It was a bright and sunny morning when Rabbis for Human Rights organised a solidarity walk on Tuesday through the Israeli administered H2 area of Hebron, where growing tension has forced the World Council of Churches (WCC) to temporarily suspend its presence of ecumenical accompaniers.
A group of nine rabbis and three ecumenical accompaniers gathered at the Cave of the Patriarchs to embark on a peaceful manifestation of solidarity covering most of the H2 area.
Rabbi Raanan Mallek, a long-time human rights advocate, who participated in the walk, is pleased with the outcome: "We feel a strong need to create a rabbinic response to human rights violations. This first organised visit in Hebron was a gathering experience to understand the situation and a significant first step in our efforts to transform conflict into peace. We received quite a blessing from the residents we met and talked to along the way," he said.
The solidarity walk was a decisive reaction to last week's reports about harassment against ecumenical accompaniers by Jewish settlers and Israeli defence forces in Hebron.
A formal official statement from Rabbis for Human Rights condemning harassment of any kind in Hebron or elsewhere, and expressing solidarity with everyone who lives in fear and insecurity, was issued today.
"RHR's attitude toward the non-Jewish public living in our midst and in our environment must serve as a model for morality in Israel and the world and not as an example of injustice and hatred", the statement also says.
Rabbis for Human Rights now intends to meet with the representatives of the Jewish community in Hebron in order to hear their perspectives and try to calm the holy city for Jews and Muslims alike.
The withdrawal of WCC ecumenical accompaniers last week coincided with the Israeli government's decision not to renew the mandate of the Temporary International Presence in Hebron which has been in place since 1997.
WCC has welcomed the initiative from Rabbis for Human Rights, hoping that it will help calm things down so that the important mission of the ecumenical accompaniment programme can be resumed.
"Solidarity with the most vulnerable, unity against violence and oppression, and hopes for reconciliation into one human family are crucial elements in our peace-building efforts", concluded WCC general secretary Rev Dr Olav Fykse Tveit, adding that Rabbis for Human Rights action of solidarity and willingness to hear all sides sets an example for all people of faith.
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