Canterbury Archbishop affirms Israel’s ‘right to exist in security’ during J'lem visit

Justin Welby visits Yad Vashem, meets with Shimon Peres; says peace is a "challenge," calls region "cradle of faiths."

Archbishop of Canterbury in Jerusalem 370 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Archbishop of Canterbury in Jerusalem 370
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby said in Jerusalem on Thursday that Israel had a right to exist – like every other country – “in security and peace, within internationally agreed boundaries.”
Asked about his position on diplomatic issues, he said that “the clear policy of the Church of England and my own personal opinion is that the State of Israel is a legitimate state like every other state in the world, and has a right to exist in security and peace within internationally agreed boundaries.”
“All the people in the region, without exception, from whatever background they come from – whether Israeli, Palestinian or any other – also have the right to exist in peace and security within properly agreed frontiers.”
The head of the Church of England and the Anglican Communion – which numbers some 85 million adherents worldwide – held a series of meetings during a stop in Israel during a trip to the region.
Welby met with President Shimon Peres at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem and with the committee for interfaith dialogue of the Chief Rabbinate, and visited the Yad Vashem Holocaust museum with his wife and son.
Talking to the press at the offices of the Chief Rabbinate, Welby described the Holy Land as the center of the world and the birthplace of religion.
“This is the cradle of three great world faiths, the cradle of our Christian faith, it’s where Jesus lived and walked and died and rose again. It is the center of the world in so many extraordinary ways,” Welby remarked in explaining why he decided to visit the region so early into his tenure as archbishop.
While speaking at the Chief Rabbinate, the archbishop also addressed the hostility and sectarian violence that Christian communities in the region have experienced during recent years.
“I have no illusions about this,” he said. “Historically the right response of Christians to persecution and attack is – it’s the hardest thing we can ever say to people. But Jesus tells us to love our enemies. It’s the hardest thing when you’re being violently attacked. It’s an indescribable challenge but God gives grace so often for us to love our enemies.”
Earlier on Thursday, Peres said when welcoming the archbishop that religious leaders have a greater responsibility than ever before, because problems cannot be solved with power. They can only be solved with goodwill, and spiritual leaders must raise their voices to promote peace, love and understanding, he said.
Referring specifically to Israel, he said that the land was holy to all religions, and that it was the responsibility of the government to guarantee security, freedom of worship and respect for the holy sites.
“We want to introduce a brotherly sentiment,” he said.
Welby said he welcomed the president’s comments about the responsibility of religious leaders, and especially regarded it as a duty on their part to prevent religion from becoming an excuse for violence.
During his visits over the years, Welby said he had seen a deep hope for improving relations between peoples but he had also detected a deep pain.
The attainment of peace, justice and security for all people in this land was a huge challenge “when there is so much history in such a small space,” he said. “This is a land for which we pray. Many of us love and seek the welfare of this land. You are living in perilous times and in perilous times we need courageous leaders.”
At Yad Vashem, the archbishop was presented with a Page of Testimony and archival information regarding a young boy who, according to the Holocaust museum, was most likely a distant Jewish relative of his who was murdered in the Holocaust.
Welby only recently discovered that his father was born Jewish, that he had Jewish relatives who fled Nazi Germany in the 1930s, and other relatives who perished in the Holocaust.
“This is not a place for words,” he said during his visit.
“It’s a place for tears and a place for learning and remembering, and I think the fewer words the better.”
Welby was in Cairo earlier this week where he met Pope Tawadros II, the head of Coptic Orthodox Church, and Sheikh Mohamed Ahmed el-Tayeb, the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar University. He also met with Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh on Wednesday and was scheduled to visit the West Bank to meet Palestinian officials.
Rachel Marder contributed to this report.