altCalls for the Integrity and Status of Each Holy Place to be Respected

(LWI) – Bishop Dr Munib A. Younan of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land (ELCJHL) and other religious leaders in Jerusalem have condemned increased violence around the site of the Al Aqsa Mosque in the Old City. The Council of Religious Institutions of the Holy Land also called for “the integrity and status of each holy place to be respected.”

“We lament that the site… has become a major focus of the conflict in the Holy Land,” the Council of Religious Institutions of the Holy Land, which includes Christian, Jewish and Muslim leaders, said in statement issued on November 9.

“Each religious community should treat the Holy Sites of the other faiths in a manner that respects their independence. Any act of desecration, aggression or harm against Holy Sites must be halted and strongly condemned. We are deeply worried over the possibility that the political conflict will turn into a violent religious conflict. In that case, all of us are losers—except extremists on all sides.”

Currently, Jews are allowed to visit the Holy Site in East Jerusalem but are barred from praying there. However, recent visits to the compound by several ultra-conservative Israeli politicians and activists have sparked fears among Palestinians that Israel is attempting to change the status quo and permit Jews to pray at the site. Israel has in recent weeks temporarily closed and limited access to the Al Aqsa Mosque at the site.

“The important thing about this (statement) is that it comes out of the three religions. It gives the right understanding of how we can respect each other’s historical status quo and respect each other’s holy places, and be aware that if we are complicit or silent then this situation will slip out of our hands and the extremists will take all of us hostage,” said Younan, who is also President of the Lutheran World Federation (LWF).

“Interreligious dialogue must combat extremism. The extremists are trying to transform the political conflict into a religious war,” he added.

The Council of The Lutheran World Federation (LWF) at its 2014 meeting endorsed the Universal Code of Conduct on Holy Sites. This document, developed in consultation with religious leaders and experts from many of the world’s major faiths, makes ten provisions on the establishment of, preservation of, access to and prevention of conflict around religious sites worldwide.

The recommendations include the handling of sites sacred to different faiths as well as cases of expropriation and nationalization. The Council also encouraged member churches to support initiatives in their context and called upon the United Nations to adopt a UN resolution in the spirit of the Code.

“We need now at this stage to bring forth the Code of Conduct on Holy Sites and—as religious communities—work together to own the code so that the Holy Sites can be respected by all religions. And also work for mutual respect among religions,” Younan said.

The Council of Religious Institutions of the Holy Land consists of the Chief Rabbinate of Israel, the Patriarchs and Bishops of Jerusalem and the Sharia Courts in Palestine.