[Episcopal News Service] Leaders of the Christian churches in Jerusalem, including the Anglican primate, have called for peace and reconciliation amid tensions at a shared holy site in the city, as the Israel government backs down from a standoff over stricter security measures there.
Archbishop Suheil Dawani, primate of the Anglican Province of Jerusalem and the Middle East, joined 12 other patriarchs and heads of churches in Jerusalem in issuing a statement last week to “express our serious concern regarding recent escalation in violent developments around Haram ash-Sharif and our grief for the loss of human life, and strongly condemn any act of violence.”
The statement also affirms the church leaders’ support for existing agreements between Israel and Jordan to jointly maintain holy sites that are revered and frequented by both Jews and Muslims.
“We renew our call that the historical status quo governing these sites be fully respected, for the sake of peace and reconciliation to the whole community, and we pray for a just and lasting peace in the whole region and all its peoples,” the statement concludes.
The site is known by Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary and by Jews as the Temple Mount. Recent tensions have focused on access to the al-Aqsa Mosque, where on July 14, three Arab-Israeli gunmen opened fire, killing two Israeli policemen before being shot down themselves. The mosque was closed for Friday prayers for the first time in 17 years.
Before reopening the compound, Israel installed metal detectors at entrances to the mosque, a move that drew objections from Palestinians who said it limited their access to the holy site.
When Israel initially refused to remove the scanners, the protests escalated, and on July 23, a Jordanian of Palestinian descent was reported to have used a screwdriver to stab an Israeli security guard, who shot and killed the attacker along with another Jordanian.
Then on July 24, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, after conferring by phone with King Abdullah II of Jordan, announced Israel would remove the metal detectors, The Washington Post reported. The removal began on July 25.
It remains to be seen whether the move will calm all tensions over the site. In removing the scanners, Israel is replacing them with more sophisticated surveillance cameras, which also have prompted objections from Palestinians.
The Palestinian official who oversees the al-Aqsa Mosque said the arrangement will remain unacceptable “unless everything that was added after July 14 was removed,” Al Jazeera reported.
– David Paulsen is an editor and reporter for the Episcopal News Service. He can be reached at [email protected].