President Reuven Rivlin and Chirstian leaders.
(photo credit: Mark Neiman/GPO)
The State of Israel has no intention of harming property rights of churches, President Reuven Rivlin declared on Thursday. “We will never do that,” he told spiritual leaders of the various Christian churches in Israel, along with lay leaders and heads of Christian institutions.
Rivlin was speaking at his official residence at the annual reception that he hosts for heads of Christian communities throughout Israel.
Rain failed to put a damper on the event, which attracted one of the largest attendances ever of representatives of Israel’s Christian communities.
Rivlin’s declaration was made against the backdrop of proposed legislation to confiscate church property
that had been used for housing. The proposal to nationalize such land was in reaction to the fears of home owners living in apartments situated on land which the original church owners had sold to private investors.
The Council of Jerusalem Churches appealed to Rivlin, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Minister Tzachi Hanegbi to kill the proposed legislation before it was brought to the vote.
This was eventually done, and assurances were given to the council that there would be no change in the status quo.
While deeply appreciative of such assurances and of Rivlin and Netanyahu’s intervention, Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem Theophilos III said at the reception that there was always the fear that certain MKs would try to bring up the legislation once again.
He was also grateful for the interest that Rivlin had taken in clearing the minefields at Qasr al-Yahud by the Jordan River, which has been inaccessible to Christian pilgrims since 1968.
Theophilos also expressed appreciation to the IDF for its role in clearing the minefields and making the Armenian Monastery accessible to pilgrims. Many Christians believe that it was at Qasr al-Yahud that Jesus was baptized
THE RECEPTION is usually held sometime between December 25, the generally accepted date of Christmas, and January 6 when Christmas is observed by the Eastern Orthodox Church. December 25 is the nativity date according to the Gregorian calendar, whereas January 6 is observed in accordance with the Julian calendar.
New Year falls between the two dates, which gave Rivlin the opportunity to voice both Christmas and New Year’s greetings.
He noted that the event was taking place at a time when so many people around the world were focused on Jerusalem.
As a seventh-generation native son of Jerusalem, Rivlin said that he could not imagine having a home outside Jerusalem. He acknowledged that all who live in the Holy City are aware of its delicate demographic balance.
It was not always easy for Jews, Christians and Muslems to live together, although for them to do so was in Rivlin’s opinion “the most moral thing to do.”
Rivlin referred to terror attacks, violation of holy sites and damage to tombstones. Actions of this kind must not be allowed he said, adding that as guardian of the city of Jerusalem, the State of Israel will never allow freedom of religion to be compromised.
Rivlin also made the point that while Christian communities elsewhere in the region are decreasing in size, in Israel they are growing larger – and increasing numbers of pilgrims are coming to Christian holy sites.
Interior Minister Arye Deri echoed Rivlin in guaranteeing that the status quo on freedom of religion for all faiths would be maintained and respected.
While each faith has its own traditions, he said, what they all have in common is a love for Jerusalem.
Deri urged that all present use their influence to curb hate speech in the name of religion, saying that all forms of violence, whether physical or oral, are harmful.
In this context, he referred to the wave of antisemitism sweeping the world, asserting that it must disappear from the face of the earth.
He asked all to pray for the peace of Jerusalem, saying that peace is not just a word. “It is essential – and each of us must take a small step towards it each day.”
Theophilos, who in the past has wrapped soft words around harsh criticism, heaped praise on Rivlin and Netanyahu; even in commenting on the MKs who sought to confiscate church property, he did them the courtesy of saying that it was due to their misunderstanding of the situation. He was very happy that the proposed legislation had been withdrawn and said that the Church was always open to dialogue.
Jerusalem, he said, is a universal symbol of peace to which the world looks for moral clarity, truth and light, adding that The Christian communities are interested in preserving its multi-cultural, multi-ethnic and multi-religious character.