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Israel and The Occupied Territories

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

Following the continued tensions at the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif and violent incidents between Israelis and Palestinians, the Ambassador and embassy officers spoke with government officials and Knesset leaders about the importance of maintaining the agreed-upon status quo at the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif and not escalating tensions through provocative actions or statements. In meetings with government officials, visiting high-level U.S. government officials and embassy officers also stressed the importance of religious pluralism and respect for all streams of Judaism.

During a visit in February, the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations met with the prime minister and other government officials, members of the Knesset, UN agencies, and civil society organizations working on religious pluralism issues. Discussions included the equal treatment of religious communities, combating acts of extremism, and strategies for calming tensions at religious sites. She visited religious sites and the Yad Vashem memorial for Holocaust victims in Jerusalem, as well as the Max Rayne Hand-in-Hand School, an institution dedicated to the education of Muslim and Jewish students together, which experienced an arson attack in 2014.

In April the Assistant Secretary of State for International Organization Affairs visited Jerusalem and Tel Aviv for discussions with government officials, UN officials, and human rights experts, including on topics relating to religious minorities. In a May visit to Israel, Jerusalem, and the West Bank, the Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor met with government officials, Members of the Knesset, and NGOs to discuss a wide range of human rights issues, including issues related to religious minority groups, “price tag” attacks, and other instances of religiously motivated violence. Also in May a senior advisor in the office of the U.S. Special Representative for Religion and Global Affairs met with the Bahai religious minority and civil society groups working to promote religious pluralism.

Embassy-supported initiatives focused on interreligious dialogue and community development, and advocated a shared society for Arab and Jewish populations, including conferences at which embassy officers spoke out in support of the right of persons of all faiths to practice their religion peacefully, while also respecting the beliefs and customs of their neighbors.

Embassy officers participated in religious events organized by Jewish, Muslim, Druze, and Christian communities and used embassy social media channels to express U.S. support for tolerance and openness to other religions.

Embassy-hosted events, including an interfaith Ramadan iftar and an interfaith Thanksgiving dinner, promoted the reduction of tensions between religious communities and an increase in interreligious communication and partnership within society by bringing together representatives of many faith communities to advance shared goals and exchange knowledge and experience. Embassy programs supported mixed Jewish-Arab educational and community initiatives to reduce societal tensions and violence, including a project by the Citizens Accord Forum that brought together ultra-Orthodox and Arab citizens to create a shared civic agenda and implement activities related to social issues of common concern in their communities, in addition to a project supporting deliberative dialogue between religious Jewish and Arab women.

The embassy provided grants to organizations advocating religious tolerance among different ethnic groups, such as a three-year project by the NGO Sikkuy, which arranged a series of cultural tours to Arab majority towns in the Galilee and Wadi Ara during Ramadan for the purpose of introducing 2,000 Jews to Arab culture and religious practices during the Muslim holiday season.

The embassy also supported NGO Tsofen’s project to mitigate the interreligious and intercommunal tensions between Israel’s Arab and Jewish citizens through economic integration of the two communities and the creation of sustainable cycles of intergroup collaboration. The project’s activities promote the participation of Arab citizens in Israel’s high-technology industry, diversifying work environments, and facilitating intergroup collaboration.


Israel and The Occupied Territories – The Occupied Territories

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

Officials from the U.S. Consulate General in Jerusalem met with PA officials to discuss religious tolerance and their perceptions of changes to the status quo of religious sites, including Palestinian concerns about restrictions on Muslim access to the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount. These discussions included requests to PA and PLO officials to remove religiously intolerant material or language glorifying violence from a Fatah party Facebook account and other Palestinian media and social media. Consulate general officials also expressed concerns about UNESCO resolutions sponsored by the PA that minimized or ignored the Jewish religious and historical connection to the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount and Western Wall. Consulate general officers raised with local authorities the views and concerns expressed by both majority and minority religious groups.

Visiting senior U.S. officials including the U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations and Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor met with politicians and local religious and civil society leaders to discuss religious tolerance and the need for cooperation against religious prejudice, such as “price tag” attacks in Jerusalem and the West Bank. The U.S. Representative to the UN Human Rights Council met with local Palestinians to hear their concerns that construction of Israel’s separation barrier in the Cremisan Valley impeded access to the Catholic convent and school and agricultural lands near Beit Jala and Bethlehem.

The Consul General and consulate general officers met regularly with representatives of a full range of religious groups from Jerusalem, the West Bank, and where possible, the Gaza Strip. This included meetings with the Waqf and Muslim leaders in Jerusalem and throughout the West Bank; meetings with Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox rabbis, and representatives of various Jewish institutions; regular contacts with leaders of the CRIHL, the Greek Orthodox, Latin (Roman Catholic), and Armenian Orthodox patriarchates; and meetings with the Holy See’s Custodian of the Holy Land, leaders of the Anglican and Lutheran Churches, and leaders of evangelical Christian groups. These meetings included discussions of the groups’ concerns about religious tolerance, access to religious sites, respect for clergy, and attacks on religious sites and houses of worship. For example, the Consul General visited the Jewish cemetery on the Mount of Olives with the NGO International Committee for the Preservation of Har Hazeitim to discuss visitor access and safety, and acts of vandalism against gravestones there. Consulate officers spoke to local Christians’ concerns about impeded access to their agricultural lands and local monastery due to the construction of the Israeli separation barrier in the Cremisan Valley, and to Waqf officials about Muslim access to the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount and Israeli police restrictions on Waqf renovation projects there. Consulate officers also spoke with Jews, Christians, and Muslims who had suffered from “price-tag” attacks, including following up with family members about the condition of the five-year old sole survivor of the deadly July 2015 arson attack on a Palestinian home in the West Bank village of Douma. Consulate general officers objected to instances of intolerant and anti-Semitic material in PA and Fatah party media and social media.

Consulate general officers examined a range of charges, including allegations of damage to places of worship, intolerant speech, and allegations concerning access to religious sites, and issued statements condemning these acts, including statements against “price tag” attacks.


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