What Sovereignty for the Christians of Jerusalem??

By Fr. Majdi al-Siryani, LL.D.
Legal Dept. of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem
Received 26 Sep 2000

The issue of the position of the Jerusalemite Christian community
has surfaced recently within the context of projected  settlement
of Camp David 2 negotiations between  Israel  and  the  PLO.  The
letter from the Jerusalem Patriarchs to  President  Clinton,  Mr.
Barak and Mr. Arafat  on  July  17  gave  rise  to  a  series  of
questions regarding the position  of  Christians  on  sovereignty
issue. Shortly after this letter was  published,  officials  from
both the Israeli and the  Palestinian  sides  met  the  Jerusalem
church leaders to discuss the  content  of  this  letter  and  to
explore the details of their demands. While sovereignty is not  a
matter of choice but a matter of belonging  and  awareness,  many
interpretations have been given to the content of this letter and
to the general position of Christians on Jerusalem.  Some  people
even went so far  as  to  question  what  sovereignty  would  the
Christians of Jerusalem prefer.

As a Palestinian Christian, I followed  with  great  concern  and
interest the reports of the Camp David  negotiations,  especially
those related to the high priority issue  of  Jerusalem  and  its
final status. The recent meeting of the  Christian  leaders  with
acting Foreign Minister Shlomo Ben-Ami  provided  room  for  more
speculation which  totally  neglected  certain  perspectives  and
principles that are  at  the  basis  of  our  position  regarding
Jerusalem and to which we remain fully committed.

Nationality, everybody knows, is a legal  bond  based  on  social
attachment, connection  of  existence,  sentiment  of  belonging,
interests,  that  is  inexorably  bound  with  the  existence  of
reciprocal rights and duties. It is thus a  matter  of  awareness
that is normally institutionalized within the context of a state.
The Christians of  Jerusalem  are  Palestinians.  This  is  their
awareness. Christians of the Holy Land,  in  general,  come  from
various origins, but today - having gone through many  historical
changes and peoples' movements - they form an  integral  part  of
the  Palestinian  people.  And,  just  as  other  human   beings,
regardless of religious affiliation, they belong to their people,
i.e. the Palestinian people, with whom  they  share  same  roots,
language, culture, history, and challenges.

It is thus very surprising for us to be asked whether  we  prefer
to be under Israeli or Palestinian sovereignty as if  we  had  an
anomalous  position.  Sovereignty  issue,  and   the   consequent
nationality rights issue, is ordinarily  accorded  in  a  routine
fashion by two predominant ways of Jus sanguinis (descent from  a
national)  and  jus  soli  (birth  within  the  State  territory)
sanctioned by  customary  law.  Jus  sanguinis  has  a  paramount
influence  in  deciding  nationality  throughout  the  world.  It
usually comes to the fore only when a state seeks  to  exclude  a
group from this right or to revoke its right.  We  were  born  to
Palestinian  nationals  on  Palestinian   soil,   thus   we   are
Palestinian nationals regardless of Israeli  occupation  and,  on
the other hand, no one is trying to  exclude  us  or  revoke  our
Palestinian nationality.

This is why we reiterate that it is  an  obligation/right  to  be
under one's  own  people's  sovereignty  and  this  is  what  any
Palestinian - again regardless of religious affiliation  -  would
opt for. On the other hand, and without finessing the issue,  for
us Christians to accept a rule by a different  sovereign,  Israel
in this case, is tantamount to abandoning our nationality and  to
accepting subordination elsewhere.

Thereafter, our concern about Jerusalem and  its  status  extends
far beyond our connection with the city  as  The  Christian  Holy
City par excellence. With due regard to  our  religious  ties  to
Jerusalem, ties that are deep and strong, these ties are not  our
only  links  to  the  City.  Jerusalem  is  the  heart   of   our
nationalistic interest  and  concern.  Being  conscious  of  this
dimension of our political identity is integral to  understanding
the Christian Palestinian position on Jerusalem.

Accordingly, it is  essential  to  distinguish  between  the  two
levels of the Jerusalem  question:  territorial  sovereignty  and
religious interests. In terms of territorial sovereignty, we  are
concerned   as   Palestinians   tout   court.   Our    legitimate
representatives, i.e. PLO, take care of  this  dimension  of  the
Jerusalem question on  the  table  of  negotiations.  Indeed,  we
believe that East Jerusalem is an Arab Palestinian  city  and  we
hope it will be the capital of the Palestinian State.

As regarding the religious dimension of the  Jerusalem  question,
we believe that Jerusalem is holy for us as it is  for  Jews  and
Muslims. In this sense Jerusalem is of  a  unique  and  universal
character. An "internationally guaranteed  special  statute",  we
believe, should save this uniqueness and universality. To put  it
in other terms, Jerusalem should be accorded a "special  statute"
which  will  prevent  the  city  from  becoming   victimized   by
hostilities and wars,  and  which  will  make  it  an  open  city
transcending  local,   regional   and   international   political
interests. We are not talking about internationalizing the  city.
International  guarantees  should  rather   ensure   the   timely
implementation of the negotiated settlement agreed  upon  by  the
two parties, Israelis and Palestinians.

The Holy See, as the supreme organ of the Roman Catholic  Church,
the world's single largest religious body, always felt obliged to
be involved in the  Jerusalem  question.  Its  involvement  stems
mainly from three motivations: its concern for the welfare of the
catholic community in particular and the Christian  community  in
general; its commitment to the  humanitarian  dimension  and  the
ethical aspects of this issue; and finally its commitment to  the
implementation of the fundamental rights of freedom of conscience
and religion. Although the fate of  the  Christian  community  of
Jerusalem is a main concern to the Holy See, it does  not  follow
that the Holy See would claim any title  of  representation  with
regard  to  their  nationalistic  demands.  The  Holy  See  is  a
religious address for  the  faithful  not  a  political  address.
Although it is concerned about  the  fate  of  its  faithful,  it
doesn't seek to offer political representation for them.

Unequivocally, we Christians of Jerusalem are  Palestinians  both
by awareness and by law, and we remain so until the  contrary  is
proven.