Israel is the Only Country in the Middle East that Respects Freedom of Religion

Israel is the Only Country in the Middle East that Respects Freedom of Religion

In Israel, both Jews and non-Jews are free to practice their faiths freely and openly on individual and institutional levels. That contrasts sharply with neighboring Arab states, where intolerance is the norm and the number of non-Muslims is constantly shrinking. The Palestinian Authority's conduct - including the destruction of Jewish sites and violations of the holiness and neutrality of Christian ones - raises serious doubts as to whether the PA can be a trusted custodian of sacred sites.

Israel extends the fundamental human right of freedom of conscience to members of the majority religion - Jews (81 percent), and Israel's minorities (19 percent) - on institutional and personal levels.

Israel guarantees freedom of religion in its Declaration of Independence, and that freedom operates on two levels. In the private sphere there is absolute freedom for all residents - Jews and non-Jews - to be as religious or irreligious as they wish, both at home and in public. In the public sphere, certain aspects of the practices and composition of public bodies and state institutions reflect the fact that Israel was established to serve as a Jewish state by the League of Nations as stated in the "Mandate for Palestine," an historical League of Nations document, that laid down the Jewish legal right to settle anywhere in western Palestine, between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea: "Whereas the Principal Allied Powers have also agreed that the Mandatory should be responsible for putting into effect the declaration originally made on November 2nd, 1917, by the Government of His Britannic Majesty, and adopted by the said Powers, in favour of the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people."

The Palestinian Authority's Failure to Uphold Religious Freedom
In a series of signed agreements since Oslo, the Palestinian Authority promised to protect and grant free access to all religious sites, but has systematically broken its commitments.
Palestinian political and religious leaders consistently use the media, schools, and the pulpit to disseminate false, slanderous and inflammatory propaganda that claims Jews and Judaism have no historic roots in the Land of Israel. They deliberately destroy archaeological evidence, even on the Temple Mount, Judaism's holiest site. Jewish religious sites such as Joseph's Tomb on the outskirts of Nablus, and the Shalom al-Yisrael (Peace on Israel) synagogue built in Jericho in 700 AD - all in PA-controlled areas - have also been ransacked, burned, and destroyed all in violation of the "Oslo II" Accord (Article V of Annex I).

In Palestinian-controlled areas, the PA has often acted like a bull in a china shop, disregarding the delicate arrangements controlling religious sites that for centuries prevented friction among Christian sects. Christian Arabs under the PA are increasingly subject to the kind of intolerance common under other Arab regimes, including religious persecution of individuals and political oppression of religious communities.
Joseph Puder - founder and executive director of the Interfaith Taskforce for America and Israel stated:
"Christian Palestinians have also been abandoned by the international community - by NGOs and human rights organizations. On their own, this educated Christian community has had to endure anarchy and lawlessness, widespread corruption in the PA security and police forces, and a xenophobic and intolerant Muslim majority. He added that "The American government refuses to acknowledge the medieval abuses of Christians at the hands of the Palestinian."
The religious leaders who use their pulpits with impunity to incite and breed hatred are supported and subsidized by the Palestinian Authority, which neither reins in such employees nor opposes such instances of mob rule. By its own conduct, the Palestinian Authority raises fundamental questions about whether Palestinian Arabs can be trusted to protect non-Muslim holy sites - Jewish or Christian.

Lack of religious freedom cannot be viewed in a vacuum or as a problematic issue separate from democratization, or as being immune to the war on terrorism - not when religion is systematically exploited to inflame the Arab-Israeli conflict and fuel hatred of America and the West."

In a Nutshell
•Israel is the only country in the Middle East that allows genuine freedom of conscience and protects sacred sites of all faiths.

•Non-Jews in Israel - indigenous minorities and new immigrants - practice their religions freely and openly, as individuals and on institutional levels.

•Disagreements among Jews over Israel's character as a "Jewish and democratic state" are settled democratically, without religious warfare.

•In contrast, in all too many neighboring Arab countries, extremist streams of Islam and growing intolerance for "the other" - Muslim or non-Muslim - have become dominant.

•The Palestinian Authority's reckless behavior and utter failure to uphold religious freedom or to respect and protect members of other faiths and their institutions - Jewish or Christian - make the PA no different than other intolerant Arab regimes - unworthy of stewardship over the holy sites of others.

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