Civilta Cattolica

Article by Angelo Macchi, S.J and Giovanni Rulli, S.J.

[a free - private - translation]

Received from the International Justice and Peace, United States Catholic Conference, 3211 4th Street NE, Washington, D.C. 20017, Tel: (202)541-3199 fax(202)514-3339

(I have difficult to put the notes, for more information, you have to go to the Italien version of Civilta Cattolica, or go to Origins July 1997. Try to say "thanks" to those who translated it and transmitted it and encourage them by your stand, prayer to work for Justice, Peace and Truth. /Fr. Labib Kobti-Al-Bushra/)

The Facts

On 26 February 1997, the Israeli inteministerial Committee for Jerusalem approved the first phase of work on the hill called in Hebrew Har Homah and Arabic Jabel Abou Ghneim. It is a matter of building 2,456 housing units - in this phase - out of a total of 6,500, destined for Jewish citizens. This means that another 30,000 Israelis will be settled to the south-east of Jerusa]em, further breaking up the contiguity of Arab-inhabited East Jerusalem and Bethlehem, and adding to the existing settlement areas, which constitute a ring of Israeli settlements around the Holy City.

The Palestinians had feared for some time that this might happen, and President Arafat himself had warned the Governmentnt of Prime Minister Netanyahu that approval of the project could set off strong protests in the territories. After the Israeli decision, Arafat appears offended by a step that, according to him, violated the Oslo Agreernents; the PLO representative at the UN requests an urgent rneeting of the Security Council; Faisal Husseini, the Palestinian Autonomy minister for Jerusalem affairs, defines the deed "a declaration of war that puts the Israeli Parliament on notice regarding the possibility of a new wave of violence."

The first meeting of the Security Council, on 7 March, has no formal results likewise the second meeting, On 21 March, does not manage to adopt a binding resolution, because, as before, although all the 14 other Members vote in favour of one, the draft resolution is opposed by the lone negative vote of the United States, which., as a Permanent Member, has the right of veto. Meanwhile, on 13 March, the General Assembly of the United Nations Qrganization approves a resolution condernining the Israeli decision.

On their part the Israeli authorities continue to claim that the building of new housing is necessary to meet an alleged housing emergency in Jerusalem, and that they have the duty and the right to proceed with it, in order to provide for the needs of the Jewish population, even as they may - through other, future projects - provide for those of the Arab population.

On 31 March, the representalivc of Qatar at the UN, in his capacily as the chairman, pro-tempore, of the Arab group, writes to the Secretary General to ask for a special emergency session of the General Assembly, in order to discuss "the illegal actions of Israel in occupied East Jerusalem and in the rest of the Palestinian territories. The Secretary General decides on 22 April to convcne the special session two days later on 24 April. The drafl Resolution, proposed by 31 Nations belonging to the Arab and Non-Aligned groups, is submitted to a vote on 24 April and receives 134 favorable votes, three negative votes and 11 abstentions;1 3 Nations are absent from the vote.

This activity at the UN was preceded by a Statement of the Council of the League of Arab States, which had met in extraordinary session 21 March, and by a meeting. in Rabat, Morocco, of the Al- Quds Committee. cliatred by King Hassan II

The Resolution

The document approved by the UN General Assembly consists of a long list of premises and 13 operative propositions. In the part containing the premises, there are expouded the reasons, the principles, the facts and the preceding UN Resolutions, on which are based the operative propositions Among other things, there is affirmed the "legitimate interest of the international community in the question or the City of Jerusalem and the protection of the unique spiritual and religious dimension of the City"; and there is expressed the conviction that the repeated violations of international law on the part of Israel, and failure to obey the relevant UN resolutions and to observe the peace agreements between Israel and the Palestinians, are a threat to international peace and security. In the operative part, the Resolution condemns, and declares illegal and invalid, the legislative and administrative measures, and the actions taken, by Israel that would alter the character, the legal status and the make-up of Jerusalem; demands that an end be put immediately to the building of the settlement on Jabel Abou Ghneim, underlines the need to preserve the territorial integrity of the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories, to guarantee the freedom of movement of persons and goods in those territories, to apply scrupulously the agreements concluded between the two parties; urges the Governments that are sponsors of the peace process to make every effort to re-start it. Especially significant is, in the end, the recommendation that a just and lasting solution to the question of Jerusalern should include international guarantees.

Some Highlights

Among the reminders. the affirmations and the recomrnendations contained in the text of the Resolution, some points deserve special attention and lead us, among other things, to take up again certain subjects and considerations already expounded in our publication.

I) In the text of the Resolution. expressly recalling preceding UN Resolutions, both by the General Assembly and by the Security Council - and first all Resolution 181 (11)., of 29 November 1947 - it is affirmed that, "the international community, through the United Nations, has a legitimate interest in the question of the City of Jerusalem and the protection of the unique spiritual and religious dimension of the City..."

This re-affirmation of a "legitimate interest" of the international community, with regard to the spiritual and religious uniqueness of Jerusalem, indicates first of all that at issue are values and goods that concern the whole of humanity, and which. as such cannot be considered the exclusive patrimony of one people or of one religion, which might claim historical or numerical priority. This same re-affirnation, means that whoever is called to admininister the territorial aspect, shall, in any case, have to take account, in a wholly special way, of this "legitimate interest" of the international community. It indicates too that the international community is involved and commited, and that it wishes to the guarantor of that "protection "just as it did already in 1947.

The international community thus manifests the same concern flow as then, in the same spirit, and with the same purpose, in the face of a problem analogous to the one that existed then, and that today is perhaps even more serious. Then too there was territorial problem to be resolved between two States in the process of being formed, and there was the wish - and the need - to protect a reality of universal interest.

In 1947 there was proposed, for this purpose, the corpus separatum the specitic means to the end that involved territorial internationalization. Today, following the well-known vicissitudes (cf pp.594-551) - which saw the birth of the State of Israel, the Arab-Israeli wars and the successive annexations of Jerusalem - there endures a territorial conflict, which endangers the special identity of the Holy City; therefore the international community, consistent with its own continuing preoccupations, re-affirms its own interest in the matter. The fifty years that have passed, and the events of that half-century have left their mark on thc entire City, on the entire area, and in particular on the inhabitants and on the demographics of the population. During the first twenty years, the Jewish religious dimension suffered greatly, as it was suppressed or impeded, and not infrequently desecrated by Arab parties that in fact controlled the territory, their motivation being of a purely political and military nature. After 1967, the three religious dimensions (Jewish, Christian and Muslim) have been able to coexist materially, but, once more, under the exclusive control of a single one of them, the Israeli oue. Such exclusive control has had profound repercussions on the life of the Muslim and Christian religious commrnunities, especially to the extent that their members are Arab. The urban development of the municipality in accordance with its stated needs as a metropolis - which are sometimes questionable - has not impeded enjoyment of the Holy Places by foreign piligrirns, especially Jewish and Christian ones, but has profoundly affected the local human charactecristics that are the living part of religious Jerusalem. Evidently these have been fifty year of serious danger for that which has been defined elsewhere as the "local and international vocation" of the Hoy City, "whith demands first of all, that the city remain that which it is or should be" (cf p.560).

2) The Resolution of the special session of the General Assembly, repeating the condemnations, the affirmations and the demands so many times expressed in other Resolutions approved after the events of 1967, it concerned to lesson the existinig political conflict and makes its appeal to international legality, in order to avoid a further deterioration of the situation and at the same time to promote a negotiated solution. Still in, n, 11 of the operative part, the text emphasizes once more very parricularly the sacred aspect of Jerusalem and the international and universal interest that it represents; it "Recommends that a comprehensive, just and lasting solution to the question of the City of Jerusalem which should be reached in permanent status negotiations between the parties, should include internationnally guaranteed provisions to ensure the freedom of religion and or conscience of its inhabitants, as well as permanent, free and unhindered access to the Holy Places by the faithful of all religions and nationalities"

'l'he text contains two very important elements, which in our view are fundarnental:

a) free demand addressed to the parties - the Israelis and the Palestinians -to put an end to the conflict by negotiating until they reach a comprehensive, just and lasting solution. The qualities necessary in what might be called the political solution require that the negotiatons themselves be undertaken as soon as possible and conducted with these indispensable characteristics: a continuous will to negotiate, good faith, availability, equal dignity of the parties;

b) the demand that the religious and cultural dimension of the City be given the place that it deserves, including "internatiunally guaranteed provisions to ensure the freedom of religion and conscience of its inhabitants, as well as permanent free and unhindered access to the Holy Places by the faithful of all religions and nationalities" It is required of the two negotiating parties that they not limit themselves to acknowledging the (albeit essential) political and territorial dimension, but that they take into consideration that the object of the negotiations is not of interest exclusively to themselves It is therefore required that they leave space for the "legitimate interest of the international community" This "legitimate interest of the international community"' is there by reason of the spiritual arid religious value that the City has for the Jews, Christians and Muslims of the whole world, as well as, for their local co religionists respectively. It is likewise a matter of taking into account the interest of those who, whether or not they are themselves religious believers, consider Jerusalem as essential part of the world's cultural patrimony. The negotiating parties must thererore consider the demands that issue forth from the nature of the City itself, and take account of the fact that these demands make it necessary to Isten also to other voices aud to look for timely provsions in response to them.

To be sure, all of this could have been attempted by the two parties alone, but such an attempt would carry the risk that these parties, for reasons of various kinds, perhaps even ones related to conflict, might, at their sole discretion, limit, in whole or in part, the provisions to be adopted. It is with this in mind that the Resolution asks directly for internationally guaranteed provisions.

In the text, the object of the internationally guaranteed provisions is twofold:

a) Free access for all to the Holy Places: Even in the recent history of the question of Jerusalem, this requirement has never been officially questioned - at least not in theory. by whomever has in fact controlled the City. In reality however, there existed, and there still exist serious limitations upon such access, above all for the Palestinian Christians and Muslims who live in the territories. These limitations are defined by the Isracli authorities as contingent and temporary dictated by reasons of securty. Indeed the muncipal and national Israeli authorities affirm that that freedom of access is already fundamentally and substantially guaranteed, but it is necessary to remember that, apart from the limitations just mentioned,'' there are other very important aspects, which are no less important for being perhaps less well known. Thus indeed the local Authority can permit free access to the Holy Places while not taking care to guarantee this in practice, failing to keep public order around the Holy Places, and so failing to ensure the safety of the faithful visiting and worshipping there. Thus too the same Authority can permit free access to the Holy Places while imposing fiscal burdens on their religious administrations, contrary to every tradition and indeed contrary to the express norms of the aforementioned Resolution 181 (11)

b) Freedom of religion and cotescience. Concerned, moreover, that an isolated guarantee of free access might transform the Holy Places into mere places of pilgrimages visited by foreigners, so that in some sense they would reduced to being "museums," the Resolution requires, first of all, that the inhabitants' freedom of religion and conscience be guaranteed. This statement, though concise, appears to he extremely important: The Holy Places are thought of; above all, as a living reality, inasmuch as around them, and connected to them, there are neighborhoods inhabited by local Jews, Chrstians and Muslims. These inhabitants must be assured all the fundamental rights, of which the right to freedom of religion wid conscience is the synhesis and the highest expression. The right to freedom of religion and conscience evidently presupposes other fundamental rights, such as, for example, the right to be able to continue to live in the city of one's birth, where too one's family has lived, perhaps for decades as well as the right not to be made to feel - or worse, be considered - likc an alien in one,s own city. It is a fact that the Arab citizens of Jerusalem, Christians and Muslims, have experienced it as often intolerably difficult to reside in, or return to their city, and to be united with their own families, on account or complicated administrative measures concerning also their identity papers. This reality does not help to create a psychological situation favorable to the compromises needed for a concrete peace process, and does not permit one to foresee complete respect for fundamental rights and for the right to freedom of religion and conscience.

3) This recommendation included in the Resolution appears to deserve particular attenttion, also in relation to the clear positions taken by the Popes, by the Offices of the Holy See and by the Leaders of the Christian Communities of Jerusalem.

A detailed organic presentation of these position statements was offered on a previous occasion. Here we limit ourselves to recalling the call for an "internationally guaranteed special statute" for Jerusalem, which is found in the documents of the Holy See and is repeated by the Leaders of the Christian Communities of the Holy 1and. The latter have called for Jerusalem to be "an open city, which transcends local, regional or world-wide conflicts." The study and the explication of these formulations highlight the perfect correspondence between the concerns, the recommendations and the proposed solutions consistently put forward by the international community and those put forward by the institutions of the Christian world that have addressed the question of Jerusalem.

The latter, the leading institutions of the Christian world, will notice the renewed commitment of the international community and praise its intentions, but - exactly likc the international community - they may also feel deeply the frustrating inability to operate concretely. In any case though, the position expressed by the instittitions of the Christian world remains a moral reminder, a strong and valid one, which must be listened to and rendered operative, in the conviction that "failure to search for an adequate solution to the question of Jerusalem, and likewise a resigned delaying of the problem, only render even more difficult the desired peaceful and equitable settlement of the crisis of the whole Middle East. This apprehension is confirmed by the facts and appears to be shared by the 134 Nations that voted infavour of the Resolution. Those that had voted against it, and those that somehow expressed reservations, wished - among other things - to make certain distinctions, which might be legitimate if abstracted from the real context, where history. culture. daily life and psychology matter a great deal. Those who lives outside Jerusalem might find it difficult to understand that certain decisions, or certain choices, even when ostensibly under the cloak of legitimacy, are untimely, or that they appear to those who live closer as provocations and "declarations of war."


Pessimism or hope? The anwer depends on the intentions of those who have the power to decide whether on the continuation of the peace process, or on beginming the - promised and confirmed, though never yet realized - negotiations on Jerusalem. To be sure, this is a decision making power that depends a good deal on the ability to apply pressure to the parties. It is impossible to overlook here the words pronounced by JOHN PAUL II at the Beirut international airport, at the conclusion of his recent pastoral visit: "Recognizing the efforts of the international community in this region, I wish that the process of seeking aj ust and lasting peace continue to be supported with dertermination, couragc and consistency."

It is possible to share this wish, adding some element that, notwithsrandiitg everything else, allows hope to persevere. Peace is an unrenounceable good, and the search for peace can certainly compensate, in the long run, for the compromises and minor renunciations that may be involved. The Middle East - with Jerusalem at its heart - constitutes a reality that, sooner or later, should persuade every human beeing and every statesman of good will capable of 'listening to the voices" of reality itself and of those who make a due and balanced appeal to God and Revelation.

Last we wish to recall a very important element - albeit variously interpreted -which must neither be ignored nor considered a mere detail. The proposals contained in Resolution 181 (11) of 29 November 1947 were favorably received by the representatives of then Mandatory Palestinian's Jewish Community, which was to be the essential nucleus of the State of Israel. The Resolution approved by the special session of the UN General Assembly on 24 April 1997, which explicitly recalls Resolution 181 and reiterates its concerns and purposes in up-to-date terms, was presented by, among others, all the Arab states, with the prominent participation of the Palestinian Mission. For any one who does not let go of hope, and who sees beyond the mere political calculations of the moment, this is not at all insignificant.