Israeli authorities release Coptic monk arrested at Jerusalem monastery demonstration

Ayat Al Tawy, Wednesday 24 Oct 2018

 Macarius Orshalemy
Israeli security forces drag Coptic Monk Macarius Orshalemy during a demonstration against restoration at a monastery believed to belong to the Coptic church, Wednesday, October 24, 2018 (Photo: Coptic Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem)

Israeli security forces have released an Egyptian Coptic monk arrested earlier on Wednesday when Israeli police in Jerusalem assaulted a peaceful protest by Coptic Christian clerics at a disputed ancient monastery that historically belongs to Egypt, a Coptic cleric in Jerusalem said.

The clerics were demonstrating against restoration work planned by the Israeli government at the Deir Al-Sultan Monastery (Sultan Monastery) in Jerusalem's Old City without the Coptic Orthodox Church's consent.

Online photos and video footage showed Monk Macarius Orshalemy being dragged and pinned to the ground by Israeli forces during his arrest. He was released shortly afterwards, Archbishop Antonios told Egypt's state news agency MENA on Wednesday afternoon.

The ownership of the 1,000-year-old monastery has been the source of a decades-long dispute.

The monastery, where Ethiopians have lived for decades, had been owned by the Egyptian Coptic Orthodox Church since the 7th century, according to Antonios.

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. Numerous Israeli court rulings ordering that the monastery be returned to the Copts have not been enforced.

"[We have organised] a peaceful protest to demand our rights as the owners of the monastery," Antonios said. "The Coptic Orthodox Church will never abandon the monastery. It is the original property of Egypt and the Egyptians," he added.

The Coptic Orthodox Church in Jerusalem recently hired a company to carry out much-needed repair work, but Israeli authorities refused to allow the church to do the work and insisted on carrying out the restoration without coordination with the church.

Antonios condemned the "physical violence" used by the Israeli security forces to deal with of the monks, saying that they "did not respect the peaceful protest or the fact that they are clerics."

The Coptic Church has been in contact with the Egyptian embassy in Tel Aviv, the Egyptian foreign ministry and the head of the Coptic Church Pope Tawadros II to seek a diplomatic solution for the crisis, Antonios said, adding that the church is also planning to take the matter to court to seek a legal settlement.

The Egyptian foreign ministry has condemned the attack on the protesters and expressed Egypt's "categorical rejection" of assaults on religious leaders. The ministry added in the statement that it contacted Israeli authorities about the incident, which it says had resulted in the speedy release of the Egyptian monk.

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