Yesterday afternoon, the Office of the President and the Council on Religious Institutions of the Holy Land hosted a discussion in Riggs Library on the role and contributions of religious leaders in Jerusalem in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. The discussion featured Rev. Canon & Dr. Trond Bakkevig who has convened the Council on Religious Institutions of the Holy Land since 2005, and panelists from the Council, including Oded Wiener, the Director General of the Chief Rabbinate of Israel, His Beatitude Fouad Twal, Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, and Salah Zuhayka, Director General of the Ministry of the Waqf.
Bakkevig opened with an introduction to the Council on Religious Institutions of the Holy Land, explaining how it provided a space where Jewish, Christian, and Muslim leaders in Jerusalem can meet in dialogue on how they can contribute to peace.
He listed the main goals of CRIHL, which include maintaining permanent relationships and open communication between institutional religious leadership locally in the Holy Land, and upkeep, respect, and protection for holy sites in the city. He also discussed the importance of promoting a culture of peace through educating a new generation of leaders. “Peace is negotiation among politicians,” he said, “what religious leaders can do is help politicians deal with obstacles of religious nature.”
Wiener explained the complexity of the issue in Jerusalem, and touched on the role of halakha, Jewish religious law, in the issue. “The problems of the conflict of the Holy Land are enormously complex,” he started, “[they include] water sources, demographic problems, security and historical claims. All of these problems—ideology, religion, philosophy and theology, are interconnected and have to be addressed at the same time. No single issue can be neglected.”
Twal talked about Catholic schools and universities in Jordan and Jerusalem, and their efforts in interreligious peacemaking. “The role of the church is to be a bridge,” he said, recalling a time when he asked visitors to one of the schools to distinguish between the Jewish, Muslim, and Christian students. They couldn’t. He also encouraged collaboration between Georgetown University and two Catholic Universities in Jordan and Bethlehem.
Citing the story of how a mosque in New York opened its doors for members of the Chabad of East Bronx to hold prayer services, Zuhayka said, “This is an example of what we want to see in Jerusalem.”