The Council of the Religious Institutions of the Holy Land was established in 2005. It is the first ever consultative body representing the highest official religious authorities in the Holy Land encompassing two peoples and three religions.
The establishment of the Council followed on from the historic first ever meeting of religious leaders from the Holy Land that took place in Alexandria, Egypt, in 2002, initiated by the then Archbishop of Canterbury and hosted by the Grand Imam of Al Azhar. At the conclusion of the meeting the leaders issued a joint declaration calling for peace in the Holy Land and describing violence in the name of religions as the desecration of religion itself. However most of the participants at this meeting were there ad personam and the capacity to ensure continuity was lacking. Accordingly the Council was established to ensure the ongoing engagement of the leadership and representation of the official religious institutions of the Jewish, Christian and Muslim faith communities in the Holy Land.
Thus the Council seeks to facilitate open avenues of communication between the religious leaders, particularly in order to :
- Try and prevent conflict over religious sites and issues and to diffuse tensions when such conflicts erupt;
- Counteract the misrepresentation of any of the religions or their followers;
- Promote peace and reconciliation so that two peoples and three faiths may live in peace and in dignity in the Holy Land and particularly in Jerusalem;
- Promote education for mutual respect and acceptance in schools and in the media;
- Demonstrate through example that differences can and should be addressed through frank and open dialogue rather than through violence;
- Provide consultation to respective government leaders on an ongoing basis, and by example of the Council's collaborative work remind them that the interests of one community can only be served if the humanity and interests of other communities are respected and valued.
The Council meets on a regular basis. In 2007 and once again in 2012, all the members of the Council travelled to Washington and met with senior American religious and political leaders.
On various occasions, the Council or individual members within it have met with foreign and national political leaders. These meetings are an opportunity for members of the Council to raise issues of critical importance to interfaith and inter-communal relations and to demonstrate the value of interreligious cooperation.
The Council issues public statements in response to events of a religious or interreligious nature, and members of the Council have intervened to help diffuse serious conflicts in the Holy Land.
In 2008 two executives were appointed to establish the CRIHL secretariat in Jerusalem. They share offices with the organisation Search for Common Ground.
The Council is working through the help and support of the Norwegian Government and the Norwegian Church. Rev. Dr Canon Trond Bakkevig is the facilitator and convener of the Council.