Panel at the Emmau-El Synagogue
San Francisco
September 18th, 2000
Fr. Labib Kobti

I want to thank the Women's Interfaith Dialogue on the Middle East and the Congregation of the  Emanu-El Synagogue for inviting me to represent the Christian point of view on the Issue of the future of Jerusalem. The good relations between the Catholic Archdiocese of San Francisco and the Jewish Community as well with the Muslim Community of California cannot but be strengthened by the three Abrahamic religions, Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

I pray, as I am sure you do, that our Interfaith dialogue will be productive. Our religious institutions represent more than 80% of the San Francisco Bay Area. I believe this dialogue is a bold and admirable attempt for people of good will to be more open, more sharing, and more cooperative in trying to stand for what is right, just, good for all of us and all the people living here and in other countries of mutual concern.

I will, as the best as I can, try to represent the Christian point of view, it is one of the viewpoints that need to be discussed and shared.
I represent in California the church of Jerusalem, as I am a priest from the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, headed by Patriarch Michel Sabbah of Jerusalem and the point view of the Catholic Church as whole.

I will start by giving:
1) A brief history of Jerusalem
2) An over view on the Church on Jerusalem
3) A summary of the vision of the Church for a just future for Jerusalem.
 

1- A brief history of Jerusalem.

I’ll begin with brief history of Jerusalem looking back just 2000 years when Jerusalem, like all of Europe, North Africa and the Middle East was under the Roman Empire.
In the Year 70 C.E. responding to a rebellion the Emperor Titus destroyed Jerusalem along with the Temple built by King Herod the Great of Judea.

 The year 135 C.E Roman Emperor Hadrian in response to a second rebellion ordered the Roman garrison to cart away the ruined Temple and  constructed a Roman city a top the ruins of Jerusalem and called it Alia Capitolina in his honor, Hadrian, whose clan name was Aelius and Capitolina for the Capitoline Triad gods: Jupiter, Juno and Minerva.

Jerusalem lost its name and its mission to be the Center of the One God after the destruction of the Jewish Temple by the Romans. In fact, Alia Capitolina under Hadrian was changed from a monotheistic city to the pagan worship of many gods.

Alia Capitolina regained its mission to be the City of the One God when Emperor Constantine converted to Christianity, stopped the persecution of the Christians and Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire, with the Edict of Milan in the year 315 C.E. His mother Helena built the basilica of the Holy Sepulcher  in Jerusalem around 325-335 C.E. The Romano-Bizantine Empire of Constantine destroyed the sanctuary of Jupiter on the Temple Mount and abandoned the place.

From 632-636 C.E, Arab took over Alia Capitolina. The Roman  name Aelia Capitolina remained as name of the city until the tenth century when it was changed  to Al-Quds or "Beit al-Maqdis" a literal translation of the Hebrew name "Beit Hamiqdash", meaning the Temple.

History tell us, unfortunately, that the Temple Mount in Alia Capitolina became for centuries a garbage dumpsite. It was restored and cleaned by Caliph Omar Ben Al-Khattab and his associates. Caliph 'Abd al-Malik ibn Marwan built  the world famous Dome of the Rock on the Temple Mount between AD 685-691 over the ruins of the Roman pagan gods. Arab Muslims gave back to the city then its authentic mission as the City of the ONE GOD. In fact, Muslims regarded Al-Quds as the first direction of prayer and the third holy place, after Mecca and Medina. Al-Aqsa mosque was built later in the early 8th century.

They, I mean the Arab Muslims, allowed the Jews to come back to Jerusalem on 638 banned by the Romans and the Church of that time for centuries. A small number of Jews returned to the City and lived side by side with the Population of Jerusalem formed by Christians and Muslims from different origins: Canaanites, Arabs, Greek, Romans, Syrians, Egyptians, etc.
 In the year 1099 the European the Crusades began the first attempt to reconquer the Holy Land for Christianity. Jerusalem became the capital of a Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem, they restored the walls of the city. The name reverted to what it had been (Jerusalem) and was the capital of the Crusader Kingdom which lasted for about 88 years.

Saladin's armies recaptured Jerusalem in 1187. Saladin restored the walls of the city in the year 1192. The walls were also restored under the Muslims on 1229 and 1243. The actual walls were restored by the Ottoman Solomon the Magnificent in 1536.
Al-Quds East and West, Jerusalem was then until 1948 inhabited by a majority of Arab Palestinians (Muslims and Christians), and a minority of Jews. The old city was divided into sectors: Christian, Muslim and Jewish and Armenian.
In 1948 the Jewish were expelled from East Jerusalem and the Old City under the Jordanians, when Arabs Palestinians were expelled by the Israelis from West Jerusalem the new City.

On 1967 the Israeli Army captured East Jerusalem and the Old City. The City since then  was considered by the UN as part of the Occupied Territories, along with the West Bank, The Sinai, The Gaza Strip, and The Golan Heights.

Jerusalem has been officially regarded by virtually every country in the world INCLUDING the United States as what it was termed in UN General Assembly resolution 181 - a "Corpus Separatum", an open city to be internationally administered.   It was the passage of UNGA 181 "The Partition Plan" which gave internationally recognized legitimacy to the formation of Isreal within the borders of the former Palestine Mandate territory.  However, Jerusalem was never part of either the proposed Jewish State or the Proposed Arab State, but was to be a separate entity entirely.  The United States Government (as well as most of the rest of the world) still recognizes this to be standing international law.   It is for this reason that foreign embassies are located in Tel Aviv which was always to be part of the Jewish State in the Partition Plan and NOT Jerusalem.

Israel annexed Jerusalem  in 1980 and called it “The eternal and undivided Capital Israel” as undivided and Eternal capital of Israel in 1980. This claim has never  been accepted by the UN or any other recognized International bodies.

I would like to conclude this capsule and of course, incomplete history, by just noting that the Temple was destroyed by the Roman about 600 years before the conquest by the Muslim Arabs who constructed what is known to them as “The Holy Sanctuary”  which includes the Dome of the Rock and Al-Aqsa Mosque on the ruins of Roman Pagan temples which had been constructed over the ruins of the Temple and renamed City “Al-Quds, Biet-AlMaqdis, Beit-Hamikdash and its mission to be the city of the One God, which happens to be the same God Jews and Christians worship under many different names; Allah for the Muslims, many names for the Jews including Elohim, Adonai, and traditionally unpronounceable YHVH, the true name, known only to the High Priest of the Temple, commonly called Yahweh which Christians corrupted to the name Jehovah.Thus in my view it not reponsable to say that the Arab Muslims or the Arab Christians of Jerusalem have taken anything from the old city of David or its Temple.

     2) An over view on the Church stands on Jerusalem

Before I speak about the view of the Church. I need to mention that Jerusalem for us, people of the Holy Land, JERUSALEM is not a Christian or Muslim, but it is a Palestinian question. Because both the Muslims  and the Christians of the Holy Land are Palestinians. One people, one past, onepresent, one fate, one challenge, one future, a future of Justice, peace and TRUTH that they want to build, sincerely and justly with their brothers and sisters the Jews of the Holy Land.

And now about the view of the Church:

“The Catholic Church's interest in the Middle East goes back to the very first years of the Church's existence. Christians have always revered this region of the world, where God has drawn close to mankind: there the Jewish people had its founding experience of the Covenant; there Jesus lived, died and rose; it was there that the Prophet Mohammed developed his religious and juridical thought. So it is a region where for centuries faith and culture, faith and politics have met, sometimes fruitfully, often in confrontation.” The Most Reverend Jean-Louis Tauran, Secretariat of State stated on March on March 10, 1999, during his visit to Washington, DC. By saying the Catholic Church the foreign minister of the Holy See meant all the Christians of the World.

The Vatican has recognized the State of Israel and the Palestinian Authority and has established diplomatic relations and exchange of ambassadors with both of them. The Vatican role differs from the political powers who are involved in their relation with nations, states and organizations on military, economic, cultural, industrial goals. The Vatican has no military, economic or industrial goals in its relations, and this frees the Holy See and gives him the chance to say an independent message to the world on the international and national levels. The Vatican tries to play a moral role, a role to say all the truth to the nations.

 On the Issue of the Middle East  the Vatican was, despite of its limits, the defender of justice in the region and promoter of dialogue, nonviolence, advocator of a comprehensive peace. This role was appreciated and respected by both the Israeli and Palestinian Authorities during the visit of Pope John Paul II in may to the Holy Land.

Let me mention some historical facts on Christian groups regarding Jerusalem

A- On November 14, 1994, the Christian Head of Churches of Jerusalem wrote a MEMORANDUM "The Significance of Jerusalem for Christians" signed by Greek Orthodox Patriarch, Latin Patriarch, Armenian Patriarch, Custos of the Holy Land, CopticArchbishop, Syriac Archbishop, Ethiopian Archbishop, Anglican Bishop, Greek Catholic Patriarchal Vicar, Lutheran Bishop,Maronite Patriarchal Vicar, Catholic Syriac Vicar. That document was supported by the Vatican, many Christian Churches, the Muslim Communities in the Middle East.

B- On March 6,1995 Eight US Christian leaders in support of this same document wrote a letter, signed by : Cardinal William H. Keeler, President National Council of Catholic Bishops; Kara Newell, Executive Director, American Friends Service Committee, Father Gerlad L. Brown SS, President Catholic Conference of Major Superiors (CMSM), Archbishop Lakovos, Primate of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of North and South America; Bishop Edmond L Browning, President Bishop and Primate of the Episcopal Church; Metropolitan Philip Saliba, Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America; Bishop Herbert W Chilstrom, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America; Robert A Seiple, President World Vision. (This last one will be come under Clinton the director of the Ambassador-at-Large for international Religious Freedom, US. Department of State)

C- On September 6th, 2000, some days ago only, 15 US Christian leaders remind President Clinton of their 1995 letter and emphasized the same issue of Jerusalem insisting on  the same principles that President Clinton did not respect.
They came with these points

1-That the administration was backing away from the long-term U.S. policy that East Jerusalem is subject to U.N. Security Council Resolution 242 regarding territories occupied by Israel armed forces in 1967. And the occupation of East Jerusalem is illegal according to the International Law.

2-That the significance of Jerusalem to the international community must receive higher consideration and must be a matter to be determined solely by the governing officials of Israel and the PLO under the auspices of the United States government.

3-That the administration, despite on international criticism, is not using its considerable influence to halt Israeli construction in East Jerusalem and continued expansion into Palestinian areas.

4- That the current situation of the closure of Jerusalem to Palestinians  of the West Bank and Gaza unless they obtain a permit for entry from Israel is totally unacceptable and discriminatory practice.

5- We are distressed that these and other Israeli practices have continued during your leadership of the peace process, and the destructive effort by the US Congress to move the U.S embassy from Tel-Aviv to Jerusalem is extremely provocative.

 Many Christian, Muslim and Jewish voices from all over the world, using similar stands, are demanding a just solution and have called the US Administration to act as an Honest broker and respect the UN Resolutions. Only the International Law can bring a just and comprehensive solution for Jerusalem.
 

At this will bring me to the last point of my talk

3) A summary of the vision of the Church for a just future for Jerusalem.
 
 

1) Arab Christians of the Holy Land lament these crimes committed against innocent Jews by the West. These atrocities have been committed against them by the West, when Jews were living in peace and in harmony with their cousins the Arab Muslims and Christians at that time in Lebanon, Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Palestine, Yemen…

2) Suffering should help all of us to work for a just and comprehensive peace as says Isaiah the prophet: “”Justice will bring about peace; Truth will produce calm and security” Isaiah 32: 17

3) We believe that the Israelis and Palestinians should be equal partners for Justice and peace and no one should feel inferior to another.

4) We accept all the UN Resolutions regarding a peaceful solution for the Israeli-Palestinian and Jerusalem as well as the Forth Geneva Convention. In fact, nonetheless, we must bear in mind again  that international law is the only way to bring about a just and peaceful solution, that is to say, a durable solution.

5) The UN Resolutions 242, 338 and 194 and the Forth Geneva Convention speak specifically about the prohibition of the acquisition of territory by force (even if defensively) and state that Israel should withdraw from Occupied Territories taken by force by the Israeli Army on 1967 including East Jerusalem.

6) The attitude of the Christians with regard to the territorial situation of Jerusalem is necessarily the same as that of the international law, the United Nations Security Council Resolutions and international legitimacy. And saying that it is not the position of the Church that I am giving here, BUT the POSITION of the International Community that the Church respects: the part of the city militarily occupied in 1967 and annexed and declared the capital of the state of Israel, is occupied territory, and all Israeli measures which exceed the power of a belligerent occupant under international law are therefore null and void. This includes all the Israeli settlements, the attempt to alter the demographic and physical nature of Jerusalem, the home demolitions, the land and Ids confiscation, revocation of residency rights and monopolization of the resources.

a) The Holy city should be open to all the people. The policy of closure since 1993 should be lifted and the Palestinians should have full access to Jerusalem as anybody else
b) We condemn all kinds of Terrorism, and we recognize that terrorist acts have been done unfortunately against innocent Israelis as well against innocent Palestinians, and we condemn and we have condemned always such acts of terrorism.  Namely we are against Palestinian Terrorism, as well against Israeli Terrorist.  But we cannot accept that every act of real and legal resistance to Occupation is terrorism. Legal resistance is admitted by international law and it is the right of any occupied people to resist foreign forces with any means at their disposal. We call only on non-violent means. We do not accept again any violent means that kills innocents. Many countries including the USA have had years of resistance against occupation. We believe also that terrorism can mean also confiscation of  the houses or lands or identity of  peaceful and innocent people any where in the world.

c) Palestinian refugees must be allowed back to their homes. It is a legal, rightful and truthful claim. Our innocent and beloved Jewish survivors of the Nazi Holocaust are asking Switzerland, Germany, Poland, Italy, France and the world the same rights that the Palestinians are asking after about 50 years of dispossession. As we have stood with the right of the innocent Jewish survivors we stand as a Church today with about 4 million Palestinians refugees for their Right to Return.

7) Jerusalem must be a shared city; the capital of two nations where the five components of the Holy Land society: the Israelis and Palestinians, the Jews, Christians and Muslims will be respected and where they should feel all equal with the same rights and responsibilities. There must be an equal partnership between the Israelis and Palestinians based on mutual respect and not the logic of massive disparities of power: Israel is a major military force; the Palestinians don't even control their own borders. To lead to lasting peace there must be an equitable solution for Jerusalem that respects the human and political rights of Palestinians and Israelis as well as the three religious communities.

8) The Holy City of Jerusalem should have a special Status with International Guarantees, which means an international guarantees to all the agreements that will be entered into so that all these agreements will be respected and implemented and that they will not remain a worthless piece of paper.

Again with the words of Isaiah the prophet we say "The effect of Justice is PEACE and the RESULT of JUSTICE, quietness and SECURITY forever" Isaiah 32:17.
For that reason.

We acknowledge the need for Israel to live in peace and security forever but real security should recognize the needs of the Palestinians for security also. Israel has 78% of the whole Palestine. The Peace Process deals with only the 22% of what remains for the Palestinians. Israel has occupied these 22 % since 1967 and has refused to withdraw according to the UN Resolutions from these Occupied Territories. We do not understand why Israel want to get the most of the 22% that should belong to the Palestinians, when the Palestinians accepted to recognize the existence, the presence and the independence of Israel, since 51 years, on what used to be a Palestinian Land for thousands of years. We do not understand why confiscating Palestinian Lands and building settlements everywhere on this 22 % Occupied Territories is so important for Israelis. there is an issue of justice here. If Israel really wants security building settlements is not the answer at all. We do not understand why building in East Jerusalem (Arab Jerusalem) is so important and so urgent for Israel, there is enough and plenty of room to build in many other places in Israel. We do not understand why confiscating Palestinian Lands and building settlements everywhere in the Occupied Territories is so important for Israelis and the claims of the Palestinians for their own lands and houses is not as important as their claims, there is an issue of justice here. We do not understand why Jews has the right of Return after 2000, 1000, 500 years to Palestine and the Palestinians have not the right to return after 50, 40, 30, 10 years. We think with many other justice and peace organizations that “the Palestinians' right to return to their homes, despite a 52-year delay in realizing that right, is no less enforceable, no less compelling, than the same right of the Albanian Kosovars, in whose name the United States led NATO into war. It is no less than the right of Rwandans returning home from the Congo, or East Timorese going home from Indonesian refugee camps.”

 USA Administration has the important role as an honest broker for justice, peace and truth so as to help Israel to see clear that Palestinians are their neighbors for ever, it is better to have them as friends than enemies. The security of Israel is rather threatened when they do not accept the reality of the Palestinian rights as people and their claims on their lands. For that reason we do not understand the importance for the USA to have the American embassy moved to Jerusalem when Jerusalem is on the negotiating table and why the issue of the American embassy becomes the political football of presidential candidates. There is an issue of injustice behind that also.

Jerusalem, like the entire Holy land, stated the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem has witnessed throughout its history the successive advent of numerous peoples: they came from the desert. from the sea, from the north, from the east. Most often the newcomers were gradually integrated into the local population. This was a rather constant characteristic. But when the newcomers tried to claim exclusive possession of the city and the land, or refused to integrate themselves, then the others rejected them. Indeed, the
experience of history teaches us that in order for Jerusalem to be a city of peace, no longer lusted after from the outside and thus a bone of contention between warring sides, it cannot belong exclusively to one people or to only one religion. Jerusalem should be open to all, shared by all. Those who govern the city should make it "the capital of humankind." This universal vision of Jerusalem would help those who exercise power there to open it to others who also are fondly attached to it
and to accept sharing it with them…

For two thousand years Jerusalem was the source of wars and conflicts. Only if we give Jerusalem its original mission as the city of One God where the sons and Daughters of Abraham can equally feel at home then Jerusalem can have a news history I hope for not only 2000 more years but hundreds of Thousands of years to come as the one City that can witness love, sharing, cooperation for its sons and daughters.

"LET MY TONGUE be attached to my mouth if I forget you Jerusalem", this beautiful prayer is not only the Prayer of the Jews, but the prayer of the Christians and Muslims who recognize the Bible as a revealed book. As sons and daughters of the same Father Abraham. I hope that this panel will help us all here in San Francisco and Bay Area and everywhere for the benefit all the three Monotheistic Religions and their friends so as to find on our Interfaith dialogue and way to believe that we want to work for Justice, peace and righteousness.  May the One God, Hashem, Adonia, Allah, the Most holy  help us and share more what is pro-Justice, Pro-peace and pro-TRUTH

Thanks