An Interview With Latin Patriarch Sabbah


Mohammed Abed Rabbo

Patriarch Michel Sabbah is the Roman Catholic Patriarch of Jerusalem and the first Palestinian to hold the position. Here he speaks to the Palestine Report's Mohammed Abed Rabbo about the holy city.

Q. What is your stand, as a religious leader, on sovereignty 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 (the Israeli-Palestinian conflict) and the religious, whereby the needs of all three monotheistic religions should be taken into consideration. Without taking these factors into consideration, there will be no peace. Any party which wishes to control Jerusalem on its own, or even try to make other parties 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 is the capital of Israel, and, at the same time, be a spiritual capital of all religions, ensuring members of the three monotheistic religions freedom of travel, and freedom of worship at their holy sites, in all situations, be there peace or war. Jerusalem today is closed to Palestinians, both Christians and Muslims. The situation today is not a healthy one. Jerusalem should be above all conflicts and hostilities. It is the city of peace and peacemaking, and all who live in it should enjoy complete freedom.

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

A. The most important element in any plan which is adopted is that Jerusalem remains the spiritual capital of all religions, and the capital of the two 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 Palestinian capital?

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 decided by the legal and political specialists. Do not forget that the Knesset building 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 international city?

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

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

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

A. The Israeli procedures of conffscating ID's of Jerusalem residents living outside the city's borders, or who work or study abroad, are unjust and unjustifiable, because they rob Palestinians of their rights to their land, homes and properties. The Church's stand is that it is wrong for the Israeli authorities to practice such policies. If the authorities' aim is to ensure Israeli security, such cruel policies will in fact harm Israeli security more than benefit it. For its part the Church should take an interest in the daily lives of its people, and educating them on possibilities for their future.

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

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

Q. An increase in the emigration of Christian Palestinians from Jerusalem abroad has been noticed in recent years. What do you think is the reason for this?

A. In addition to the political and financial instability in the Holy City, which drives both Christians and Muslims to emigrate, there is social instability, and misunderstandings between the Christian and Muslim communities. Some Christian residents of the city try to run away from this through immigrating to another country. Our suggestion to these people is that emigration might be a solution for some, but it is not a solution for those who are left behind.

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

Q. Have there been any recent changes in the Vatican's stand toward the Palestinian cause, and do you expect the Vatican to take a more active role in the IsraeliPalestinian conflict?

A. The Vatican's position on the Palestinian cause has been clear since 1948. The Vatican's recognition of Israel came after each of the two sides in the conflict recognized the existence of the other. The Vatican also recognizes the Palestinian right to life on and sovereignty over their land, and to freedom and self determination.

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