This weekend marks both the beginning of Passover and Easter Sunday. Over 2 billion people worldwide will be observing their religious holidays this weekend. The Tourism Ministry announced that 130,000 Jewish and Christian visitors are expected to visit Israel to mark these occasions. Yesterday, thousands of Christian pilgrims marked Good Friday with a journey down the Via Dolorosa in the Old City of Jerusalem, commemorating the crucifixion of Jesus Christ.

However, while we mark these occasions today, we must realize we are lucky to be able to celebrate these holy days the way we are able to. It is because the State of Israel (despite being predominantly Jewish) recognizes complete freedom of religion (or lack of) for all. Before the reunification and liberation of Jerusalem after the Six Day War in 1967, freedom of religion was severely limited by the Jordanian regime occupying Judea and Samaria, including the Old City of Jerusalem.

After the Jordanians captured the Old City in 1948, 58 synagogues in the Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City were systematically destroyed by Jordanian troops. When one of those synagogues, the Hurva Synagogue, was rebuilt and rededicated in 2010, Palestinian leaders called the reconstruction of the synagogue a “provocation” and an indication of Israel’s intent to destroy the al-Aqsa Mosque on the Temple Mount and replace it with the Third Temple. Another synagogue destroyed in 1948, the Tifere Yisrael Synagogue, is currently being reconstructed.

Destruction of the Tifere Yisrael Synagogue in 1948.

Destruction of the Tifere Yisrael Synagogue in 1948.

Ruins of the Hurva Synagogue destroyed in 1948.

Ruins of the Hurva Synagogue destroyed in 1948.

However, the reconstruction of these holy places destroyed by Arabs in 1948 is considered to be “illegal” under international law and considered to be a violation of the “human rights” of Arabs. So the destruction of holy places is okay but the reconstruction of them is a violation of human rights? Go figure that one out.

After the armistice of 1949, Jews were ethnically cleansed from all Jordanian occupied areas in Judea and Samaria, including the Old City of Jerusalem. Although obligated by the United Nations to grant Israeli Jews access to their holy sites, Jordan refused to honor their obligation. All Israelis, regardless of their religious affiliation, were barred access to holy sites controlled by Jordan. In addition, tens of thousands of tombstones in the Mount of Olives Cemetery were destroyed.

Christians were also discriminated against. While Christians were not expelled like the Jews, Christian organizations were barred from purchasing land in Jerusalem and were also subject to several other strict regulations.

To this day, suppression of Jewish religious rights by Muslims occurs. Jews (along with all other non-Muslims) are prohibited from praying atop the Temple Mount, the holiest site in Judaism. The penalty for a Jew uttering a single word of prayer is arrest. Despite a ruling from a court in Jerusalem allowing Jewish prayer atop the Temple Mount, Jewish worshipers are still harassed and arrested. This is done in order to appease the Islamic Waqf that maintains custodianship over the Temple Mount. The explanation is that non-Muslim prayer atop the Temple Mount provokes Muslim violence, as evidenced by the assassination attempt of Rabbi Yehuda Glick, an activist for Jewish prayer rights atop the Temple Mount. Furthermore, it was Ariel Sharon’s visit to the Temple Mount that was blamed for sparking the Second Intifada. So in response, I ask why do Muslims get violent at the thought of non-Muslim prayer at their third holiest site, but Jews don’t get violent at not being able to pray their holiest site. Can you imagine if Muslims were barred from praying at their holiest site in Mecca?

Not only does the Islamic Waqf insist on prohibiting Jewish prayer atop the Temple Mount, it denies the religious connection of Jerusalem to the Jewish people. The Islamic Waqf repeatedly denies that the Jewish Temples once existed atop the Temple Mount, despite the overwhelming consensus to the contrary. Such denial is common throughout Palestinian culture. Many Arab leaders, including Yasser Arafat, have denied the existence of the Jewish Temples. Such a tactic is an attempt to undermine the Jewish connection to Israel, and therefore undermine the legitimacy of Israel.

A leaflet by the Islamic Waqf denying the existence of the Jewish Temples atop the Temple Mount.

A leaflet by the Islamic Waqf denying the existence of the Jewish Temples atop the Temple Mount.

The Islamic Waqf doesn’t stop there. From 1996 to 1999, the Waqf performed excavations atop the Temple Mount to convert Solomon’s Stables into a mosque, the Marwani Prayer Hall. During the excavations, the Waqf disposed of over 300 truckloads of soil from atop the Temple Mount, damaging and even destroying priceless artifacts dating back thousands of years.. In an attempt to restore several of these artifacts, Bar IIlan University sponsored the Temple Mount Sifting Project. The Temple Mount Sifting Project has since came up with numerous finds dating back to the First Temple. Hysterically, the Sifting Project has been criticized for “emphasizing Jewish historical narratives at the expense of  over 1,300 years of Islamic history.”

A pamphlet from the Waqf denying the existence of solomon's Stables after they destroyed them in the late 1990s.

A pamphlet from the Waqf denying the existence of solomon’s Stables after they destroyed them in the late 1990s.

Hypocritically, when Israel attempted to repair the only passageway Jews are permitted to use to access the Temple Mount in 2007, the Muslim world freaked out, accusing Israel of “Judaizing Jerusalem”. Later that year, the Waqf carried out another series of excavations on the Temple Mount to replace electrical cables, and dismissed claims by Israeli archaeologists that artifacts were being damaged. There were also no protests in the Muslim world against these excavations.

Today, the international community demands that Israel ends its presence in the West Bank to allow for the creation of an independent Palestinian state, despite Mahmoud Abbas stating no Israelis would be permitted in the proposed state. Given the record of Muslim countries of protecting the religious rights of non-Muslims, as well as the dehumanization of Jews in Arab society, many argue this would lead to Jews being denied the rights to access their holy sites that would end up within the proposed Palestinian state. Many agree that in today’s political climate in the Middle East, an independent Palestinian state would easily fall into the hands of the Islamic State. And Islamic State has repeatedly oppressed Christians and destroyed Christian holy sites. If they do this to Christians, they will obviously do the same (or worse) to Jews.

Meanwhile, the Christian population in Israel has been growing. Christian enlistment in the IDF has been rising. The Christian population has been thriving in Israel. Last Steptember, Father Gabriel Naddaf, a Greek Orthodox pastor from northern Israel, testified to the UN Human Rights Council that Israel is the only safe place in the Middle East for Christians.

So this week, think about the religious freedom that is available for all in Israel. We need to realize that we cannot take religious freedom for granted. It is the sacrifices that Israeli soldiers made in the Six Day War that allow us to celebrate Passover and Easter the way we can today. We cannot let those sacrifices be thrown away.