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Stop Using Holy Sites for Violence

In the modern Middle East, only one country – Israel – has scrupulously upheld protections for minority religious populations and consistently been a place of opportunity for citizens of minority faiths. Protections for the Arab population are enshrined in Israel’s founding document, the Declaration of the Establishment of the State of Israel of May 14, 1948, with its proclamations that Israel “will foster the development of the country for the benefit of all its inhabitants… it will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture; it will safeguard the Holy Places of all religions; and it will be faithful to the principles of the Charter of the United Nations….”

Arab Israelis have had a long history of service in the Knesset, with the current (24th) Knesset including 14 Arab Members out of 120 total (representing six different political parties). In addition, Israel’s Supreme Court recently appointed its first Muslim Justice, Khaled Kabub. Freedom House’s 2022 Israel country report found that “freedom of religion is largely respected. Christian, Muslim, Druze, and Baha’i communities have jurisdiction over their own members in matters of marriage, divorce, and burial.”

In contrast, the Christian minority population is plummeting in the Palestinian Authority (PA) lands; for example, in the last decade, the Christian percentage of Bethlehem fell from 84 percent to 22%. 66% of Palestinian Christians have little to no trust in the PA, according to a 2020 survey; the PA courts are trusted by only 16% and PA police by only 22%, and 76% are “dissatisfied” with how Christianity is portrayed in the PA educational system.

Equally catastrophically, the mainstream Palestinian political factions as well as the Jerusalem Islamic religious authority, the waqf, have created a culture of incitement to violence in the media and education system. A European Union (EU) study of Palestinian textbooks from 2017-19 found “hostile attitudes towards Jews and the characteristics they attribute to the Jewish people…. Frequent use of negative attributions in relation to the Jewish people… [and] suggest a conscious perpetuation of anti-Jewish prejudice….” A 2021 US State Department Report provided that “official PA media outlets published and broadcast material that included antisemitic content,” Palestinian political and religious leaders were found to have engaged in Holocaust denial and other antisemitic language, “including expressions of longing for a world without Israel and glorification of terror attacks on Israelis and Jews.”

While Israel has provided equal access to members of all faiths to shared holy sites, the Islamic Waqf has provided little if any access to the sites under its control to Jewish worshippers, even though those sites include some of the holiest places in Judaism, such as the Temple Mount in Jerusalem and the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron. Now, with the holy season for all three major faiths this week – Easter, Passover, and Ramadan – extremist Palestinian factions have been exacerbating the conflict at the Temple Mount, as Palestinian rioters at the al-Aqsa mosque flung stones and exploding firecrackers at Jewish worshippers at the Western Wall, the last remnant of the ancient Jewish Temple and the holiest site in the Jewish faith. The massive media-generated attempt to portray an Israeli attack on the al-Aqsa Mosque is a complete fabrication, taking video of the police response to the rioters’ attacks on Jewish worship out of context in order to generate conflict. Palestinian factions have been outdoing one another to gin up outrage, with Hamas leading the way by actually firing rockets into Israel on April 18.

It takes two sides to create peace and to maintain it. Today, Israel is a beacon of freedom for all religious minorities, including Muslims. At the same time, the PA has maintained a campaign of ethnoreligious incitement against Jews and lost much of their Christian population due to the chauvinistic PA media and education culture – which is, of course, much worse in Hamas-controlled territories. As long as the Israelis keep writing songs about peace and the Palestinians keep writing songs about war, peace will remain an illusion. Palestinian leaders should instead adopt the ethical values of the shared Abrahamic traditions and embrace the humility, compassion, and forgiveness that will be needed for a lasting peace.

About the Author
Bassem Eid (born 5 February 1958) is a Palestinian living in Israel who has an extensive career as a Palestinian human rights activist. His initial focus was on human rights violations committed by Israeli armed forces, but for many years has broadened his research to include human rights violations committed by the Palestinian Authority (PA), and the Palestinian armed forces on their own people. He founded the Palestinian Human Rights Monitoring Group in 1996, although it ceased operations in 2011. He now works as a political analyst for Israeli TV and radio.
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