When I visited East Jerusalem for the first time in 2010 under the auspices of the Palestine Festival of Literature, I was given a reality tour of the Israeli occupation. I was shocked by how little I had known and understood about what life was like in the Armenian Quarter, where the ongoing insults and injustices were designed to let Christian residents know that their presence was barely tolerated by the occupation authorities and by the armed Israeli settlers. It was also strange to see how Christian pilgrims from around the world, Diaspora Armenians among them, could make their way through the streets of the Old City, seemingly oblivious to the scaffolding and violence of settler colonialism around them.
While I was in Jerusalem, I met Elise Aghazarian and her late father Albert, who identified as both Armenian and Palestinian. Elise and I have remained friends since that time. She did an interview with me and translated one of my poems into Arabic for publication in Al Araby. Last week, just after the latest ceasefire went into effect in Gaza on May 22, Elise posted some thoughts on Facebook about a recent assault against an Armenian priest in the Old City. Emboldened mobs of settlers and right-wing Israeli Jews have been attacking those deemed as other—Christians, Muslims, Armenians, Palestinians—in Jerusalem, in the West Bank, and in the so-called “mixed” cities of ’48 Israel. Elise’s heartfelt call for respect and equality is written out of love for humanity and devotion to her beloved Jerusalem.
Today I remembered an article about spitting attacks against Armenians in the Jerusalem Armenian Quarter, published in the Israeli Newspaper “Haaretz” in November 2011, on how these attacks against Old City clergymen were becoming daily.
Now, nine years later, in May 2021, this is still going on and even getting worse. Some Israeli mobs have been advancing from spitting attacks to beating up priests in our Quarter. We have also in the past witnessed graveyard desecration and death threat graffiti, added to some incidents of tension around Easter time. It seems these groups feel they can get away with it within Israeli society.
The same way I and some members of my community refuse and condemn attacks on Jewish graveyards and rabbis around the world, and the same way we refuse and condemn seeing mosques and Muslim women wearing scarves attacked, we care about Christian monuments and priests. We refuse and condemn attacks against Christians. This kind of behavior must be opposed.
We know that those ignorant racist mobs who sow hatred do not represent the true teachings of their religion. We also realize that if such people continue being encouraged by the system, they will eventually gain more power and start bullying any person who disagrees with them, even members of their own society and religion. They do this because they know they can get away with it.
Armenians have lived in Jerusalem for hundreds of years. Different authorities (Arabs, etc.) have historically coexisted with us and respected the peaceful monks of the brotherhood of St. James. Throughout history there have been different documents calling for the protection of the Armenian community of Jerusalem, including some Islamic sources.
We stand in solidarity with our Armenian priests and fellow Jerusalemites and call for equality and freedom of peaceful worship for everybody.
I and many people like me believe in the values of respect and righteousness. Whenever we witness violations against human life and the natural world around us we feel compelled to stand with the oppressed and the victims of injustice. Even if we are to be persecuted for this in the short term, in the long run we know we have followed our conscience and worked on improving the life conditions of our beloved city and country.