Haifa: A City of Coexistence Shaken by Religious Disputes
The Clash at Stella Maris Church
Haifa, a city known for its peaceful coexistence, has recently witnessed a clash between Jewish pilgrims, primarily from the Breslov Hasidic movement, and Christian worshippers at the Stella Maris Church. The church is a significant Catholic site, believed by some to be the burial place of the Prophet Elisha.
Breslov pilgrims have begun visiting the church as part of their trips centered around the graves of Jewish sages. They express their desire to pray outside the church, touching a corner of the building’s facade. However, Christian locals have formed volunteer guard groups to prevent this, accusing the Jewish pilgrims of fabricating a Jewish significance for the church with the tacit support of the hardline right-wing government, with the aim of dispossessing local Christians.
Protest and Counter Accusations
In response to the conflict, thousands of Christians are anticipated to hold a protest at the church. This move had been planned prior to the recent clashes and is associated with previous attempts by Haredi Jews to pray near the church. Jewish pilgrims who have organized trips to the church repudiate the accusations made by the Christian locals, describing their behavior as illegal and intolerant.
Police Intervention and the Unclear Beginning
Following the clashes, the police have temporarily blocked the road leading to the church. This intervention, however, does not clarify how the conflicts began. The police have yet to comment on their deployment outside the church and their assessment of the situation. Despite the tension, the clashes have ended without serious injuries.
Haifa: An Island of Sanity Amidst the Volatile Landscape of Israel
These recent events present a stark contrast to the serenity of Haifa, a port city on Israel’s northern coast. Frequently referred to as an “island of sanity” in a country where flare-ups often kill the innocent, Haifa has been a haven for residents of chronically volatile Israel. As Hani Elfar, former director of Beit Hagefen Arab Jewish Cultural Center, puts it, “Haifa has become a symbol of coexistence. Jews and Arabs lived together [here] before the establishment of the state of Israel.”
Haifa’s Multicultural Inhabitants
Part of the reason Haifa has been able to function successfully with its multicultural inhabitants is because Jews and Arabs weren’t suddenly forced together into the same place when Israel became a country in 1948. They had already established a status quo where “historically, Jews and Arabs lived together side by side.” Haifa is the third largest city in Israel, with a population of nearly 300,000. The city is home to a diverse mix of religious and ethnic communities, including Jews, Arab Christians, Muslims, Druze, and the Bahá’í Faith.
Coexistence Amidst Ongoing Tensions
The constant threat that simmering tension in Jerusalem could boil over is absent in Haifa. The city feels lighter, with beautiful views of the Mediterranean bay from a cityscape that climbs the green mountainside. However, subtle visual clues suggest things are different here: The Jewish Star of David, a Christian cross, and the Islamic crescent are all displayed outside Beit Hagefen – an uncommon site in a country where divisions between the three religions regularly cost people their lives.
Despite the recent clashes, the spirit of coexistence continues to prevail in Haifa. However, this incident serves as a stark reminder that peace and understanding are not to be taken for granted, even in a city revered as an “island of sanity.”
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