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 systematically use the media, the 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 in PA-controlled areas also have been ransacked and destroyed.
In the “Oslo II” Accord (Article V of Annex I), the PA signed and guaranteed protection and free access to Joseph’s Tomb on the outskirts of Nablus and to the Shalom al-Yisrael (Peace on Israel) synagogue built in Jericho in 700 AD.
On October 7, 2000 Palestinian Arab mobs, assisted by PA policemen, destroyed and burned Joseph’s Tomb (described in Joshua 24:32). PA then built a mosque on the site to neutralize its Jewishness, and has barred Jews from visiting the ruins of the tomb.
On October 15, 2015, Palestinian Arabs burned the synagogue down once again.
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. Cynically compromising the neutrality and holiness of monasteries and churches, Palestinians have forcibly turned strategically located sites into sanctuaries for combatants and gunners’ nests in order to attack Jewish neighborhoods. Christian Arabs under the PA are increasingly subjected to the kind of intolerance common under other Arab regimes, including religious persecution of individuals and political oppression of religious communities.
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 Palestinians can be trusted to protect non-Muslim holy sites – Jewish or Christian.
Muslim religious leaders have compromised the purity of their faith by cynically using Fatwas – Islamic religious rulings – as political instruments to sanction terrorism against Israel. Palestinians and their supporters fail even to respect the holiness of their own religion’s holy sites and objects, as evidenced by the suicide belts Palestinian terrorists hid in a mosque in Israel in February 2003.
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.
The institution of religious freedoms in Arab countries and control of extremist clerics must be part of the battle against terrorism, because of the key role religion plays in fueling hatred and legitimizing terrorism. As the UN Charter advocates; it is every one’s duty to follow the rule of law and unequivocally condemn all acts, methods and practices of terrorism as criminal and unjustifiable, regardless of their motivation, in all their forms and manifestations, wherever and by whomever committed.
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. Palestinians are not worthy of stewardship over the holy sites of others.
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 whether the PA can be a trusted custodian of sacred sites in the Holy Land – Jewish or Christian.