In their strongest statement on the issue to date, the three major Christian denominations in Israel and the West Bank closed church doors for two days in November to protest an Israeli proposal to permit construction of a mosque alongside Nazareth's Church of the Annunciation.
Leaders of the Greek Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and Armenian churches said the Israeli decision, in effect, constitutes discrimination against the local Christian community and a government show of favoritism toward a small group of Muslim "fundamentalists."
"Peaceful co-existence and confident harmony have recently been shaken by a series of sad events that have been painful and counterproductive for the majority of both faith communities," the letter said.
"Despite the ruling of the court of law in Israel that the land adjacent to the Basilica of the Annunciation is state land, the government has supported a small group of fundamentalists who are intent on building a mosque only a few meters away from the historical church of the Annunciation in Nazareth."
The decision to close the churches in midweek was intended to express the "disapprobation of all the churches at the way that their rights have been summarily violated," added the letter, signed by Greek Orthodox Patriarch Diodoris I, Latin (Catholic) Patriarch Michel Sabbah, and Armenian Patriarch Torkom Manoogian.
"There can't be a shadow of a doubt concerning the government commitment toward Christian freedom of worship in every site in Israel," said Shlomo Ben Ami, Israeli Minister of Public Security, in a statement that expressed regret about the protest.
"Any sort of damage or a threat of damage to the legitimate religious interests of the Christians in the state of Israel as a whole and especially ...1