October 21, 1999
Ambassador of Israel
Embassy of Israel
3514 International Drive, NW
Washington, DC 20008
Dear Mr. Ambassador:
We have learned with much anxiety of new developments in the controversy over demands for the building of a mosque on public land adjacent to the Basilica of the Annunciation in Nazareth. We understand how complex this situation is. Nevertheless, it appears to us that a series of actions on the part of two successive Israeli governments, or members thereof, have aggravated an already difficult problem by acquiescing to the demands of extremists.
The role of government ministers as they sought support for their parties in the elections last spring, the sometimes permissive attitude of police toward mob violence last Easter, the alleged involvement, as reported in the Israeli press, of internal security forces in the agitation of the crisis, and the proposed compromise whereby a shrine would be constructed before the mosque cause us grave concern.
Because of our accustomed, principled commitment to religious liberty for all and our good relations with Jews and Muslims in the United States, we protest the plans for construction of a mosque with some reluctance. Nonetheless, we must object strongly to the government's announced "compromise" because the demand for the mosque arose from and has been used for political and other purposes that appear aimed at the Christian community. We have overcome our usual reticence in such matters out of knowledge of the opposition to the project on the part of local and international Muslim and Arab groups.
We acknowledge steps proposed by the ministerial commission to curb potentially provocative aspects of the proposed mosque and to reduce the occasion for Muslim-Christian confrontation in the vicinity of the mosque in the years ahead. All the same, the occasion for interreligious confrontation has been greatly increased by the ceding of permission to build a mosque in that location. At a time when the Christian presence in Israel is in decline, Israeli Christians will see the government's acquiescence as a sign that Christians are not welcome in Israel, where in the years since independence, they have been able to live in security.
We strongly urge the government of Israel to revise its current policy in favor of a more sensitive solution to the controversy, perhaps authorizing the construction of a mosque elsewhere or support a center for interreligious dialogue on the site. Either solution will be welcomed by the Catholic Bishops of the United States as a sign that the Israeli government is committed to fostering good relations among its citizens who belong to different religious groups.
Most Reverend Joseph A. Fiorenza
Bishop of Galveston-Houston