Brussels, July 24th, 2017 – The European Coalition for Israel has called upon religious leaders worldwide to help defuse the current tension on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem by condemning incitement to violence and supporting the Israeli authorities in their efforts to ensure free and safe access to the holy site. In a statement, ECI Founding Director Tomas Sandell said that “it is simply wrong to blame the Israeli government for wanting to protect those entering the Temple Mount after the recent killings. Metal detectors are today a part of standard security procedures at holy sites in the world, from the Vatican to Mecca. These measures are put in place simply in order to protect people and are not meant to deny anyone access”.
The call echoes a recent United Nations action plan from 14th July which encourages religious leaders to condemn incitement to violence and recognizes the strategic role that the religious leaders can play in times of conflict.
Last week the Israeli government decided to install metal detectors at the entrance to the Temple Mount after two Israeli policemen were killed on the Temple Mount by Palestinian gunmen. The decision to step up security measures on the Temple Mount has caused outrage among the Palestinian leadership which considers the decision an infringement of agreements to not change the current status quo on the Temple Mount.
Over the weekend Israeli police and Palestinian protesters clashed in the streets of Jerusalem, resulting in the loss of three Palestinian lives. On Friday night a Palestinian terrorist entered an Israeli home in the West Bank, butchering three of the family members in cold blood. The Israeli government has blamed Palestinian incitement to violence for inspiring these latest horrific incidents. The recent wave of violence has led to growing protest actions among Israeli Arabs and Palestinians as well as among Muslim groups in Europe.
In various statements from Christian institutions around the world, from the Vatican to the World Council of Churches (WCC) in Geneva, Christian leaders have pleaded for calm.
In a statement from WCC on Friday, Secretary-General Olav Fykse Tveit called upon the Israeli government to immediately remove the metal detectors, thereby putting the blame for the latest wave of violence on Israeli security measures and not on the Palestinian incitement to violence. The Geneva based organization, which is said to represent millions of Protestant Christians, has a long history of anti-Israel bias. Recently WCC published on its website a statement from its member churches in the Palestinian territories in which the Balfour Declaration of 1917 was described as “unlawful” and “marking 100 years of oppression”, thus rejecting any rights for the Jewish people to live in their own state in their ancestral homeland, rights that were clearly established under international law in San Remo already in 1920. The Palestinian churches further urged WCC to step up efforts to boycott Israel, which it calls “a colonial apartheid state”. Having been very outspoken in this way about the Israeli-Arab conflict in the past, WCC has issued no statements to date on the recent UNESCO resolutions which deny any Jewish or Christian history in the Holy Land by declaring heritage sites, such as the Tomb of the Patriarchs, the Temple Mount and the Western Wall, as exclusively Muslim holy sites. Some observers believe that the campaign to pass the recent UNESCO resolutions has contributed to the increase of tension in Jerusalem.
WCC was recently part of a new UN action plan in New York to enable religious leaders to contribute to the prevention of incitement to violence. The UN action plan was developed in response to an alarming rise in recent years in hate speech and incitement to violence against individuals or communities, based on their identity. Incitement to violence, in public discourse and the media, is both a common warning sign and a precursor to violent crimes and terrorism. The UN action plan is the first document to focus on the role of religious leaders and those with such influence in condemning incitement to violence that could lead to such atrocious crimes as we have recently seen, and is the first attempt to develop context-specific regional strategies with this objective.
ECI Founding Director Tomas Sandell urged WCC and other religious leaders who signed the UN action plan to immediately comply with the new initiative by condemning any further incitement to violence and thus really help to defuse tension on the Temple Mount.