Arab Americans, Muslims Meet with Chair of US Commission on International Religious Freedom
Washington D.C. — A delegation of representatives from major Arab-American and American Muslim organizations met today with Elliott Abrams, Chair of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, and other senior Commission officials. The meeting focused on the recent letter from the Commission to Secretary of State Madeleine Albright regarding the effects of the recent violence in the Palestinian territories occupied by Israel. The delegation pointed to Israel‘s consistent denial of access to Muslim and Christian holy places in Jerusalem to Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza and its imposition of minimum age limits on worshipers it allowed access. The Commission‘s letter in effect supported Israel‘s move in denying much of the Palestinian population of the West Bank access to their holy places in Occupied East Jerusalem, implying that the Israeli decision to impose “closure” was a necessary response to “security concerns.” The delegation pointed out that this was an endorsement of the abrogation of religious freedom and a political judgment far beyond the scope of the Commission‘s mandate.
Delegates also raised the issue of lack of support for Christian and Muslim holy sites in Israel and the Occupied Territories and lack of maintenance of many of these sites. They pointed out that Israel‘s Ministry of Religious Affairs allocates only 1.5 percent of its budget to Christian and Muslim religious activities and infrastructure, in spite of the fact that Palestinian Christians and Muslims make up almost 20 percent of the Israeli population. They also provided numerous instances of the expropriation of Mosques and Churches in Israel and the Occupied Territories, which have been converted to synagogues, museums, stables among other alterations.
The delegation appreciated the sensitivity of the Commission officials‘ response to the concerns they expressed, and called for further exchange and dialogue. The organizations represented undertook to provide the Commission with input for future investigations, and other relevant information. The groups represented included the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, the American Committee on Jerusalem, the American Muslim Council, American Muslims for Jerusalem, the Council on American-Islamic Relations, the Holy Land Christian Ecumenical Foundation, the Muslim Public Affairs Council and the National Council of Churches.