Jerusalem First and Foremost

By Latin Patriach of Jerusalem, Michel Sabbah
September 29, 1996

1- Recently, violence broke out in the Holy city along with all the other Palestinian cities in reaction to the opening of the tunnel besideMasjed AlAksa. This incendent constituted a flagrant confrontation to the deepest Muslim religious feelings and fears provided the several and reapeted attempts for some Jewish parties which have been aiming to reach and control Haram El Sharif.

For Christians also, this opening has turned the Via Dolorosa into an area of constant tension, preventing beleivers and pilgrims from accessing this holy site, given that one of the entrances of the tunnel's right across the Flagellation Church. During this wave of violence many victims were killed and wounded on both Palestinian and Israeli sides.We express our deep condoleances to the afflicted families on both sides and we pray for all wounded.

2- We are part of all what has been happening in Jerusalem. We are part of the Holy City, and of all happenings in it. The sufferings of all the residents of this city, Palestinians and Israelis alike, are our sufferings too. Our prayer is that, one day, peace,based upon justice, truth and trust, may become a reality in the heartsof all the components of the City.

3- We believe that the direct reasons beyond the outbreak of this violence wave triggered by the tunnel incident and spread throughout the Palestinian cities, are the jamming of the peace process along with all the accumulated injustice and sufferings of People in the Palestinian cities, the repeated closures of the Palestinian cities and especially of Jerusalem, the continuous land confiscation aiming to expand the Jewish settlements, the effort to reduce the Palestinian Christian and Muslim presence in Jerusalem through confiscating the ID's of Jerusalem residents who live, forany reason out side the Holy City's borders whether in the Palestinian regions or aboard, the demolishing of houses, the holding of Palestinian prisoners, and the continuous humiliation and harassment in the way of dealing with Palestinians, and finally the worsening of the situation of daily living to a miserable level.

4- Nevertheless, we also believe that violence cannot but generate violence. Only peace can produce peace. It is only through respecting and guaranteeing basic human rights and human dignity that peace will be maintained. We sincerely are calling upon the Israeli authorities, with the primary aim to reach the needed security for the Israeli people himself, and we say to them that security cannot become a reality without insuring the same security to the Palestinians in Jerusalem and in all their cities. We urge them to reactivate the Peace Process and without any more delays or hesitations. Time is not working for the peacemakers. Rather, time is costing immeasurable pain and suffering and is only benefitting extremism and violence. We do not want that violence be the only language that moves issues and alert authorities, but let wise determination and good intentions the motive for moving the Peace Process. It is also clear, at this stage, that the question of the Holy City is the main nerve in calming down the whole situation: Jerusalem first and foremost; The question of Jerusalm must be examined and negotiated, despite the difficulties and challenges

5- Since the first day, we visited along with the Patriarchs of the Holy Land the wounded at the Makased Hospital, then we proceeded to the High Islamic Council where we ensured our Muslim brothers about the unity of our one Palestinian people: Muslims and Christians, and the necessity of the Muslim Christian dialogue for the daily life requirements. At the same evening. we payed a visit to the Mayor of Jerusalem, Mr. Eihud Olmert and expressed our concerns about the events in the Holy City and the Palestinian Cities. We expressed our condolences for the deceased and injured from the Israeli side, and made clear that the security of the Israelis should be built on the Palestinian security and on easing the great sufferings of the people. At the meeting of the Patriarchs and the Heads of Christian Communities in Jerusalem we decided to have an ecumenical prayer at Saint Anne Basilica and then in the Flagellation on Sunday September 29, 1996at 4 P.M.

We ask all our sons and daughters to pray God that peace may return.With the Palestinian and Israeli authorities, we call to come back to tranquility, so that the peace process could be resumed with new determination.

Pray to God that He may grant us peace and tranquility, that he may put in the minds of Palestinian and Israeli leaders wisdom and prudence so as to go out the tunnel of fears and hesitation, to build a new civilization founded on peace, justice and love, in the Holy Land and throughout the whole region.