The issue of the position of the Jerusalemite Christian community has surfaced recently within the context of projected settlement of Camp David 2 negotiations between Israel and the PLO. By Fr. Majdi al-Siryani, LL.D. Legal Dept. of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem The issue of the position of the Jerusalemite Christian community has surfaced recently within the context of projected settlement of Camp David 2 negotiations between Israel and the PLO. The letter from the Jerusalem Patriarchs to President Clinton, Mr. Barak and Mr. Arafat on July 17 gave rise to a series of questions regarding the position of Christians on sovereignty issue. Shortly after this letter was published, officials from both the Israeli and the Palestinian sides met the Jerusalem church leaders to discuss the content of this letter and to explore the details of their demands. While sovereignty is not a matter of choice but a matter of belonging and awareness, many interpretations have been given to the content of this letter and to the general position of Christians on Jerusalem. Some people even went so far as to question what sovereignty would the Christians of Jerusalem prefer. As a Palestinian Christian, I followed with great concern and interest the reports of the Camp David negotiations, especially those related to the high priority issue of Jerusalem and its final status. The recent meeting of the Christian leaders with acting Foreign Minister Shlomo Ben-Ami provided room for more speculation which totally neglected certain perspectives and principles that are at the basis of our position regarding Jerusalem and to which we remain fully committed. Nationality, everybody knows, is a legal bond based on social attachment, connection of existence, sentiment of belonging, interests, that is inexorably bound with the existence of reciprocal rights and duties. It is thus a matter of awareness that is normally institutionalized within the context of a state. The Christians of Jerusalem are Palestinians. This is their awareness. Christians of the Holy Land, in general, come from various origins, but today – having gone through many historical changes and peoples’ movements – they form an integral part of the Palestinian people. And, just as other human beings, regardless of religious affiliation, they belong to their people, i.e. the Palestinian people, with whom they share same roots, language, culture, history, and challenges. It is thus very surprising for us to be asked whether we prefer to be under Israeli or Palestinian sovereignty as if we had an anomalous position. Sovereignty issue, and the consequent nationality rights issue, is ordinarily accorded in a routine fashion by two predominant ways of Jus sanguinis (descent from a national) and jus soli (birth within the State territory) sanctioned by customary law. Jus sanguinis has a paramount influence in deciding nationality throughout the world. It usually comes to the fore only when a state seeks to exclude a group from this right or to revoke its right. We were born to Palestinian nationals on Palestinian soil, thus we are Palestinian nationals regardless of Israeli occupation and, on the other hand, no one is trying to exclude us or revoke our Palestinian nationality. This is why we reiterate that it is an obligation/right to be under one’s own people’s sovereignty and this is what any Palestinian – again regardless of religious affiliation – would opt for. On the other hand, and without finessing the issue, for us Christians to accept a rule by a different sovereign, Israel in this case, is tantamount to abandoning our nationality and to accepting subordination elsewhere. Thereafter, our concern about Jerusalem and its status extends far beyond our connection with the city as The Christian Holy City par excellence. With due regard to our religious ties to Jerusalem, ties that are deep and strong, these ties are not our only links to the City. Jerusalem is the heart of our nationalistic interest and concern. Being conscious of this dimension of our political identity is integral to understanding the Christian Palestinian position on Jerusalem. Accordingly, it is essential to distinguish between the two levels of the Jerusalem question: territorial sovereignty and religious interests. In terms of territorial sovereignty, we are concerned as Palestinians tout court. Our legitimate representatives, i.e. PLO, take care of this dimension of the Jerusalem question on the table of negotiations. Indeed, we believe that East Jerusalem is an Arab Palestinian city and we hope it will be the capital of the Palestinian State. As regarding the religious dimension of the Jerusalem question, we believe that Jerusalem is holy for us as it is for Jews and Muslims. In this sense Jerusalem is of a unique and universal character. An “internationally guaranteed special statute”, we believe, should save this uniqueness and universality. To put it in other terms, Jerusalem should be accorded a “special statute” which will prevent the city from becoming victimized by hostilities and wars, and which will make it an open city transcending local, regional and international political interests. We are not talking about internationalizing the city. International guarantees should rather ensure the timely implementation of the negotiated settlement agreed upon by the two parties, Israelis and Palestinians. The Holy See, as the supreme organ of the Roman Catholic Church, the world’s single largest religious body, always felt obliged to be involved in the Jerusalem question. Its involvement stems mainly from three motivations: its concern for the welfare of the catholic community in particular and the Christian community in general; its commitment to the humanitarian dimension and the ethical aspects of this issue; and finally its commitment to the implementation of the fundamental rights of freedom of conscience and religion. Although the fate of the Christian community of Jerusalem is a main concern to the Holy See, it does not follow that the Holy See would claim any title of representation with regard to their nationalistic demands. The Holy See is a religious address for the faithful not a political address. Although it is concerned about the fate of its faithful, it doesn’t seek to offer political representation for them. Unequivocally, we Christians of Jerusalem are Palestinians both by awareness and by law, and we remain so until the contrary is proven.
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