Clergy representing Christians, Jews and Muslims met Wednesday near the Jerusalem synagogue where five people died in a grisly Palestinian terrorist attack to plead for tolerance amid spiking regional tensions.
The group stood in a sun-dappled courtyard outside the synagogue where two Palestinian cousins armed with meat cleavers, knives and a pistol killed four worshipers and a policeman Tuesday. After a brief gun battle, security forces shot the assailants dead.
Absent from the meeting were Muslim authorities from Jerusalem and senior Israeli rabbis. Israel’s Chief Rabbi David Lau had urged Muslim colleagues to condemn the attack on Tuesday, and to meet with him at the synagogue, but he said they were not responding to his calls.
Sheikh Muhammad Kiwan, chairman of the Council of Muslim Leaders in Israel, and former MK Rabbi Michael Melchior called on believers of all faiths to work towards quelling violence and promoting peace.
“There will not be a religious war,” Kiwan declared. “Any person who murders another man is far from any religious belief.”
“People from all religions which are here in the Holy Land want to express the common belief that this is not the way,” said Melchior, who is active in interfaith efforts. “We can have our differences, political differences, our religious differences, but this is not the way.”
Such moderation seems an increasingly scarce commodity in this region, which in recent weeks has been riven by religious tensions. During that time 11 people have died at the hands of Palestinian terrorists — most in Jerusalem, but also in Tel Aviv and the West Bank.
Israeli Jews have engaged in periodic trashing of Palestinian property, including cars and olive groves. Visits by Jewish politicians and activists to the contested Temple Mount have also raised tensions and drawn false accusations that Israel is plotting to change the status quo at the site.
With Greek Orthodox Patriarch Theofilis III of Jerusalem and Latin Patriarch Fuad Twal in attendance, Sheikh Samir Assi, the imam of the Al-Jazaar mosque in the northern Israeli city of Acre, also condemned the Palestinians’ attack on the synagogue.
“We came to this place to take a stand toward this criminal act, which involves an assault against the sanctity of the house of God, and against the unarmed worshipers,” Assi said.
Melchior said religious leaders must provide an example to young believers in order to convince them to turn away from extremist views. “We must end this bloodshed,” he said. “But the unanimous condemnation of the attack by religious leaders of all stripes is very uplifting; it shows young individuals that there is another way.”
Kiwan contended that tensions in Jerusalem spiked as a result of “provocations in the al-Aqsa Mosque,” and said security forces must stop extremism on all sides. “An attack at a place of worship is unacceptable,” he added.
Earlier, ultra-Orthodox representatives sat alongside Muslim, Druze, Catholic, Orthodox, and Anglican leaders at the scene of Tuesday’s deadly attack.
And the rabbi of the Har Nof synagogue, along with a large number of local ultra-Orthodox Jews, attended the funeral of Zidan Saif, the Druze policeman who was killed in the shootout that put an end to Tuesday’s terror attack.