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
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
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
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
This is why we reiterate that it is an obligation/right
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
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
by awareness and by law, and we remain so until the contrary is