(Communicated by the Office of the President)
President Shimon Peres, today (Monday, 30 December 2013), hosted a reception at his Jerusalem residence in honor of the New Year for the heads of the Christian denominations in Israel
President Peres delivered remarks at the reception and condemned recent "price tag" attacks against holy sites. He stressed that Israel will not tolerate attacks on holy sites: "The State of Israel will not tolerate aggression against members of the clergy. I feel angry at the insults some religious leaders in Israel have faced recently. Israel has always been and will always remain committed to freedom of worship, freedom of religion. We will continue to guarantee access to holy sites for all. My prayers for the coming year are that harmony and coexistence reign in this Holy City, as an example and an inspiration for the togetherness of faiths across the world. Wherever intolerance appears we will continue to take firm action against it. There is no place for violence in our society, even more so when it targets people or places of faith."
President Peres stressed that the international community must act against extremist terror organizations and condemned the recent attacks in Russia
: "We must stand united against the dark movements of fanaticism across the world. In the past two days, in Russia, too many innocent victims were killed by acts of madness. I speak for all of us present today when I say that our thoughts are with the families of the victims and our prayers go out to the full and speedy recovery of the wounded."
President Peres continued and added that peace is at the top of Israel's agenda: "Our peace talks with the Palestinians are ongoing; they are the greatest promise for our people and for the Palestinians. There is no solution other than two states for two peoples. An agreement between us can bring a change in the relations between Jews and Muslims and between all faiths. It is time for us and the Palestinians to move away from the language of enemies and opponents and embrace a dialogue of friendship and cooperation."
President Peres ended by delivering a greeting to the world for the New Year and said, "There is more that united than divides us. We look forward with optimism. This house is your house and its doors are always open before you. I turn to you, as faith leaders, as community leaders, as people of peace and ask that you build bridges of understanding and paths of peace. This year is looking forward to the visit of Pope Francis. He is an outstanding example of a new spirit towards faith of prayer. He kept the old values but brought a new spirit of hope, of tolerance and of love. On the eve of the New Year, I wish you all a year of peace, a year of hope."
Interior Minister Gideon Sa'ar, spoke and said, "We are committed and we remain committed and we will continue to ensure freedom of religion and religious practice in Israel for all religious denominations and groups. The Ministry of the Interior, under my leadership, attributes great importance to the relationship between the churches and all Israel's government institutions. We are pleased to allow free entry to all people who wish to pray at the holy sites. This weekend we all watched a TV report that described attacks on Christian clergy and holy sites here in Israel, we will deal with this type of crime with a strong response. I condemned this phenomenon immediately. The Israeli government will not stand for any attacks on the holy sites and against the followers of any religion anywhere in this country. The gangs responsible for price tag attacks at these holy sites that offended religious clergy and followers do not represent the Jewish people and its values. I hope these criminals will be apprehended and brought to justice."
Greek Orthodox Patriarch His Beatitude Theophilos III also addressed the invited guests on behalf of the Christian leaders and said, "We take this opportunity to express our appreciation in particular to you, Mr. President for the determined and strong voice that you have been raising in condemning the wave of "Price Tag" crimes in our country, and especially in Jerusalem. In our capacity as the Heads of the Church communities we understand all too well the complexities of managing large numbers of people and we commend the police authorities and the security forces for their hard and responsible work."