The Status of Holy Sites in Jerusalem and the Holy Land

Bishop Munib Younan
Bishop Munib Younan (© Lutheran World Federation/LWF)

By Bishop Munib Younan

In I John 4:20-21, it is written, “Those who say, “I love God,” and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen. The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.” In the original context, the writer was reminding the early Christians that their declaration of love for God and acts of devotion to Christ meant nothing if they held their neighbors in contempt. In our modern context, we should also understand that the writer was not admonishing the Christians to merely love other Christians, but that “brothers (and sisters)” was meant to convey a needful regard for humanity itself.

In recent months we have seen a rise in the occurrence of the so-called “price tag” acts of vandalism. Since the beginning of 2013, perpetrators committed over twenty acts of vandalism at Holy Sites, including churches, mosques, and synagogues. Recently, the Church of the Dormition on Mt. Zion were prey to this sort of attack. The term “price tag” is pejorative and dehumanizing. It is meant to instill fear in the hearts of the site’s inhabitants that they will “pay a price” for remaining.

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Council demands respect for all religious sites

The Council of Religious Institutions of the Holy Land, comprised of leaders of Jerusalem’s Jewish, Muslim and Christian communities, has released a statement calling for respect for the holy sites of all three religions.

The Nov. 13 statement came in response to recent clashes on the al-Aqsa Mosque compound. The statement reads:

“The Council of Religious Institutions of the Holy Land regrets that the holy sites in Jerusalem continue to be exploited for conflict in Jerusalem and the Holy Land. The Council reaffirms its commitment to advancing respect between religious communities in Jerusalem, the protection of each community’s holy sites and their sensitivities.

“Accordingly, in the wake of recent violent events, we express our support for all calls such as that of the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Sheikh Muhammed Hussein, advocating non-violence and respect for the special and current status of the Al Aqsa Mosque, and the official repeated position of the Chief Rabbinate of Israel that it is prohibited by Jewish law (the Halacha) [for Jews] to enter the area.

“Together we call for the respect for the holy sites of all three religions and for peace of Jerusalem.”

Clashes broke out in late September when extremist Jews entered the area with Israeli soldiers, according to a Ma’an News Agency report available here.

This followed reports by the Islamic Christian Society in Support of Jerusalem that said that Israel plans to allow Jewish worshippers exclusive access to the compound to worship on 50 Jewish holidays.

Bishop participates in CRIHL meeting in Lisbon

CRIHL representatives

In late October, representatives of the Council of Religious Institutions of the Holy Land and of the Alliance of Civilizations, met in Lisbon at the invitation of Jorge Sampaio, a former president of Portugal. The Alliance is an initiative of the United Nations Secretary-General and seeks to galvanize international action against extremism. ELCJHL Bishop Munib Younan said the two organizations agreed to work together and, as a result, expects the UN to better appreciate the role of religious leaders in Palestine-Israel.

The Council of Religious Institutions in the Holy Land

Washington, D.C.
November 7, 2007

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:

  • 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.
  • Establish mechanisms to monitor media for derogatory representations of any religion, and issue statements in response to such representations.
  • 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.
  • 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.”
  • Demonstrate through our relations that differences 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.
  • 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.