Heartening news from last week: high ranking religious leaders from Israel and Palestine have created a Middle East peace initiative to “prevent religion from being used as a source of conflict” and to promote “just and comprehensive peace and reconciliation.”
Members of the Council of Religious Institutions of the Holy Land released a joint statement that lists six concrete steps they plan to take, including establishment of a hot line to connect its members and efforts to foster mutual respect between religions.
Jewish members of this initiative included the chief Sephardic and Ashkenazic Rabbis of Israel. Among the Christian participants were Patriarchs of the Greek Orthodox and Latin patriarchates and the Bishop of the Anglican Church in Jerusalem. Muslim participants included the supreme judge of the Palestinian Shariah Courts and the deputy minister of Waqf and religious affairs for the Palestinian Authority.
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Here’s the full text of their statement:
All of us believe in one Creator and Guide of the Universe. We believe that the essence of religion is to worship Him and respect the life and dignity of all human beings, regardless of religion, nationality and gender.
We accordingly commit ourselves to using our positions of leadership, and the influence of our good offices, to advance these sacred values, to prevent religion from being used as a source of conflict, and instead serve the goals of just and comprehensive peace and reconciliation.
Our respective Holy Places have become a major element in our conflict. We lament that this is the case, as our respective attachments to our holy places should not be a cause of bloodshed, let alone be sites of violence or other expressions of hatred. Holy places must remain dedicated to prayer and worship only, places where believers have free access and put themselves in the presence of the Creator. Holy places are there for believers to draw inspiration to strengthen their acceptance and love of Almighty and all His creatures, from all religions and all nationalities.
Accordingly each religious community should treat the Holy Sites of the other faiths in a manner that respects their integrity and independence and avoids any act of desecration, aggression or harm.
We, believers from three religions, have been placed in this land, Jews, Christians and Muslims. It is our responsibility to find the right way to live together in peace rather than to fight and kill one other. Palestinians yearn for the end to occupation and for what they see as their inalienable rights. Israelis long for the day when they can live in personal and national security. Together we must find ways of reaching these goals.
Towards these ends we are actively working to:
1. Establish “hot line” procedures of rapid communication among ourselves in order to address and advise government officials regarding issues of protection of and access to Holy Sites before such issues become cause for conflict.
2. Establish mechanisms to monitor media for derogatory representations of any religion, and issue statements in response to such representations.
3. Together reflect on the future of Jerusalem, support the designation of the Old City of Jerusalem as a World Heritage Site, work to secure open access to the Old City for all communities, and seek a common vision for this city which all of us regard as holy.
4. Promote education for mutual respect and acceptance in schools and in the media. We will sponsor a conference for Israeli and Palestinian educators, academics and Ministers of Education on “The Role of Religion in Educating for Peace: Principles and Practices.”
5. Demonstrate through our relations that difference can and should be addressed through dialogue rather than through violence, and strive to bring this message to our respective communities and political leaders that they may embrace this approach accordingly.
6. Provide ongoing consultation to our government leaders, and through the example of our work together remind them that the interests of one community can only be served by also respecting and valuing the humanity and interests of all other communities.