Posts Tagged ‘Jerusalem’

Boris Johnson: My vision for Middle East peace between Israel and a new Palestinian state

November 1, 2017

The Western Wall, with the Temple Mount behind, in Jerusalem

It was here in this room, beneath this same gilded ceiling, that one chapter of the story began. On 2 November 1917 my predecessor Lord Balfour sat in the Foreign Secretary’s office, where I am writing now, and composed a letter to Lord Rothschild.

The essence of the Balfour Declaration consists of one sentence of 67 words; those were the carefully calibrated syllables that laid the foundations of the State of Israel.

Balfour declared that “His Majesty’s Government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people”; with the famous and crucial proviso that “nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities”.

Image result for Boris Johnson, office, foreign ministry, photos

Boris Johnson at the Foreign Ministry

On the Centenary, I will say what I believe: the Balfour Declaration was indispensable to the creation of a great nation. In the seven decades since its birth, Israel has prevailed over what has sometimes been the bitter hostility of neighbours to become a liberal democracy and a dynamic hi-tech economy.

In a region where many have endured authoritarianism and misrule, Israel has always stood out as a free society. Like every country, Israel has faults and failings. But it strives to live by the values in which I believe.

I served a stint at a kibbutz in my youth, and (though I was mainly washing up) I saw enough to understand the miracle of Israel: the bonds of hard work, self-reliance and an audacious and relentless energy that hold together a remarkable country.

Most of all, there is the incontestable moral goal: to provide a persecuted people with a safe and secure homeland. So I am proud of Britain’s part in creating Israel and Her Majesty’s Government will mark the Centenary of the Balfour Declaration on Thursday in that spirit.

I see no contradiction in being a friend of Israel – and a believer in that country’s destiny – while also being deeply moved by the suffering of those affected and dislodged by its birth. The vital caveat in the Balfour Declaration – intended to safeguard other communities – has not been fully realised.

I have no doubt that the only viable solution to the conflict resembles the one first set down on paper by another Briton, Lord Peel, in the report of the Royal Commission on Palestine in 1937, and that is the vision of two states for two peoples.

For Israel, the birth of a Palestinian state is the only way to secure its demographic future as a Jewish and democratic nation. For Palestinians, a state of their own would allow them to realise their aspirations for self-determination and self-government.

Achieving this goal will require painful compromises from both sides. In the words of Amos Oz, the Israeli novelist, the tragedy of the conflict is not that it is a clash between right and wrong, but rather a “clash between right and right”.

What might the future look like? In private, Israelis and Palestinians often tell me their visions for peace – and their parameters frequently have much in common. But they are understandably reluctant to define them in public. This November also marks the 50th anniversary of another British-drafted document, United Nations Resolution 242, that enshrined the principle of land-for-peace as the route to a settlement in the Holy Land. So in this time of anniversaries – and animated by the spirit of Balfour and Peel and of another Briton, Lord Caradon, better known as Hugh Foot, who drafted Resolution 242 – I propose to set out what I suggest is a fair compromise.

There should be two independent and sovereign states: a secure Israel, the homeland for the Jewish people, standing alongside a viable and contiguous Palestinian state, the homeland for the Palestinian people, as envisaged by UN General Assembly Resolution 181.

The borders should be based on the lines as they stood on June 4, 1967 – the eve of the Six Day War – with equal land swaps to reflect the national, security, and religious interests of the Jewish and Palestinian peoples. There must be security arrangements that, for Israelis, prevent the resurgence of terrorism and deal effectively with all threats, including new and significant threats in the region; and, for Palestinians, respect their sovereignty, ensure freedom of movement, and demonstrate that occupation is over.

There needs to be a just, fair, agreed and realistic solution to the Palestinian refugee question, in line with UN Resolution 1515. In practical terms, this means that any such agreement has to be demographically compatible with two states for two peoples and a generous package of international compensation must be made available. The final determination of Jerusalem should be agreed by the parties, ensuring that the holy city is a shared capital of Israel and a Palestinian state, granting access and religious rights for all who hold it dear.

All of the above I set out with due humility, because it is Israelis and Palestinians – not those of us who live far away – who would bear the pain of compromise. And I am encouraged by President Trump’s evident commitment to finding a solution.

Britain and, I am sure, our European friends stand ready to help implement any agreement, including by supporting its security provisions, contributing to refugee compensation, and enabling flows of trade and investment between Europe, Israel, a sovereign Palestinian state, and its Arab neighbours, which could help transform the region.

I am also heartened that the new generation of Arab leaders does not see Israel in the same light as their predecessors. I trust that more will be done against the twin scourges of terrorism and anti-Semitic incitement. But, in the final analysis, it is Israelis and Palestinians who must negotiate the detail and write their own chapter in history. A century on, Britain will give whatever support we can in order to close the ring and complete the unfinished business of the Balfour Declaration.

https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/my-vision-for-middle-east-peace-between-israel-and-a-new-palestinian-state-article-by-boris-johnson-on-the-balfour-declaration

See also:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/10/29/vision-middle-east-peace-israel-new-palestinian-state/

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Most Israelis Think The Wold is Against Them — Think Russian President Vladimir Putin has a bigger influence on events in the Middle East than US President Donald Trump

November 1, 2017
BY LAHAV HARKOV
 NOVEMBER 1, 2017 07:09

More Israelis think Russian President Vladimir Putin has a bigger influence on events in the Middle East than US President Donald Trump.

Poll: Most Israelis think the world is against them

A supporter wears a T-shirt reading ‘Boycott Israel’. (photo credit:AFP/ MOHD RASFAN)

About half of Israelis (52%) think the world powers’ nuclear deal with Iran did not change the level of threat Tehran poses to Israel, while 28% think it increased the threat, and only 10% think it decreased it.

In addition, more Israelis (52%) think Russian President Vladimir Putin has a bigger influence on events in the Middle East than US President Donald Trump, while only 15% think that Trump has more influence and 21% feel that their influence is the same.

Israelis rate the US-Israel relationship at an average 6.88 out of 10, with 41% of them rating it as “good,” giving it a score of eight and up. The countries most important to Israel after the US, in descending order, are Russia, Germany, the United Kingdom, China, France and Egypt. The public is split about evenly as to whether a weaker European Union (37%) or a stronger one (38%) is better for Israel.

The vast majority of Israelis (70%) think that regional cooperation between Israel and other Middle Eastern countries is possible, while 23% think it is not. Such cooperation would benefit Israel most in the areas of security and economics, they believe.

Nearly half (48%) think regional cooperation can be achieved without progress in the peace process with the Palestinians, while 39% think progress with the Palestinians is necessary. However, normalization with the Arab world is the single incentive Israelis view as most conducive to peace with the Palestinians (29%), followed about equally by security guarantees and weapons from the US (15%) and upgraded ties with the EU (14%). A package of all of the above was the choice of 57% of respondents.

Most Israelis (59%) said Arab citizens of Israel should play a greater role in advancing peace with the Palestinians, while 26% disagreed.

On a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the best score, Israelis rate the government’s handling of foreign policy at a mediocre 5.05. Only 19% rated it eight or higher. The public is even less satisfied with the Foreign Ministry, giving it a 4.81 average score, with only 13% giving it a “good” rating.

Israelis think their country’s foreign policy priorities should be to improve relations with Arab states (35%), advance the peace process with the Palestinians (31%), fight the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement (24%) and counter the Iranian threat (20%).

Respondents were allowed to give two answers.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu currently holds the foreign affairs portfolio, but only 6% of respondents want him in that role. The preferred choice for full-time foreign minister is Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid (13%) followed by Zionist Union MK and former foreign minister Tzipi Livni (6%).

Asked whether Israel should take Diaspora Jews into account when formulating policy, 50% said yes, while 39% said no.

The poll was conducted in September among a representative sample of Israel’s adult population – 600 Jewish and Arab men and women – and has a margin of error of +/- 4%.

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http://www.jpost.com/Israel-News/Poll-Most-Israelis-think-the-world-is-against-them-510997

Trump says giving peace a chance before U.S. embassy move to Jerusalem

October 8, 2017

Reuters

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump said in an interview broadcast on Saturday that he wanted to give a shot at achieving peace between Israel and the Palestinians before moving the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

In June Trump signed a temporary order to keep the U.S. embassy in Tel Aviv, despite a campaign promise he made to move it to Jerusalem.

In an interview with former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee on the TBN program “Huckabee,” Trump noted his administration was working on a plan for peace between the two sides.

“I want to give that a shot before I even think about moving the embassy to Jerusalem,” he said.

“If we can make peace between the Palestinians and Israel, I think it’ll lead to ultimately peace in the Middle East, which has to happen,” he said.

Asked if there was a timeframe for the embassy move, Trump said: “We’re going to make a decision in the not too distant future.”

Reporting by Jeff Mason; editing by Diane Craft

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A billboard calls on US President Donald Trump to move the US Embassy to Jerusalem.. (photo credit:REUTERS)

The Jerusalem Post

Washington- US President Donald Trump said in an interview broadcast on Saturday that he wanted to give a shot at achieving peace between Israel and the Palestinians before moving the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

In June, Trump signed a temporary order to keep the US embassy in Tel Aviv, despite a campaign promise he made to move it to Jerusalem.

In an interview with former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee on the TBN program “Huckabee,” Trump noted his administration was working on a plan for peace between the two sides.

“I want to give that a shot before I even think about moving the embassy to Jerusalem,” he said.

“If we can make peace between the Palestinians and Israel, I think it’ll lead to ultimately peace in the Middle East, which has to happen,” he said.

Asked if there was a time frame for the embassy move, Trump said: “We’re going to make a decision in the not too distant future.”

Hours before going on air, Trump took to Twitter to promote the show and his appearance on it, inviting his followers to watch him make an appearance on Huckabee’s show as his very first guest. The fact that Huckabee managed to snag such an important guest for the first episode of his show was criticized by many, seeing as the former governor’s daughter, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, currently serves as White House Press Secretary.

Many in Israel were looking forward for the president to make good on his campaign pledge and move the embassy from Tel Aviv to the capital, but were disappointed to discover that Trump was backtracking on his promise as the first months of his presidency and his key Israel visit both went by without significant progress towards a move.

Trump’s decision to halt the embassy relocation was perceived as a stinging blow, despite the fact that has sent officials from his administration with increasing frequency in recent months to attempt to accelerate the stagnant peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians.

Both Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law who serves as a shadow diplomat in the White House in charge of US-led peace efforts, and US Special Envoy Jason Greenblatt visited the region numerous times in the past six months to negotiate with government officials in Israel as well as Palestinian Authority representatives.

http://www.jpost.com/Arab-Israeli-Conflict/Trump-I-want-to-give-peace-a-shot-before-I-even-think-of-moving-embassy-506905

Israel: Former head of the Mossad says there’s room to open a dialogue with the Iranians — Supports Iran nuclear deal

September 29, 2017
BY YAAKOV KATZ
 The Jerusalem Post
SEPTEMBER 28, 2017 21:58

In a volatile region like the Middle East, every day of quiet is a blessing.

JPost Annual Conference 2016

Efraim Halevy at JPost Annual Conference . (photo credit:MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)It was November 2013 and Efraim Halevy, the former head of the Mossad, was in Istanbul for an international conference on science and security.

The P5+1 talks with Iran in Geneva were scheduled to begin in just a few days, but before flying there, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif decided to pop into Istanbul to address the conference.

More than 100 people were in the room when Zarif took the stage alongside Ahmet Davutoglu, Turkey’s foreign minister at the time. While Halevy didn’t know for certain, his intuitive espionage skills left him with little doubt that Zarif knew there was a former head of the Mossad among the crowd in front of him.

The Iranian spoke for close to an hour, about the region, his country’s economic situation and expectations from the upcoming talks. The world, the -educated Zarif said in perfect English, had become a “global village” in which one country cannot be secure or have economic prosperity if other countries do not enjoy the same.

When Zarif finished speaking, he agreed to take questions from the audience. Halevy, who had been impressed by the Iranian’s remarks, thought to ask if there was anything Zarif could say to allay concerns in Israel and Saudi Arabia, but figured there was no way he would answer a question posed by a former high-ranking Israeli official. So, Halevy gave the question to an American colleague to ask it in his place.

Even so, Zarif ignored the question. Instead, just after the question was asked, he looked at his watch, announced that he was late for another meeting, and abruptly left. The question about Israel remained lingering in the air.

Nevertheless, Halevy walked away impressed. Zarif, he told me this week, was definitely not a Zionist or even a member of Peace Now. But, the former Mossad chief said, he walked away thinking that there was room to open a dialogue with the Iranians.

“You need to talk to your enemies,” he told me.

I went to see Halevy to get his impressions on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s efforts to convince President Donald Trump to undo and revise the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran.

Halevy served as head of the Mossad from 1998 to 2002, working under three prime ministers – Benjamin Netanyahu, Ehud Barak and Ariel Sharon. Born in London in 1934, he moved to Israel in 1948 and was recruited into the Mossad in 1961 where he slowly climbed the ranks, starting first as an intelligence analyst.

Since leaving the espionage world, Halevy has not shied away from taking controversial positions on matters of national security.

Back in 2011, he came out in full force against Netanyahu and Barak who appeared at the time to be pushing for an Israeli strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities. While Iran’s nuclear program was a “serious threat” and needed to be stopped, Halevy said that it was not a threat of an existential nature and that Israel did not need to attack.

In more recent years, he has become a vocal advocate for direct talks between Israel and Hamas. “The more that Hamas is permitted inside the tent, the better the prospects of a modest (yet historic) success,” he wrote in The New Republic in 2010.

Since the beginning, Halevy has supported the nuclear deal.

Back in 2015 he was one of a handful of former top defense officials – alongside former Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) chief Ami Ayalon and Uzi Eilam, the former director of Israel’s Atomic Energy Agency – who urged Netanyahu to stop fighting the Obama administration and to accept the nuclear deal with Iran. Halevy decided to speak up this week since he believes that Netanyahu is again making a historic mistake in his efforts to overturn the deal.

First and foremost, he points out, Iran is abiding by the deal.

The same day I met with Halevy, Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs Gen. Joseph Dunford confirmed at a Senate hearing that Iran is in fact fulfilling its part.

“The deal that was achieved was beyond the realistic expectation even here in Israel,” Halevy said. “This is not to say that the ultimate deal is the exact manifestation of Israel’s most vital interests.”

Nevertheless, he explains, the nuclear agreement was always meant to deal only with Iran’s nuclear program, not its missile development or its support of terrorist organizations throughout the region. For Israel to now demand changes to the deal because of Iran’s support of Hezbollah or its growing presence in Syria is simply wrong, he stressed.

The reason is simple, he continued. “The address is not Washington.

It is Moscow.”

Why Moscow, I asked. Halevy explained: The Russians, he said, are the ones who are allowing Iran to deploy in Syria. They are the ones turning a blind eye to the transfer of weaponry to Hezbollah and they are also the ones who supplied the Iranians with advanced weapon systems like the S-300 air surface-to-air missile system displayed at a military parade in Tehran last week.

“But for reasons which have never been revealed we don’t know everything that is going on with Israel and Russia,” he said. “The fact is that we don’t speak out against the Russians.

We speak against the people who have nothing to do with this, but the S-300 wasn’t supplied by the Pentagon.”

Imagine, Halevy continued, if the Obama administration would have sent sophisticated weaponry to the Iranians. “We’d go mad,” he said. “We are shouting from the rooftops about what the Iranians are doing, but the Russians are at our doorstep and we are not doing anything.”

“Why is Washington the recipient of all of our complaints with what’s happening in Iran all the time, when the real address is not even mentioned?” Halevy asked.

But, I challenged the former Mossad chief, even if Moscow should be the address right now, there are still problems with the nuclear deal that need to be addressed such as the sunset clause which, once the deal expires in 10 years, will put the Iranians in a position to build a bomb in almost no time.

“That is eight years away,” he insisted. “Who knows what will be in another eight years. They are not going to renegotiate it and no one wants to renegotiate, so what you are doing now instead is sowing dissension between the US and Russia and within the P5+1.”

I am not sure Halevy is right, but he makes two important points. The first is that Israel needs to stop the hysteria. Iran is a challenge, a very serious one. But it is not an existential threat.

To call it one, as some of our leaders have done in recent years, is to give the Iranians a status that they do not deserve. Israel is a powerful country with unbelievable means at its disposal to eliminate threats and defend against them. By talking in apocalyptic terms, Israel is giving its enemy a capability it does not deserve.

The second point is that the Israeli public deserves to know more about what is happening between Jerusalem and Moscow.

Netanyahu has met with Putin six times over the last two years, but despite this ongoing dialogue, Russia continues to play an extremely dangerous role in the Middle East. Its arming of Iran, support for Syria’s embattled President Bashar Assad and refusal to agree to Israel’s request that Iran and Hezbollah leave Syria once the war is over, all combined make Moscow more of an adversary for Israel than a friend.

The nuclear deal the world superpowers reached in 2015 was a bad deal, not just for Israel but for the entire world. Even if the Iranians abide by the accord for the next eight years they will ultimately be able to get the bomb, which would give them a capability that could potentially pose an existential threat to Israel.

The problem though is that if Iran decides to build nuclear weapons, it will eventually succeed. It’ll come at a price but it will be difficult to stop. What is happening now with North Korea is all the proof we need to understand that. In the meantime, while the deal might be bad, as Halevy points out, it is also a done deal.

That is the main reason the IDF brass quietly supports keeping the nuclear deal in place. Not having to invest in plans to attack Iran’s nuclear facilities has allowed the IDF to invest its resources in other capabilities that needed a boost and some attention while countering some of the other, more immediate, threats Israel faces.

In addition, a decade of quiet – assuming Iran continues to abide by the deal – is not something that can be taken for granted. In a volatile region like the Middle East, every day of quiet is a blessing.

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Israel charges Arabs with IS-inspired Jerusalem gun plot

September 28, 2017

AFP

© AFP/File | Israeli prosecutors allege that the two Arab citizens had tried unsuccessfully to travel to Syria to fight with IS and then decided to target fellow Israelis in Old Jerusalem instead

JERUSALEM (AFP) – Israeli prosecutors charged two Arab citizens on Thursday with plotting to carry out a shooting in the streets of Jerusalem’s Old City out of loyalty to the Islamic State group.

Prosecutors alleged that the pair, who were arrested on September 6, had tried unsuccessfully to travel to Syria to fight with IS and then decided to target fellow Israelis instead, inspired by a deadly gun and knife attack in July.

Said Jabarin, 26, from the mainly Arab northern town of Umm al-Fahm, was charged with attempting to aid an enemy, possession of firearms and using a weapon for terror.

A 16-year-old from the same town, who cannot be named because he is a minor, was charged with attempting to aid an enemy and contact with a foreign agent.

Prosecutors said that Jabarin had been questioned by Israel’s Shin Bet internal security agency in January over his suspected support for IS and then given a formal warning in May.

They alleged that in the following weeks Jabarin had got to know the minor, who had unsuccessfully attempted to organise their travel to Syria through an IS intermediary they identified as Abu Alhassan.

When that fell through, they decided to carry out an attack against fellow Israelis near the flashpoint Al-Aqsa mosque compound in annexed east Jerusalem using two pistols in Jabarin’s possession, prosecutors alleged.

They were inspired by a July 14 attack by three Arab Israelis armed with automatic rifles and a knife who killed two police officers stationed near the compound, revered by Jews as the Temple Mount.

The Shin Bet issued a statement expressing concern at the “severe security threat” posed by Israeli Arabs who support IS and are in contact with it.

“The two support the murderous ideology of the IS terror group, and their attack was supposed to take place based on that support,” the agency alleged.

It said it estimated that around 50 Israeli Arabs had travelled to Iraq or Syria to fight with IS.

A third Umm al-Fahm resident, Firas Mahajna, 24, was also arrested on suspicion of possession of firearms and support for IS, the Shin Bet said. He will be charged in court on Sunday.

Israel says it foiled planned ISIS-inspired attack at Jerusalem holy site

September 28, 2017

Reuters

Image may contain: sky, tree, outdoor and nature

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israel said on Thursday it had thwarted a plan by two Israeli Arabs with Islamic State sympathies to mount an attack at a contested Jerusalem holy site where a July gun ambush set off a wave of violence.

The Shin Bet security service described the suspects, aged 26 and 16, as residents of the same Israeli Arab town as three gunmen who on July 14 killed two police guards at a gate to Al-Aqsa mosque compound and were then shot dead.

Israel responded to that attack by briefly installing metal detectors outside the compound, angering Palestinians who saw that as a breach of decades-old access arrangements.

Four Palestinians were killed during ensuing confrontations with Israeli security forces and a Palestinian stabbed three Israeli settlers to death.

The two suspects taken into custody this month “support the Islamic State terrorist group’s murderous ideology and the terrorist attack was meant to be carried out in expression of this”, the Shin Bet said in its statement on Thursday.

It said they had two pistols. “They planned a gun attack at the Temple Mount in Jerusalem similar to what transpired on July 14,” it said without elaborating.

Jews revere the site, where Al-Aqsa mosque and the golden Dome of the Rock now stand, as the location of their two ancient temples. Attempts by Jews to pray there, in violation of access arrangements, have been a source of tension with Muslims.

Israel captured East Jerusalem, including the Old City and the holy compound, in the 1967 Middle East war. It annexed the area in a move that has never been recognized internationally.

Reporting by Dan Williams; Editing by Jeffrey Heller and Andrew Roche

Catholic Monastery Near Jerusalem Vandalized for Third Time in 4 Years

September 23, 2017
BY DANIEL K. EISENBUD
 SEPTEMBER 23, 2017 16:56

‘The State of Israel must punish those who were responsible for such acts because it could easily lead to serious and unpredictable consequence,’ cautions Council of Catholic Churches in Jerusalem.

Catholic monastery near Jerusalem vandalized for third time in 4 years

Image of Saint Stephen Church vandalism.. (photo credit:COURTESY OF LATIN PATRIARCHATE OF JERUSALEM)

Vandals shattered stained-glass windows depicting passages from Jesus, destroyed a statue of the Virgin Mary, and damaged furniture Wednesday night at the Beit Jamal Monastery, according to the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem.

Its the third time in four years the monastery, which is located adjacent to Beit Shemesh outside of Jerusalem, has been vandalized.

In a Friday statement, Bishop Boulos Marcuzzo, Patriarchal Vicar in Jerusalem, called for tolerance after deeming the ransacking “not only an act of vandalism, but an act against the sacredness of the holy places and the faith of people.”

“The Holy Land is deep [with] faith and culture,” continued Marcuzzo. “We must live together with the diversity of beliefs. It is absolutely necessary to accept others, to accept each other in our diversity.”

In a strongly-worded statement, the Council of Catholic Churches in Jerusalem demanded the suspects be arrested and brought to justice.

“The State of Israel, with all its institutions concerned, [must] punish [those] who were responsible for such acts, because they could easily lead to serious and unpredictable consequence, which would be most unwelcome in the current tense religious climate,” the Council cautioned.

Police said an investigation has been opened into the incident.

The monastery was last vandalized in January of last year, when Monks of the Salesian Order discovered dozens of cruciform tombstones knocked over.

In 2013, the same monastery was attacked with a firebomb, which caused minor damage, and the words “price tag” were spray painted on an exterior wall of the building.

The cemetery was also desecrated in a similar incident in 1981.

Following the 2016 vandalism of its cemetery, the Latin Patriarchate called on police to do more to apprehend the suspects, who still have not been arrested.

“We condemn this incident, and remind all that this is not the first of its kind committed in recent years, most of which remain registered as if committed by ‘unknown assailants,’” the organization said at the time.

“Therefore, we urge the police in specific, and the Israeli authorities in general, to invest every possible effort to bring those responsible for these desecrations to justice as soon as possible.”

The Latin Patriarchate continued, “We do hope that more efforts [will] be made to educate all inhabitants of the country to respect each other, despite their different religious backgrounds.”

Jeremy Sharon contributed to this report.

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Churches condemn attempts to ‘weaken’ Christians in Jerusalem

September 5, 2017

AFP

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© AFP | A March 2017 picture shows the inside of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. The city’s leading churches issued a rare statement condemning what they called Israeli attempts to “weaken the Christian presence” in the city

JERUSALEM (AFP) – The leading churches in Jerusalem issued a rare joint statement Tuesday condemning what they called “systematic” Israeli attempts to “weaken the Christian presence” in the city.

The statement, signed by the heads of the Catholic, Greek Orthodox, Armenian, Lutheran and other churches, condemned an Israeli court decision allowing a pro-settlement group to take control of church land in a mainly Palestinian area of annexed east Jerusalem, as well as a bill in the Israeli parliament relating to church land.

“We see in these actions a systematic attempt to undermine the integrity of the Holy City of Jerusalem and the Holy Land, and to weaken the Christian presence,” the statement said.

On July 31, a Jerusalem court upheld controversial real estate deals involving Israeli pro-settlement organisation Ateret Cohanim and the church for two hotel properties near the Jaffa Gate entrance to the Old City.

The Greek Orthodox church has denied selling the land and called the ruling “politically motivated”.

Separately a proposed bill in the Israeli parliament would transfer to the state all previously church-owned land that was sold to private investors, in exchange for compensation, Israeli media have reported.

The bill has yet to be passed but could damage future church property deals.

The statement said the two measures threatened a decades-old agreement between religions about the governing of sites in Jerusalem.

“We cannot stress strongly enough the very serious situation that this recent systematic assault on the status quo has had on the integrity of Jerusalem and on the well-being of the Christian communities of the Holy Land,” it said.

They called for support from Christians across the world.

Israel boosts powers of Hebron settler enclaves

September 1, 2017

AFP

© AFP/File | A child looks through the window of a Palestinian house occupied by Israeli settlers in the divided West Bank city of Hebron, in this picture taken on July 26, 2017

JERUSALEM (AFP) – Israel has given Jewish settlement enclaves in the occupied West Bank city of Hebron the authority to manage their own municipal affairs, in what critics say is an entrenchment of “apartheid”.

The army said it had signed an order to boost the powers of the settlers, who had until now run their day-to-day affairs in the council that served as a local authority but had no legal standing.

“By force of the order, an administration will be established to represent the residents of the Jewish neighbourhood in Hebron and to provide them with municipal services in a variety of fields,” it said in an English-language statement issued late Thursday.

Hebron, in the southern West bank, is home to around 200,000 Palestinians, with about 800 settlers living under Israeli army protection in several heavily fortified compounds in the heart of the city.

In July the United Nations declared its Old City an endangered world heritage site, infuriating Israel and delighting Palestinians.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced a $1-million cut in funding to the UN, saying the UNESCO vote ignored Jewish ties to the site known to Jews as the Tomb of the Patriarchs and to Muslims as the Ibrahimi Mosque.

It is holy to both religions, with Old Testament figures including Abraham believed to be buried there.

The 1994 massacre of 29 Muslim worshippers there by Israeli-American Baruch Goldstein led to an agreement three years later giving the Palestinian Authority control over 80 percent of the city.

The settlers and about 30,000 Palestinians living adjacent to them fall under Israeli military rule.

Israeli settlement watchdog Peace Now said the new arrangement was more than a technicality.

“By granting official status to the Hebron settlers, the Israeli government is formalising the apartheid system in the city,” it said in a statement on Thursday.

“This step… is another illustration of the policy of compensating the most extreme settlers for their illegal actions,” it added.

Settlement building in the occupied West Bank and annexed east Jerusalem is considered illegal under international law.

Israeli Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman said he had ordered the change in the settler council’s status and pledged to do more.

“For me the strengthening of the Jewish community in Hebron is of very great importance,” a statement from his office said.

“I am determined to continue to promote settlement so that it will bloom and thrive.”

Palestinians vie with Israel over Muslim pilgrims to Jerusalem — Part of Holy Land’s religious tourism

August 31, 2017

By Ali Sawafta and Dan Williams