(June 27, 2013 / JNS) JERUSALEM—The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, affirmed Israel’s “right to exist in security and peace” during his visit to the Jewish state on Thursday.
Welby, on a five-day tour of Egypt, Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian territories this week, met with members of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate in Jerusalem, visited the Yad Vashem Holocaust museum, and prayed at the Western Wall.
“The clear policy of the Church of England, [and] my own very clear and very fluent feeling, is that the State of Israel is a legitimate state like every other state in the world and has a right to exist in security and peace within internationally agreed boundaries,” he told a press conference at the Israeli Chief Rabbinate.
British Jewish groups criticized Welby last year for abstaining from a vote in the General Synod that endorsed the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI), an organization of Christians who monitor human rights abuses in the Palestinian territories.
The Board of Deputies of British Jews said the program lacks an understanding of the conflict. EAPPI’s “ecumenical accompaniers” have “almost no grasp of the suffering of normal Israelis,” it said.
In May, Welby said he regretted not voting against the motion, saying it did not accurately reflect the complexity of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In Jerusalem on Thursday, Welby called on all people in the region to live in peace.
“All the people of the region without exception from whatever background they come, whether it’s Israeli or Palestinian or any other, also have the right to exist in peace and security within properly agreed frontiers,” he said. “And those who support the legitimate right of people to exist in peace, justice and security are wonderful people and it’s a very important thing that they are there and that they keep us on task.”
With U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry arriving on Thursday for his fifth visit to Israel since he began his term, Welby said he hopes Kerry will succeed in reaching a peace deal.
“Obviously anyone who is seeking to put together a settlement in this area, we must all wish them God speed and every blessing in what they’re doing,” Welby said. “He is clearly personally deeply committed and I don’t think anyone in this area has any illusions about the complexity about the task he’s undertaking.”
But Welby said the rich religious heritage of the region inspired his trip, not the conflict.
“This is the cradle of three great world faiths. It’s the cradle of our own faith, of the Christian faith. It’s where Jesus lived and walked and died and rose again, and it is in so many ways the center of the world, in so many extraordinary ways. What possible reason could there be to delay?” he said.
Soon after becoming archbishop in November 2012, Welby discovered that his father was Jewish. He also recently learned that he had lost relatives in the Holocaust.
In light of his family’s history, he called his visit to Yad Vashem “an extraordinarily personal and emotional moment,” but declined to go into greater detail.
The archbishop offered comfort to Christians in the region who are experiencing persecution by Islamist groups and others, but urged them to turn the other cheek in the face of attacks.
“I’ve had a lot of experience of working in areas where there’s been mass killing of Christians,” he said. “I’ve stood by the mass graves of Christians who have been killed within days while their killers were still watching. I have no illusions about this.”
“It’s the hardest thing we can ever say to people, but Jesus tells us to love our enemies,” he added. “It’s the hardest thing when you’re being violently attacked. It’s an indescribable challenge. But God gives grace so often for that, to love our enemies.”
With former South African leader Nelson Mandela still in critical condition, Welby offered his prayers for him, his family and the country.
“We are praying constantly for President Mandela,” he said. “Especially for his family, for the people of South Africa and for peace in their hearts and minds at what must be a very traumatic time for them.”
The archbishop met with Pope Tawadros II, the head of Egypt’s Coptic Church, the Grand Imam Sheik Mohamed Ahmed el-Tayeb, and HMA Ambassador James Watt in separate meetings in Cairo on Monday. On Wednesday, Welby met with the Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh in Amman to discuss instability in the Middle East, including the dire situation for Syrian refugees, and opportunities for building peace between religions.
“It was a privilege to be so warmly received with such hospitality by the foreign minister,” Welby said in statement. “We had a very productive discussion about the political situation in the region, and especially about how we might cooperate to help foster peace, and secure the traditional fabric of the whole society in the region.”
King Abdullah II visited Lambeth Palace last November.