swedish organisation, by Aryeh King, founder of the Israel Land Fund, a right-wing settlement organisation that aims to push Palestinians off their land and replace them with Jewish Israelis, Haaretz reported on May 22.

King, who is known for buying Palestinian homes or properties through proxies, was funded by Irving Moskowitz, an American millionaire with a long history of funding Israeli settlement expansion in the West Bank, especially in East Jerusalem.

In recent months, settler organisations have been preparing the site to house 20 settler families. Establishing an outpost there would, according to Haaretz, “also allow the settlers to spread out from the site” into adjacent lands.

On June 6, Israeli occupation forces forcibly prevented a similar march to Beit al-Baraka, assaulting and injuring protestors and declaring the area a “closed military zone,” Ma’an News Agency reported that day.

Protest organiser Yousef Abu Maria told Ma’an that Palestinians feared the new settlement would threaten not only the refugee camp, but also a nearby Palestinian college and school. Israel already has plans to build a road for settlers in the area.

[Abridged from Electronic Intifada.]

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