Israel respects and protects religious freedoms and grants full religious rights to people of all faiths, not a common practice in our region.
Copyright: UN Photo/Paulo Filgueiras
H.E. Mr. Ban Ki-moon
I am writing in regards to the recent campaign accusing Israel of impeding freedom of worship and denying access to religious sites. These preposterous allegations are part of an ongoing and concerted effort by the Palestinians and some Arab States to undermine Israel.
Israel respects and protects religious freedoms and grants full religious rights to people of all faiths, not a common practice in our region. After reuniting Jerusalem in 1967, Israel abolished discriminatory laws that denied Jews any access to holy places. Israel introduced religious freedoms that allow millions of Muslims and Christians to visit and pray in their holy sites in Jerusalem. Today Jerusalem is an open city for all faiths that celebrates religious tolerance and diversity.
Large celebrations such as the Easter weekend “Holy Fire” ritual pose considerable challenges owing to the influx of thousands of visitors crowding Jerusalem’s narrow alleys around the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. Despite these challenging conditions, Israeli authorities managed crowd-control measures sensitively and professionally. In fact, Christian communities that took part in the event applauded the Israeli authorities for their conduct and composure. Against this backdrop, and instead of taking constructive actions to help mitigate the sensitive situation, Robert Serry, the U.N.’s special envoy to the Middle East, took disruptive steps that exacerbated tensions on the ground. It is unfortunate that a U.N. official abused his position and the U.N. platform to express personal opinions.
As you are aware, over the weekend riots broke out on the Temple Mount. The unrest was a deliberate provocation on the part of Hamas and The Islamic Movement. In a premeditated effort, extremists stockpiled rocks and explosives in the Al-Aqsa Mosque and proclaimed their intention of clashing with police and preventing visits to the Temple Mount. It is outrageous that an internationally recognized terrorist organization has given itself veto power over one of the world’s holiest sites. By desecrating the sanctity of the mosque, Hamas demonstrated that it has zero tolerance for the religious practices of others and zero respect for its own religion.
Indeed, along the years, Hamas and other Palestinian terrorist organizations showed their disrespect for holy places – Jewish, Christian and Muslim alike, by attacking them and abusing them by their violent activities. One need only recall the takeover by Palestinian terrorists of the Church of Nativity in Bethlehem, when some 200 monks were held hostages for about a month; the destruction and desecration of Joseph’s Tomb in Nablus; as well as the abuse of Mosques by Hamas in Gaza during operation "Cast Lead".
Despite the current blatant provocations on the Temple Mount, Israeli Police did not set foot inside the Al-Aqsa Mosque. Still, such police action as was taken on the Temple Mount was strictly designed to prevent attempts of stone throwing, aimed to harm people at prayer in the Wailing Wall Plaza, in accordance with the police’s obligation to preserve law and order.
For years, Israeli authorities have been actively committed to cooperating with the Waqf on all matters related to the security and management of the Temple Mount. Israel provides ongoing assistance in this regard and expects the Waqf to do its part to restore calm by safeguarding religious freedoms and permitting access to people of all faiths.
Since 1994, Israel and Jordan have enjoyed peaceful relations and a strong bilateral relationship. Israel respects Article 9 of the Israeli-Jordanian peace agreement, which states that the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan has a “special role” in all matters concerning Islamic holy sites in Jerusalem.
Instead of making false accusations and wild exaggerations that fan the flames of incitement in a volatile region, the Palestinian and Arab leadership should make constructive efforts to ease tensions and work towards a peace process.
Please accept, Excellency, the assurance of my highest consideration.