JERUSALEM – Clergy representing Christians, Jews and Muslims met Wednesday near the Jerusalem synagogue where five people died in a grisly Palestinian attack to plead for tolerance amid spiking regional tensions.
The group stood in a sun-dappled courtyard outside the synagogue where two Palestinian cousins armed with meat cleavers, knives and a pistol killed four worshippers and a policeman Tuesday. After a brief gun battle, security forces shot the assailants dead.
Absent from the meeting were Muslim authorities from Jerusalem and senior Israeli rabbis.
"People from all religions which are here in the Holy Land want to express the common belief that this is not the way," said Rabbi Michael Melchior, a former Israeli legislator who is active in interfaith efforts. "We can have our differences, political differences, our religious differences, but this is not the way."
Melchior's moderation seems an increasingly scarce commodity in this region, which in recent weeks has been riven by religious tensions. During that time 11 people have died at the hands of Palestinian attackers -- most in Jerusalem, but also in Tel Aviv and the West Bank.
For their part Israeli Jews have also engaged in periodic trashing of Palestinian property, including cars and olive groves. Visits by Jewish worshippers to a sensitive Jerusalem holy site have also raised tensions and drawn accusations that Israel is plotting to take over the site, a charge Israel denies.
With Greek Orthodox Patriarch Theofilis III of Jerusalem and Latin Patriarch Fuad Twal in attendance, Sheikh Samir Assi, the imam of the Al-Jazaar mosque in the northern Israeli city of Acre, also condemned the Palestinian attack on the synagogue.
"We came to this place to take a stand toward this criminal act, which involves an assault against the sanctity of the house of God, and against the unarmed worshippers," Assi said.
With feelings still raw, not all residents were accepting the message. An ultra-Orthodox Jewish woman added her own commentary as Assi was leaving the area.
"You don't have faith, you garbage," she shouted. "You don't have faith."