President Shimon Peres delivered a Christian New Year’s message enthusiastically proclaiming that Israel “will continue to guarantee access to holy sites for all” in the wake of recent “price tag” attacks on Christian sites.
“There is no place for violence in our society, even more so when it targets people or places of faith,” he said in remarks that have not been heard often, if it all, following official Palestinian Authority policies to obstruct Jews from praying at holy sites in Judea and Samaria.
President Peres hosted a reception on Monday at his residence in Jerusalem for the heads of the Christian denominations in Israel and said, “The State of Israel will not tolerate aggression against members of the clergy. I feel angry at the insults some religious leaders in Israel have faced recently. Israel has always been and will always remain committed to freedom of worship, freedom of religion.”
That is not entirely true. Jews are not free to pray on the Temple Mount; they need armed escorts to pray at Joseph’s Tomb (Kever Yosef) in Shechem; they often are victims of rock throwing at Rachel’s Tomb (Kever Rachel), despite its being surrounded by a wall; anti-Semitic vandalism often takes place at the Patriarchs’ Cave (Ma’arah HaMachpela) in Hevron; and the ancient synagogue in Jericho is usually out of bounds.
Any Jew trying to visit the ancient synagogue in Samoa, in the southern Hevron Hills, would leave in a coffins, or if lucky, on a stretcher.
Peres again offered his solution to the problems between Arabs and Jews. Just give the Arabs what they want, and there will be peace.
“Our peace talks with the Palestinians are ongoing; they are the greatest promise for our people and for the Palestinians,” in remarked. “An agreement between us can bring a change in the relations between Jews and Muslims and between all faiths.”
At least this time he said an agreement “can” bring peace instead of stating it “will” bring peace, just like every other agreement the past decades only brought war.
Greek Orthodox Patriarch His Beatitude Theophilos III told the invited guests on behalf of the Christian leader, “We take this opportunity to express our appreciation in particular to you, Mr. President for the determined and strong voice that you have been raising in condemning the wave of ‘Price Tag’ crimes in our country, and especially in Jerusalem….
“In order to avoid repeating the mistakes of bitter experience, there is more that can be done, both to facilitate access to the Holy Places for pilgrims from a distance as well as from our local communities.”
Of course, he did not remind anyone that until 1967, when Israel took back sovereignty of Judea and Samaria and all of Jerusalem after nearly 2,000 years and opened all holy sites to all religions, they were closed under the Jordanian occupation.