Last year some 2.3 million Christians visited Israel–with about 40% identifying themselves as ‘religious pilgrims.’ Next month, Israel is opening a 40 mile footpath, bicycling, and road trail in northern Israel that will pass through Taghba (near the Mount of Beattitudes), Nazareth, Kana, and end at Capernaum on the shores of the Kineret (Sea of Gallilee). This week, Christians pilgrims have flooded into Israel celebrating Easter yesterday with processions, visits to holy sites, and prayers.
Israel has always been a haven of religious freedom for Christians, Moslems, Jews, and people of other faiths. Just last week, the Bahais celebrated the reopening of their newly renovated Shrine of the Bab, a U.N.-designated World Heritage site, and a building whose dome–now covered with 11,790 new gold-glazed porcelain tiles– is perhaps the most distinctive architectural feature of Haifa.
The Body of Ben-Yosef Livnat Being Buried Today On The Mount of Olives
Contrast this tolerance with the events of last night, when a van carrying Breslev Jews attempted to reach Joseph’s Tomb in Shechem (Nablus). Ever since control over the area was passed over to the Palestinian Authority, Jews under military escort have come (only under cover of night) to pray at the Tomb. Yesterday they attempted to do the same, going without IDF escort or rabbinic authorization.
Yelling ‘Allahu Akbar’, Palestinian policemen opened fire on the van at the Tomb, killing Ben-Yosef Livnat, a 24 year-old father of four from Jerusalem and wounding four others. Ironically on the Mount of Olives this morning, as thousands of Christian pilgrims worshiped in freedom, thousands of Jews mourned at Ben-Yosef Livnat’s funeral–at which his aunt, government minister Limor Livnat, called the shooting a “cold-blooded murder”. The simple fact is that Ben-Yosef Livnat, who was only attempting to pray at a Jewish shrine, was shot to death because he was a Jew.
Meanwhile in Shechem this morning, a Palestinian mob went to the Tomb of Joseph, and attempted to destroy it–setting fires inside and trying to break the dome over the Tomb. Can you even begin to imagine what would happen if a group of Israelis tried to destroy a Muslim religious shrine?
The line between religious tolerance and intolerance has never been clearer.
It is with a heavy heart that I wish all of you readers who celebrate Easter a Chag Sameah.