Yesterday, we visited the Baha'i World Center in Haifa, often referred to as the
Eighth Wonder of the World. The terraces, gardens and buildings are among the most spectacular sites in all of Israel, and they have nothing to do with Judaism, save the fact that Judaism teaches respect and tolerance for all peoples. Israel has proudly dedicated one of its most precious slopes on Mount Carmel to the besieged religion and traditions of the Baha'i people. Perched high above the port of Haifa, the Baha'i Center features magnificently manicured terraces and gardens, sprouting a glorious array of plants and flowers. The garden terraces extend nearly a kilometer up the side of Mount Carmel (with 750 steps), bracketing the Shrine of the Báb, the second most holy place in the Bahá'í world. It is the resting place of the Báb, who is regarded by Bahá'ís as a Messenger of God and forerunner to Bahá'u'lláh (the Bab's prophetic successor) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bah%C3%A1.
Ironically, Israel is the only country in the Middle East where the Shrine and its adjoining structures are safe from attack and destruction; at least from within the country. Last summer, Hezbollah's Katyusha rockets, fired indiscriminately all over Haifa and its environs, could easily have destroyed these sacred sites.
The Bahai's are Iran's largest religious minority. Yet a few months after the 1979 Revolution, the Bab's house in Shiraz was destroyed by the Ayatollah's regime. The Bab's remains are today buried in the golden shrine on Mount Carmel. In Israel, a country often accused of apartheid, ethnic cleansing, and of having 'the worst human rights record in the world,' the shrine of the Bab is not just tolerated, but given pride of place on some of the most coveted real estate in all of Israel.
The shrine, terraces and gardens of the World Baha'i Center are open to everyone - tourist, pilgrim, Christian, Jew and Muslim. The Baha'i faith is characterized by religious tolerance, a concept that is also a cornerstone of the modern state of Israel, where all faiths are guaranteed the freedom of worship.
In every other country in the Middle East, the Baha’is are banned or persecuted. They cannot attend school, get married, hold passports, publish or distribute their scriptures, seek converts, or worship in public. In Israel they are given safe haven and honored.
Curious, isn't it? The Bahai's, facing persecution all over the Middle East, including in the land of their origins, Iran, have sought to build and expand their refuge, their shrines and holiest sites of their faith in of all places, Israel. Perhaps we should ask why. The answer is simple. Israel continues to be a haven of religious freedom for not just Jews, but Christians, Muslims, Druze, Bahai's, and even smaller communities like Hindus and Buddhists.
Article 1 of Israel’s 1967 Protection of Holy Places Law proclaims that ‘The Holy Places shall be protected from desecration and any other violation and from anything likely to violate the freedom of access of the members of the different religions to the places sacred to them or their feelings with regard to those places.’
And in the 'Delcaration of the Establishment of the State of Israel' it is enshrined that
Ingathering of the Exiles; it will foster the development of the country for the
benefit of all its inhabitants; it will be based on freedom, justice and peace as
envisaged by the prophets of Israel; it will ensure complete equality of social
and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex; it will
guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture; it
will safeguard the Holy Places of all religions; and it will be faithful to the
principles of the Charter of the United Nations.