In Photos: Ethiopians deface Egyptian flag at Deir El-Sultan Monastery in Jerusalem

Amr Kandil , Wednesday 20 Apr 2022

Ethiopians have attempted to assault Egyptian monks and defaced an Egyptian flag drawn on the door of Deir El-Sultan Monastery in Jerusalem’s Old City on Tuesday, according to the Coptic ME Sat channel.

Deir Al-Sultan
Israel police standing outside Deir Al-Sultan monastery door which is painted with the Egyptian Flag on Tuesday 19 April, 2022. Photo courtesy of Coptic Orthodox Cultural Center Facebook page.


Footage taken by St. Mark’s Coptic Orthodox Channel ME Sat and shared by the Coptic Orthodox Cultural Centre (COCC) on Tuesday evening showed a number of Israeli policemen gathering at the monastery and the large Egyptian flag on the door stained with grey paint.

However, it was not clear from the footage if the involved persons were Ethiopian monks or pilgrims to the holy land.

The ownership of Deir El-Sultan monastery, which is located on the roof of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem's Old City, has been in dispute  for decades between the Egyptian Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria and the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church. 

The monastery, where Ethiopian and Egyptian monks have lived for decades, had been owned by the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria since the 7th century AD.

The Coptic Orthodox Church regained the ownership of the monastery in the 12th century AD during the era of Salahudin Al Ayubi, the Ayubid sultan of Egypt and Syria, after he reclaimed the city of Jerusalem from the Crusaders.

Copts remained in control of the monastery until 1970 when Israeli authorities handed its control over to the Ethiopian Orthodox Church after police changed the monastery's locks and gave them the keys.

Israeli Supreme Court issued a verdict on 16 March 1971 based on the Egyptian Coptic Orthodox Church's documents ruling that Deir Sultan was owned by the Egyptian church.

The ruling came three years after Israeli occupation authorities expelled Coptic monks from the monastery after the 1967 War and handed it over to Ethiopian monks.

On 5 November 2018, the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church issued a statement claiming ownership of the disputed monastery and attacking the Egyptian Coptic Orthodox Church.

In response, the Egyptian church issued a statement distancing itself from Ethiopian church's "unjust accusations, offensive insults and historical inaccuracies about the ownership and possession of Coptic Deir Sultan," insisting on the need to abide by the 1971 Israeli court verdict.

Last year, Ethiopian monks also raised the Ethiopian flag on a tent that they set up at the monastery amid protestation by Egyptian monks.

Israeli authorities eventually removed the Ethiopian flag and tent after interference by the Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Egyptian embassy in Tel Aviv.

“What happened last year happened this year too; at the beginning of the holly week, we found them erecting a large flag on their tent,” Father Antonios El-Orashalimi — secretary of the Coptic Orthodox Archdiocese of Jerusalem — told ME Sat on Tuesday, adding that the Egyptian flag was then painted over.

He added that the monastery reported the incident to the Israeli police, but said that they only acted hours after the report.

“This is a place of worship, not a place for flags; placing an Ethiopian flag means that you want to prove that the place is of an Ethiopian identity… and it is not — with the recognition of everyone and the Israeli High Court — an Ethiopian monastery,” he affirmed.

Negotiations between the Israeli police and the Ethiopian monks are currently underway to persuade them to remove their flag, El-Orashalimi said, adding that the Egyptian monks will also remove the Egyptian flag immediately afterwards.

In December 2018, the Coptic Orthodox Church appointed a team of international lawyers to restore its legitimate ownership of the monastery a month after the Egyptian Church underscored its claim to the place of worship.

In October of the same year, Israeli security forces assaulted Egyptian Coptic monks and arrested dozens of people during protests against an Israeli decision allowing Ethiopian monks to restore parts of the monastery.

The Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church is the dominant religious group in Ethiopia, with nearly 50 million members.
The Ethiopian church had been administratively part of the Coptic Orthodox Church from the first half of the 4th century AD until 1959, when it was granted autocephaly with its own patriarch by Pope Cyril VI of Alexandria.
Relations between Egypt and Ethiopia have soured in recent years over the construction of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), which Cairo fears will threaten its Nile water supply if filled and operated without a legally binding agreement.
In January 2015, Abuna Mathias, patriarch of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, visited Egypt to smooth relations between the two countries, where he met with President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi, the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar Ahmed El-Tayyeb and Coptic Orthodox Pope Tawadros II.
Meanwhile, Pope Tawadros II, the head of the Coptic Orthodox Church, visited Ethiopia in September of the same year to participate in the Feast of the Holy Cross.
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