The State of Israel will do its utmost to repair any harm done to Muslim holy sites within its territory, President Shimon Peres and Minorities Minister Avishay Braverman pledged Sunday.
They were responding to a complaint made by Sheikh Ahmed Natur, president of the Sharia Court of Appeal, which deals with Muslim religious issues related to marriage, divorce and other family matters, within the framework of Israeli law.
Speaking at the close of a ceremony in which Peres appointed four new qadis - Sharia court judges - Natur said that after three years in which no qadi had been appointed, the appointment of four such capable judges as Abdulhakim Smara, Iyaed Zahalka, Hashem Ibrahim Swaed and Hamza Hamza will do much to enhance the status of the Sharia court system.
Yet the joy was marred by concern over what is happening to Muslim holy sites throughout the country, said Natur. Many mosques have been forcibly closed and several Muslim cemeteries have been desecrated.
"Hopefully we will find rational people who consider all holy places, regardless of the faith of the people to which they belong, to be respected by all," he said.
In a spontaneous reaction, Peres said that if indeed there was substance to Natur's claims, Israel would do everything possible to amend the situation. The sentiment was echoed after the ceremony by Braverman.
He said that anything related to holy sites was a very sensitive issue and had to be dealt with as soon as possible, and that he would raise the subject with the government at the earliest opportunity.
Peres could not resist addressing one of his pet themes: the repression of Muslim women. From time to time, he said, he had witnessed the tensions between the conservative Muslim strictures and the influences of the modern world on Muslim youth in Israel, especially with regard to the status of women.
"This is not an easy problem at all," he said, and acknowledged it is one that is equally troubling to the rabbinate.
Nonetheless he was confident that the qadis, in their wisdom and with their profound knowledge of Sharia law, would find the correct balance between tradition and justice.
The three-year delay in Sharia appointments was illogical, unfair and unjust, said Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman.
who disclosed that, in contrast to the drawn-out debates on appointments to the civil courts, discussion on the appointments of the four qadis took only 40 minutes and the decisions were unanimous.
Each of the qadis took the oath of office first in Hebrew, then in Arabic stating, "I pledge myself to bear allegiance to the State of Israel, to dispense justice fairly, not to pervert the law and to show no favor."
On Wednesday, Peres will formally appoint 27 new judges to the Supreme Court, the district courts and the National Labor Court.