Jerusalem’s Christian leaders are satisfied with Israeli control over the holy sites in the Old City, recognizing the access enjoyed by members of all faiths. Such religious freedom is unique to Israel in the Middle East.
The spate of violence that swept across Israel during the past few weeks has brought the Temple Mount into question yet again, prompting the international community to place a question mark over its status and the way in which it is controlled.
Judaism’s holiest site, the Temple Mount has been under the administration of the Jordanian Waqf (Muslim Trust) since Israel liberated Jerusalem in 1967 and agreed to the arrangement.
On Saturday evening, following discussions with US Secretary of State John Kerry and Jordan’s King Abdullah regarding the increased Palestinian violence at the Temple Mount site – as well as across the country – Prime Minister Netanyahu reiterated his “commitment to upholding unchanged the status quo of the Temple Mount, in word and in practice. As we have said many times, Israel has no intention to divide the Temple Mount, and we completely reject any attempt to suggest otherwise.”
He denounced the claim made by the Palestinian Authority (PA) that Israel was seeking to change the status quo as a “big lie” and an act of incitement.
In an interview with TPS, Chad Holland, senior pastor at King of Kings Jerusalem Community, concurred with Netanyahu’s comments, stating that he was unaware of any ongoing official change to the visiting rights of Muslims.
PA leader Mahmoud Abbas joined several world leaders in making various recommendations, such as installing a UN presence to monitor the situation and restore calm.
Pastor Holland rejected the notion that such an initiative would allay the recent tensions.
“I do not think an international presence would be better for the Old City in Jerusalem. Israel maintains order and peace very well until Islamic leaders seek to inspire their people to lash out in violence, and seemingly to instigate a security response from Israel,” he said.
Christian Leader: Israel Does a ‘Good Job’
Reverend David Pileggi, rector of Christ Church Jerusalem, the oldest Anglican church in the Middle East, echoed similar sentiments.
“From our point of view, as Christians, Israel has done a good job of guaranteeing access to holy places although there is some room for improvement,” he told TPS.
When asked about the proposal of an international presence, his answer was unequivocal: “The solution isn’t the internationalization of Jerusalem, but finding a way in which different faiths can better understand one another.”
“We hope that the recent disturbances would renew Israel’s commitment to the welfare of all residents of this city and the protection of holy sites for all believers,” he stated.
Under Jordanian control of the Old City from 1948 to 1967, Israeli Arabs were denied access to the Muslim sites of Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock. Similarly, while Christians were granted access to their holy sites, the number of pilgrims authorized to enter the Old City and Bethlehem during Christmas and Easter was restricted.
Moreover, property restrictions forbidding Christians from purchasing land in Jerusalem were imposed on the Christian residents while institutions of faith were compelled to abide by strict state controls. Religious Christian schools were required to teach Arabic and were forced to be closed during Islamic holy days.
Father Gabriel Nadaf, a Greek Orthodox priest from Nazareth and a loyal citizen of the State of Israel, last year told the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva, Switzerland, that Israel is the only place in the Middle East where Christian minorities are safe.
“In the Middle East today, there is one country where Christianity is not only not persecuted, but affectionately granted freedom of expression, freedom of worship and security,” Nadaf declared. “It is Israel, the Jewish State. Israel is the only place where Christians in the Middle East are safe.”
By United with Israel Staff
With files from Alexander J. Apfel, TPS
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