Plans by the Israeli Government to build a military base on the Mount of Olives, have been condemned by Christian, Jewish, Muslim and secular commentators.
The area, which includes the site at which Jesus is believed to have been arrested, has sacred and historical significance in Christianity, Judaism and Islam. It is also in East Jerusalem, Palestinian land that is occupied by the Israeli army.
According to the Israeli Ministry of the Interior, the building will cover 42,000 square metres and house colleges for training Israeli soldiers. Israeli citizens have until mid-December to object to the plans, although momentum is building for an international campaign.
Israel’s Ministry of the Interior declared, “The site that was eventually chosen is the optimal one, in view of its proximity to the university on the one hand and the possibility to contribute to the life of the city on the other”.
But Hagit Ofran of the Israeli group Peace Now insisted, “The location, at one of the most sensitive and disputed areas in Jerusalem, is a little more than provocative”.
She added, “One can’t think of Mount of Olives as real estate. It is important for the three monotheistic religions.”
At the base of the Mount of Olives is the Garden of Gethsemane, where Jesus was arrested prior to his crucifixion by the Roman imperial authorities. According to Luke’s Gospel, the Mount of Olives was also the site of Jesus’ final meeting with his disciples before his ascent to heaven.
There has been a Jewish cemetery on the Mount for over 3,000 years. A number of Jews have chosen to be buried in it in the belief that the resurrection of the dead will begin there when the Messiah comes.
Within Islamic teaching, a thin bridge will connect the Mount of Olives and the Haram A-Sharif (the Dome of the Rock mosque) at the end of days.
Ofran said, “On top of all this holiness, the Mount of Olives is under dispute between us and the Palestinians, and we will have to solve this dispute only through an agreement. Bringing the military academy to this spot is quite insensitive and if I may add, not so smart, of our government.”
Israeli peace campaigners have accused their government of fast-tracking the planning process for political reasons.
Daniel Seidemann, an Israeli lawyer specialising in conflict resolution, said, “I have received a number of phone calls from foreign governments saying, ‘What can you possibly be thinking? You are engaged in an act of self-ostracism.’”.
British Quaker Hannah Brock, who has previously worked on human rights issues in Bethlehem, has worked with other campaigners to set up a petition calling on the Israeli government not to go ahead with the plans.
She points out that the site is on occupied land, and adds that she would oppose a military base by any army or government on such a sacred and sensitive site.
She told news reporters, “A military college is yet another poignant and potent reminder of the militarisation and militarism of this ‘Holy Land': the threats of violence, the visibility of machines that can hurt, maim and kill people, and the willingness to use them. The contrast in this place where Jesus was gathered up to heaven couldn’t be more stark.”
To the founder, Lord Baden-Powell, it was as much a peril for a young man to avoid as gambling, drunkenness, swearing or the wiles of the opposite sex.
The Telegraph reports:
But more than a century after the Scouting movement was founded, it is finally preparing to recognise atheism on a par with Christianity and other religions.
The association is consulting its members on plans to draft an alternative oath without references to God, allowing atheists to become full members and Scout group leaders for the first time.
It follows accusation of discrimination and intolerance after an 11-year-old boy was barred from full membership because he said he did not believe in God.
George Pratt was told he could not join 1st Midsomer Norton Scout Group in Somerset, after saying he felt unable to make the traditional promise to do his best to do his “duty to God and to the Queen, to help other people and to keep the Scout Law”…
But although atheists who decline to swear the oath are allowed to become “associate” members and even help run Scout groups as helpers, they are barred from becoming full members or leaders.
Writing in The Daily Telegraph today, the chief executive of the Scout Association, Derek Twine, argues that the current rules simply force people to become “hypocritical or dishonest” by taking the promise against their own beliefs.
Describing the move as an “historic change”, he adds: “All bodies have to stay fresh and current, while remaining true to their founding principles.”
He goes on: “Let me be quite clear and reassure readers of all backgrounds: the original Scout Promise will remain untouched, but for those who have no faith, there would be a new alternative.”
The shift in policy comes in marked contrast to the stance adopted by Baden-Powell. In his book of advice for boys, “Rovering for Success”, Baden-Powell ranked atheism alongside gambling, excessive drinking, smoking and even syphilis as a danger to be avoided.
Likening organisations for atheists as “sects”, he spoke of adherents as “enemies of the worst sort” and warned against “very offensive” attacks on religious belief.
“If you are really to make your way to success – ie happiness – you must not only avoid being sucked in by irreligious humbugs, but you must have a religious basis to your life,” he wrote.
Yesterday Terry Sanderson, President of the National Secular Society, said: “This is a move in the right direction.
“By adjusting their promise to include people without a religious belief, the Scouts will bring themselves in line with the reality of 21st century Britain, where more than two thirds of young people say they have no religious belief.”
Yesterday George Pratt’s father Nick said: “It’s good news, we will wait and see what transpires but if they let George back in that will be mission accomplished.”