An Interview With Latin Patriarch Sabbah



Muhammed Abed Rabbo

Patriarch Michel Sabbah is the Roman Catholic Patriarch of Jerusalemand the first Palestinian to hold the position. Here he speaks to the PalestineReport's Muhammed Abed Rabbo about the holy city.

Q.What is your stand, as a religious leader, onsovereignty over Jerusalem?

A. The issue of sovereignty over Jerusalem, in light of the status quo,should be decided based on several factors, including the political (theIsraeli-Palestinian conflict) and the religious, whereby the needs of allthree monotheistic religions should be taken into consideration. Withouttaking these factors into consideration, there will be no peace. Any partywhich wishes to control Jerusalem on its own, or even try to make otherparties feel like minorities, will not contribute to this goal of peace,and Jerusalem will remain in a state of conflict, as it is today.

In my opinion, Jerusalem should be the capital of Palestine, as it isthe capital of Israel, and, at the same time, be a spiritual capital ofall religions, ensuring members of the three monotheistic religions freedomof travel, and freedom of worship at their holy sites, in all situations,be there peace or war. Jerusalem today is closed to Palestinians, bothChristians and Muslims. The situation today is not a healthy one. Jerusalemshould be above all conflicts and hostilities. It is the city of peaceand peace-making, and all who live in it should enjoy complete freedom.

Q. There are many suggestions on the future ofJerusalem, including dividing the city, and keeping it as it is now. Whatis your view on the matter?

A. The most important element in any plan which is adopted is that Jerusalemremains the spiritual capital of all religions, and the capital of thetwo peoples who live in it. How can this take place? Through division,unification, or a third alternative way? It is not an impossible task.

Q. Even if Abu Dis and Ezariyyah become the Palestiniancapital?

A. Jerusalem itself must be the capital, and Abu Dis a part of it. Otherwise,there will be no peace. The practical side of the issue should be decidedby the legal and political specialists. Do not forget that the Knessetbuilding is further away from the center of Jerusalem than is Abu Dis.And West Jerusalem is newly built; it was not in existence until recently,but was built and became part of Jerusalem by force of expansion.

Q. Would you agree to making Jerusalem an internationalcity?

A. Making Jerusalem international was suggested in 1948, and a law wasformulated for the purpose, which is still in effect. Because of this law,there are foreign consulates in Jerusalem [in addition to the embassiesin Tel Aviv].

But the children of Jerusalem should not be forbidden sovereignty overtheir city, by submitting the city to an international committee. Jerusalemis in need of a special status, which should be reached by its children,both Palestinians and Israelis. When these two sides agree, their agreementwill need international approval.

Q. Through the Israeli Interior Ministry officein East Jerusalem, the Israeli authorities have recently found means ofpressuring [Palestinian] Jerusalem residents by confiscating their JerusalemID cards. What is the Church's stand on such procedures, and does the localPalestinian church have a way to combat them?

A. The Israeli procedures of confiscating ID's of Jerusalem residentsliving outside the city's borders, or who work or study abroad, are unjustand unjustifiable, because they rob Palestinians of their rights to theirland, homes and properties. The Church's stand is that it is wrong forthe Israeli authorities to practice such policies. If the authorities'aim is to ensure Israeli security, such cruel policies will in fact harmIsraeli security more than benefit it. For its part, the Church shouldtake an interest in the daily lives of its people, and educating them onpossibilities for their future.

Q. Do you approve of the fatwa issued by the Muftiof Jerusalem, which has forbidden Palestinian Jerusalem residents, whohold Israeli permanent residence, to acquire full Israeli citizenship?

A. We do not go to the extremes of fatwas. But we call on all Jerusalemresidents to fulfill their national obligations. The practical steps whichthe Palestinian Authority is taking regarding Jerusalem, which are supportedby the Arab world, are more important than fatwas. People should not onlybe forbidden from doing something, but should also be given alternatives.

Q. An increase in the emigration of ChristianPalestinians from Jerusalem abroad has been noticed in recent years. Whatdo you think is the reason for this?

A. In addition to the political and financial instability in the HolyCity, which drives both Christians and Muslims to emigrate, there is socialinstability, and misunderstandings between the Christian and Muslim communities.Some Christian residents of the city try to run away from this throughimmigrating to another country. Our suggestion to these people is thatemigration might be a solution for some, but it is not a solution for thosewho are left behind.

[We] must carry the message of this holy land: It is God's wish thatwe be Christians in the holy land, not any other country. The rest of theworld has enough believers; God wishes for us to be believers in this countryspecifically. This is in fact a blessing from God, for a person to be Christianin the land where Jesus Himself lived and taught, and died and was thenrisen from the dead.

Q. Have there been any recent changes in the Vatican'sstand toward the Palestinian cause, and do you expect the Vatican to takea more active role in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?

A. The Vatican's position on the Palestinian cause has been clear since1948. The Vatican's recognition of Israel came after each of the two sidesin the conflict recognized the existence of the other. The Vatican alsorecognizes the Palestinian right to life on and sovereignty over theirland, and to freedom and self determination.