President Reuven Rivlin this morning (Tuesday), welcomed the leaders of Christian communities in Israel for the traditional annual reception to mark the civil New Year. The event was held in cooperation with the Minister of Interior and was attended by Interior Minister Aryeh (Makhlouf) Deri. Representatives of the Christian communites included, Greek Patriarch Theophilos III, Apostolic Administrator of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa, and Armenian Patriarch of Jerusalem Nourhan Manougian.
President Rivlin began by wishing all the Christian leaders and their congregations, “A good and healthy New Year,” and added, “May it be a year of mutual understanding and respect. A year of justice and fairness.”
President Rivlin noted that “Looking back on the last year, there is a lot we should be proud of. We have continued to build good relations between the Jewish and Christian communities,” and said that “we may have different faiths, but we share many common values. We share a deep respect for mankind, created in God’s image. We share a commitment to love our neighbor. We share a hope for peace. And in this city, we all, the children of Abraham live together, side by side”.
“I see my role, and the role of the State of Israel, as guardians of this city. As guardians, our sovereignty over Jerusalem will never compromise the freedom of worship and religion for all believers,” the President said. He reiterated, “United Jerusalem is the eternal capital of Israel and it will remain.There is no international body with the power to revoke this. And as sovereigns of the city, I stand here today to repeat in the clearest way: the State of Israel is deeply committed to ensure the religious rights of all faith communities in Jerusalem and throughout Israel.”
The President stressed, “Israel is committed to finding a way to end the tragedy between us and the Palestinians. Time and again, we have held out our hand in peace, and called for direct negotiations, without pre-conditions, and without any delay. The decision to take Israel to the UN Security Council, was wrong in trying to force pre-conditions, but also in the way it was done. The international community’s, most important job in helping us solve the conflict, is to build trust between the sides. How can we hope, as the Pope said, “to write a new page" in the history of Israel and the Palestinians, without this trust?” He said firmly, “The Security Council vote, was a blow to peace, and it was a blow to trust.”
Turning to the situation in the wider region, the President said, “Bloodshed in the name of politics and religion, have led to much misery, pain, and loss; for many many people.Cities of great history and civilization, Aleppo, Mosul, are today by-words for sorrow and destruction. In these times, silence is not an option. I believe the international community - the whole free world –must act to help the innocent, the civilians, men, women, and the children. We must work to help those who have stayed, and those who are refugees. And we must stand up and support the countries who do so much to help the wave after wave of refugees who arrive at their gates. While we have never been able to reach peace with Syria, we see the pictures and hear the voices of the people suffering, and as Israelis of all faiths, we feel the duty to try to help, and to speak out. I am proud of the humanitarian aid and medical help many Israelis are giving to the people of Syria.I know sadly, that is ‘a drop in the ocean’. But, dear friends, silence, and doing nothing cannot be an option. We must speak, we must act, we must pray.”
Minister Deri said, “Our ability to celebrate the festivals side by side, reminds us of the great extent to which we share common histories and future. The destruction of faiths has occurred in this land, and the State of Israel is the only, and the only secure state in this region where the Christian population lives and grows – not decreasing but increasing – all the while in other counties there is mass immigration and expulsion of the Christian community. Here the Christian community stands at 120,000 and its proportion to the general population continues to flourish. The Government of Israel, and my office which is responsible for religious affairs, has been and remains committed to the strengthening and prosperity of the Christian community in Israel. We are doing all in our to allow freedom of religion and worship to each according to their faith and outlook in their holy places. We are preserving and conserving the holy places as much as we are able. Last night I declared the launch of the strategic plan to strengthen the northern region, together with the Finance Minister, and in the presence of the Prime Minister. This is the region where 70% of the Christian community in Israel lives, and will directly benefit together with the other residents of the region from this initiative. The project funded by more than 20billion NIS will see investment transport infrastructure, and in the fields of health and education. In addition, in recent years, with the support of the President who pushed for the economic plan for the Arab regional authorities – where the Christian community also live – we have transferred 350million NIS in 2015-16, and in the framework of development grants we are transferring 800million NIS.”
Speaking on behalf of the Christian leaders, Greek Patriarch Theophilos III of Jerusalem said, “We take this opportunity of this holiday gatherings to express our gratitude for the firmness with which you defend the freedoms that lie at the heart of this democracy, especially the freedom of worship. We are always encouraged by your commitment to the sacredness of life and your condemnation of all forms of terrorism. These fundamental commitments are the basis of any society that understands that we share a common human destiny. The State of Israel takes pride in the fact that this state was founded on democratic principles in the Middle East, and that it guarantees full freedom of worship. We are confident Mr. President that you will continue to resist any restrictions of religious practices.”
He concluded, “We are keenly aware this season of the unspeakable experiences of those who suffer around the world, and especially those who suffer in the countries around us. So many are suffering for the mere fact of their religious allegiance, and as those who serve the moral values of our respective religious traditions we are deeply concerned.”
Photo credit: Mark Neiman (GPO)