Israeli President Reuven Rivlin on Thursday hosted a meeting of Israeli Jewish religious leaders with senior Palestinian Muslim clerics to issue a call against religiously inspired violence.
Among those attending the conclave at the President’s Residence, hailed as the first of its kind, were Israel’s Sephardic Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef and Sheikh Mahmoud Habbash, the Palestinian Supreme Sharia Court judge and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s Islamic affairs adviser.
“God created life and commanded life. Therefore, we denounce the killing of innocents or any kind of aggression against the other,” said a joint statement released after the meeting.
“We believe the deliberate killing of or attempt to kill innocents is terrorism, whether it is committed by Muslims, Jews or others. In this spirit, we encourage all our people to work for a just peace, mutual respect for human life and for the status quo on the holy sites, and the eradication of religious hatred,” the statement said.
Rivlin hailed the meeting as “important and significant.”
“We all know that the tensions between Jews and Muslims are difficult and specifically for that reason we insist on meeting together here today. We must not allow this land to once again witness a sacrifice of blood senselessly spilled,” the president said.
Highlighting the sensitivity of the meeting, the names of the other Palestinian religious leaders participating were not released and no photos or videos of the meeting were distributed.
The meeting was organized by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, an American think tank.
“With all the stabbings and price tag (attacks) and other religiously motivated violence in the last year, there was a need for religious leaders to stand up and say that they are not only a part of the problem, but also can be part of the solution,” said David Makovsky from the Washington Institute.
It took several rounds of meetings and more than a year of talks to set up this meeting, said Makovsky. “One should never assume one meeting alone can be transformative, but it could provide an important foundation to build upon,” he said, adding that organizers hoped to have a follow up meeting in Ramallah with Abbas.
Other participants included two rabbis from a leading West Bank Yeshiva, Rabbi Moshe Lichtenstein, the head of Yeshivat Har Etzion in Gush Etzion and Rabbi Shlomo Brin.