The Local Church of Jerusalem looking towards the second millennium

By Fr. Labib Kobti

Since 2000 years, Jerusalem the City of Peace, the City where God have dwelled and saved the world, where Prophets have lived, Jerusalem since two thousand years is living continuous wars.

Jerusalem became source of fights between bloodbrothers, as well between others who came pretending somehow to give her a kind of peace...

Jerusalem became source of discrimination, poverty, injustice and frustrations...

For 2000 years now!!

Will Jerusalem become as God wanted it, a city of Peace, of love, of sharing, of justice and specially of Truth?

Or will Jerusalem stay a source of conflict? A source of problems? A source of frustration, fanaticism, exclusivism and racism?

What kind of Jerusalem will be opened to us on the Third Millennium?

What will Jerusalem give to the world?

We all want peace for Jerusalem, the Psalmists have sung this thousands of years ago!

We all want justice for Jerusalem, we all pretend that Jerusalem should gather us, her children, "as a hen gathering her young under her wings, Jesus one time have said" Mat:23:37

But will Jerusalem satisfy our dreams for a better time?

As a priest from the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, who have studied and worked in Holy Land for 19 years, and who represent the Diocese of Jerusalem in the States, I will speak about:

1- Who are the Christians of Jerusalem and what the Local Church of Jerusalem have given to Jerusalem?

2- What the Church of Jerusalem hope for Jerusalem 2000?

I- Who are the Christians of Jerusalem and what the Local Church of Jerusalem have given to Jerusalem?

A- Who are the Christians of Jerusalem?

1- The Christians of the Holy Land and Jerusalem, as their bloodbrothers the Christians of the Middle East as a whole, are the Semite descendants of the first Christians.

They are the Christians of the first Pentecost that Peter have baptized as it written on Acts 2:11.

They come from two main groups: the Siro-Aramaic tribes (Aram that becomes Syria) , their language was Aramaic, and from the Arab tribes, their language was Arabic.

a) Arameans were the inhabitants of the Fertile Crescent region since the 14 century BC (today, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Palestine, Iraq and Southern Turkey) who are today the Assyrians, the Chaldeans, the Syrians and the Cananite-Phoenicians who became Christians in the first century and used the Siro-Aramaic as local tongue used by Jesus our Lord. Jews used the Aramaic language as their today language when Hebrew was for them the language of the Torah (Bible) (the written language that they used for their liturgy).

b) Arabs (tribes who became Christians) were in the today Jordan: the Nabatae 600 BC to 636 AD; in today Syria: the Tadmurits 334 BC to 638 AD, the Ghassanids 450 BC to 638 AD; in today Iraq: the Muntherits 450 BC to 638 AD. They converted to Christianity on the first centuries. These Arab-Christians were under the impact of the Assyrian, Chaldean, Syrian, Cananite and Phoenician Christian traditions.

Many Arab Christians were scholars and served as ministers at the first Moslem Caliphates.

As ancient Semites, The Arab-Christians were the translators of all kind of books in the different languages of that time, men of medicine and sciences, great scholars to whom Muawya Ibn Abu Suffian, builder of the Umayyad Empire, entrusted the administration of the state and enrichment of its culture and learning process. On the shoulder of those Christians, Muawyah, this king and Caliph and his successors built the foundation of the Arab Golden Age which reached its zenith in the days of the Abbasid Caliph AI-Ma'moun 813-833.

The Arab Christians were the first to translate to Arabic a lot of books of philosophy, geography, medicine, history from Aramaic-Syriac, Greek and Latin. Because of this, they became the bridge between the East and the West at that time and helped the Arabs to build their own culture that will become the Golden Arab Age at the time of Al Mamoun. They worked the first Arabic Grammars.

The Holy Koran of Islam was written with the Arabic characters that were created by the Arab Christians of Hira (See Arabiyya, C. Rabin, in Encyclopedie de l'Islam, 2nd Edition, Leyde et Paris, 1960, pp.579a-622b), (See The History of Arabs before Islam, Jawd Ali, Vol. 8, pp.178-179; vol. 9, p. 689). This shows the importance of the Arab Christians before Islam.

2) Today, the Christians in Jerusalem, as these of the Middle East are the descendants of these Christians of Siro-Aramaic and Arabic traditions. They have used the languages of the Conquerors in history like Greek, Latin or Modern ones. They conserved in liturgy their own language of origin the Siro-Aramaic, the Assyrian, the Caldean or Arabic.

The Arabic language evolved through history as any language and was used as local language in the Middle East for trades and business and became as the official language with Islam. The first time the Arabic Language was used in any Arabic Country was as an official writing language was in Egypt on 706 AD with Abdallah Bin Marwan and the first time we saw an Arabic scripture on a house was in Antinoe, Egypt, on 735 AD.

The Aramaic language have started to disappear slowly and slowly. It is spoken today in some villages in Syria and Iraq and used in the liturgy of the Assyrian, Syrian, Maronite and Chaldean liturgies with its differences of eastern and western nuances.

The Hebrew language became an official language in Israel with the partition of Palestine and the creation of Israel in 1948.

3) We have three Patriarchate in Jerusalem: the Greek Orthodox, the Armenian Orthodox, and the Catholic. In addition, there are ten Archbishops or Patriarchal Vicars, for the Orthodox Churches (the Syrian, the Coptic, and the Ethiopian); for the Catholic Churches (the Melkite, the Syrian, the Armenian, the Maronite, and the Chaldean); and for the Protestant (the Anglican and the Lutheran).

B- What the Local Church of Jerusalem have given to Jerusalem?

When I speak about the Church of Jerusalem, I speak about all the above mentioned Patriarchates and Churches and in a special way, as I represent the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, I speak about the Catholic Church of the Holy Land

1) The Church of Jerusalem have played an important role in the life of the people of the Holy Land. The Church was the first to build schools, Colleges, Universities, Centers, hospitals ... All these were and are used by the three components of the Holy Land society: Jews, Christians and Moslems, but mostly by Moslems and Christians in the regions where the Palestinians are the majority. The Arab-Christians of the Holy Land are Palestinians and consider the Arab-Moslem as their bloodbrothers and sisters. In the places were Arabs today are the majority, some of our Christian schools or hospitals serve more than 70% of the Arab-Moslem Palestinians.

Christian today are about 1.8% of the Holy Land population. This percentage is an alarming sign for the Church of Jerusalem. Several analysts predict that 25 years from now there will be no Christians living in the Holy Land. Helping the Christians of the Holy Land to stay in their country of origin is a must that the Christians, Moslems and the Jews of the world have to work on.

2) The Church have conserved the Christian identity for the Christian Holy places and continue to do that

3) The Church became an important means of cooperation with Arab-Moslem bloodbrothers and sisters, source of harmony between Moslems and Christians as well a bridge with the Jews, calling for coexistence, sharing and love.

4) The Church have became an outstanding tool to link the Christians of the East with the Christians of the West and opened them to the Arab-Christian Heritage and traditions.

5) On the social and political level: We need to remember that The Church's interest in the Middle East and on Jerusalem goes back to the very first years of the Church's existence. Many documents, Apostolic letters, letters, encyclicals, etc., show the interest of the Catholic Church, (the Holy See) and the other Churches on the issues of peace and justice for Jerusalem.

The Local Church of Jerusalem represented by the Patriarchs and the head of Christian Communities have written and signed on November 14,1994 a Memorandum: "The Significance of Jerusalem for Christians", this important document became a famous one for many and a basic sources for understanding the needs of peace and justice for Jerusalem and the Holy Land (You can find the document on www.jerusalem2000.org or www.al-bushra.org)

This important document inspired the March 6th,1995 letter to president Clinton singed by Eight US Christian leaders; the January 27th, 1996 International Sabeel Conference in Jerusalem, the May 1996 Vatican document "Jerusalem-consideration of the Secretary of State"; the June 17, 1996, "Moslem and Christians Together for Jerusalem" document; the October 3rd, 1996 Intereliguous Dialogue on Jerusalem in Greece, and many others in the United States and the world. Not to mention the recent two important events: the Symposium of The Catholic Bishop's Conference On Jerusalem October 26-27 in Jerusalem, and the visit of Archbishop Tauran to the USA on March 9th, 1999. You can find all about these documents and events on the above mentioned websites.

Let me now summarize the stand of the Local Church on Jerusalem expressed on the Memorandum and on the many other different conferences, meetings, letters, documents, and interviews that followed since then:

a) Jerusalem is the holy city for the three Religions: Jews, Christians and Moslems. Exclusivism from any side, political or religious, is a cry of war against others. This would harm the foremost identity of the City and the harmony among all who belong to Jerusalem, past, present and future.

b) Jerusalem should be an open city to all. The collective and indiscriminate closure of Jerusalem against the Palestinian people of the Occupied Territories or the Territories under the Palestinian Authority is a crime against the fundamental human and religious rights of the Arab people (Moslems and Christians) of the Holy Land.

c) East Arab Jerusalem is an Occupied Territory by Israeli forces in 1967, subject to U.N Security Council Resolution 242. And all the Israeli measures since 1967 which exceeded the power of belligerent occupant under international law are null and void, as it is clearly expressed by resolution 478. This includes the confiscation of Palestinian lands, ID's, houses, building of Settlements, extending settlements or enlarging the boundaries of Jerusalem to include settlements, and the changing of Jerusalem demography.

d) That the US Administration, as an honest broker of the peace process, is failing to recognize and support Palestinian human rights and their interests in Jerusalem.

e) That the US Administration, as an honest broker of the Peace Process, is not using its considerable influence to halt Israeli constructions in East Arab Jerusalem and continued expansion into Palestinian areas.

f) That the US Administration, as an honest broker, is closing its eyes on the Israeli planing for "Greater Jewish Jerusalem" were a real strategy of ethic cleansing is used by the Israelis against Arab-Christian and Arab-Moslem jerusalimites.

h) The Bridge to a real Security for the Israelis begins with a real and comprehensive justice and security for the Palestinians, an internationally guaranteed special status for Jerusalem is needed where all the five components of the Holy Land society, the Palestinians and the Israelis, the Jews, the Christians and the Moslems can feel equal in rights and duties without any discrimination.

For that reason the Church have always called for negotiation on Jerusalem first and foremost before it will become too late and we will find that there is nothing to negotiate on Jerusalem.

i) Palestinians has the right to have their own democratic country and Jerusalem as Capital where Arab-Christians and Arab-Moslem should have equal rights and responsibilities.

2- What the Church of Jerusalem hope for Jerusalem 2000?

A) The Local Church of Jerusalem about to celebrate it's 2000 years birthday finds that:

1) A lot of Christians in the world after 2000 years do not know that there are Arab-Christians in the Holy Land and the Middle East.

2) The majority of the Christians in the world do not know that the Arab-Christians are part of the Palestinian people.

3) That these Christians have fought side by side with their bloodbrothers the Arab-Moslem and found the national Arab Countries: Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Egypt, Jordan and are fighting for an independent Palestinian State. Side by side with their blood brothers the Moslems they fought for freedom and harmony. That they are looking for a real and comprehensive peace with Israel, where their human rights are respected, and where their aspiration for an independent Palestinian State with Jerusalem as Capital is recognized.

4) That Christians despite the up and downs in their live with the Moslems through history they consider themselves Arabs with the full meaning of this word and want to be Arabs.

5) The Church of Jerusalem is the Mother Church of the whole humanity in need of support from the Christians all over the world. Christians should help Jerusalem to find its justice and its peace. Christians of the world should stand with the truth and should talk to their respective countries, who for longtime have closed their eyes to seek the truth and have been unjust in dealing with the Palestinian human rights, biased toward the Israelis.

6) On the issue of "Truth," the Church of Jerusalem found that a lot of lies were said about the Christians of the Holy Land as if they are an outside ethnic group living in the Middle of a Moslem or Jewish majority.

B) Great dreams have the today the very small minority of the Local Holy Land Christians, about 1.8%, for a better future on the second millennium.

They hope that:

1) The World and specially the Christians recognize their importance and come to support them in order to have their rights equal to other bloodbrothers the Moslems and the Jews who became a great majority in the Holy Land at the present time.

2) That their Bloodbrothers the Arab-Moslems find that our irreversible experience of live together over many centuries has a theological dimension: God's will in the Land of Jesus the Lord and the Prophets is part of his plan that we are responsible for one another in the sight of God and history.

That the Moslem brothers and sisters consider themselves responsible for the continuos Christian presence in the Holy Land, and let them feel equal to Moslem majority in everything. That the Moslem should not undertake any structural project whatsoever on the social or political level, without taking in consideration the Christian community and gaining their trust. It is not enough to live side by side, we should live one for another for the good of everyone in our home country.

3) That the Jewish brothers and sisters, who contemporary political circumstances brought them to share our Palestinian lands and sources think that 50 years ago 100% of the Palestinians have lived in this land. And 50 years ago more than 95% of the Jews used to live for centuries in Russia, Poland, Holland, Ethiopia, USA ... That the Palestinians Christians and Moslems have belong to this land of their origin. The Jewish should recognize them as part of the Palestinian people having the same rights, duties and responsibilities as their Arab Moslem brothers and sisters. That they may see on the holy book that we have common (the Bible) a call for justice, peace and truth.

That Jewish brothers and sisters who have been united to us by the Arabic civilization would be the bridge to the other Jewish who have not shard with us the same heritage and assure them that we can live together in peace when every person have been treated with justice and truth.

Conclusion

Misinformation of the truth will not bring justice. Confiscation of lands will not bring security. Ethic cleansing will bring frustration and violence.

That only truth mixed with justice will bring harmony and bring to Jerusalem its title as a city of peace.

The right of the People of the Holy Land, the Palestinians is a sacred right, nobody can come and take it from them and pretend that they have to go or that they have no rights to build their home country, repair their homes, or return and live anywhere in the Holy land.

For these reasons we estimate that it is up to the Israelis to respect international will, UN Resolutions, the signed agreement because justice is the only way that leads to peace, stability and prosperity.

We pray that Jerusalem becomes the city where people can find that they are blessed by God who is the Creator and Father of all and who do not discriminate and prefer any one of His over any one other. All are equal on the eyes of God.

We hope that the nations who have the power of peace and war see on us, the five components of the Holy Land society, as equals, having the same rights, duties and responsibilities.

Fr. Labib Kobti,