World Council of Churches condemns Israel for violating freedom of worship

Thousands of Christians were prevented from marking the Feast of the Transfiguration on Mount Tabor, after 'repeated harassment of Christians in Jerusalem, Haifa and other places'

The World Council of Churches, the world's largest Christian umbrella organization that unites thousands of churches and hundreds of thousands of believers, issued a strongly worded official condemnation of Israel for violating religious freedom after officials on Friday denied access to thousands of Christian visitors to the Church of the Transfiguration on Mount Tabor, the site where Christians believe that Jesus changed from a man to a prophet.
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"No less than 1,000 cars waited at the roadblocks set up by the Israel Police on the way to the church and as a result were delayed for two and a half hours," said the secretary general of the organization, Rev. Prof. Jerry Pillay, noting that among those arrested was a member of the council's executive committee.
2 View gallery
זעם בכנסיה: בוטלה כניסת אלפי מאמינים לחג ההתגלות ממש בדקה ה90
זעם בכנסיה: בוטלה כניסת אלפי מאמינים לחג ההתגלות ממש בדקה ה90
Anger in the church: The entry of thousands of believers to the Feast of the Transfiguration was cancelled at the last minute
The thousands of Christian believers from the Orthodox community who gathered at the site were supposed to celebrate the Feast of the Transfiguration in the church, but had to leave almost as soon as they came, because the event was denied a permit shortly before it was scheduled to begin.
According to Pillay, the organization was surprised to discover that a last-minute order was issued prohibiting gatherings on Mount Tabor and in the open area near the church, supposedly out of concern for the safety of the participants.
"After all, just a few days before, a meeting was held between the Orthodox Council in Nazareth and the Israeli authorities, in which it was agreed that the event would take place," he said, adding that the disruption to the Christian celebration came after "repeated harassment of Christians in Jerusalem, Haifa and other places."
"We regard with concern the violation of religious freedom, the denial of worship and the constraints on the life of the Christian community in the Holy Land under the pretext of safety and security as unacceptable," Pillay said. "The World Council of Churches calls on the government of Israel to allow Christian worship and community events to take place freely, and to protect the rights of religious freedom for all people."
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נוף מפסגת הר תבור
נוף מפסגת הר תבור
The view from Mount Tabor
(Photo: Lior Engel, Nature and Parks Authority)
The Feast of the Transfiguration is one of the most important holidays in Christianity, in which the ascension of Jesus is celebrated. Together with three of his messengers he traveled to the top of Mount Tabor and there was revealed as the Son of God, with Elijah and Moses by his side, according to the Christian faith. The Orthodox Church celebrates the holiday every year on August 18-19, but this year - as well as last year - the Israeli authorities prevented the gathering.
The director general of the Chamber of Inbound Tourism Organizers, Yossi Fattal, said after the event that "this is a scandal on an international level and a prevention of freedom of worship. The issue will be used in the world as a tool in the hands of those who seek to discredit Israel as trying to harm Christians. Surely there will be those who will connect it to the current government. This is connected by the hands of our neighbors to the humiliation of the Christians in Jerusalem. It is a serious police omission that such an order is issued on the day of the pilgrimage to the mountain."
Israel Fire and Rescue responded to the statements, saying that "as part of the preparation for the 'Holiday of the Transfiguration' event, in recent months, command and professional officials from the Northern District held a series of discussions, round tables and field tours with the cooperation of all the parties involved, including the Israel Police, KKL-JNF and representatives of the churches. During the meetings, the district warned of significant fire safety risks that exist in the area and the police decided based on their discretion to issue a closure order as they did last year. It should be emphasized that the organizers of the event only submitted on August 14 a request for permission to hold the event together with a safety plan with many deficiencies that have not been corrected up to this time. Despite the aforementioned, many operational forces from the Northern District were organized this morning in the Mount Tabor area, in the forests and in the churches to secure the visitors and worshipers, knowing the danger lurking in front of them."
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