His Beatitude Michel Sabbah, the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem address to the National Conference of Catholic Bishops/United States Catholic Conference June 14, 2001
His Beatitude Michel Sabbah, the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem address to the
National Conference of Catholic Bishops/United States Catholic Conference
June 14, 2001
Reverend and dear brother Bishops, I come before you as a fellow pastor to share with you in the words of the prophet Jeremiah “the injury of my people.” I want to thank you for your solidarity and your generosity towards our Church of Jerusalem. You are a Church which cares for the Christians of the Holy Land and for the future of Jerusalem. You continue to give an example of how to act as Church in response to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. In my ministry, I have taken to heart the affirmation of the Second Vatican Council that the Church “has the right to pass moral judgments, even on matters touching the political order .” (GS 76) I have attempted to be faithful to the mandate of the Council that bishops address “grave public problems,” including “questions of war and peace and brotherly relations among all people.”
I have attempted always to teach on these matters in fidelity to the gospel, to Catholic social teaching, and to the law of love. I owe your conference a debt of gratitude for supporting positions we patriarchs and heads of churches of Jerusalem have taken and for supporting our right and duty to speak out. You have been true brothers.
(1) The Current Situation
I want to share the pain and frustration of those I serve. Their voices are often not heard in this country. In the words of Jeremiah, “‘Peace, peace,’ they say, but there is no peace.” (Jer. 6:14)
1.1 We in the Holy Land are living through the most difficult period of a century-long conflict between two peoples. To Christians, the violence of the present crisis represents an exacting test of faith. “If we are true believers in God,” we must “ponder how our freedom, our political freedom, relate(s) to the word of God, who says that love must be the guide of man in the worst and darkest of circumstances.” (Homily, St. Etienne, Oct.. 12, 2000)
Violence is unacceptable as a means to resolve conflicts. Israeli’s and Palestinians alike should understand this. I mourn all victims, Palestinians and Israelis, Christians, Muslims and Jews. I am particularly saddened for the death of children and young on both sides, Israelis and Palestinians.
The mandate of the gospel is clear: we must be peacemakers, hunger and thirst for justice, love our enemies, and pray for those who persecute us. At the same time, the Second Vatican Council calls us to defend the rights of the innocent and “to renounce the use of violence.”(GS, 77) Thus even as the patriarchs of Jerusalem have affirmed that “it is the right and the duty of an occupied people to struggle against injustice in order to gain their freedom,” we also professed our conviction that “non-violent means remain stronger and more efficient” as well as morally superior. (Patriarchs, Nov. 2000)
1.2 Despite our hopes, these last eight months have been marked by swelling waves of violence. From the Palestinian side, violence is manifested in stone throwing, gun shooting, mortar fire and suicide bombings against civilians.
On the Israeli side, violence has taken many other forms: sealing of Palestinian towns and villages, ploughing under of agricultural fields, cutting down of olive groves, bulldozing of houses, indiscriminate shelling and bombing of civilians, and protection of settlers who themselves use violence.
The recent violence is only the visible aspect of the Palestinian-Israeli struggle. The media and the politicians try to reduce the conflict to various manifestations of violence, as if quelling the violence is sufficient to resolve the underlying problem. We repudiate violence. But we must understand that violence has a cause and the most effective way to remove the violence is to address the cause. That cause is Israeli occupation of Palestinian land.
The state of Israel today includes 78% of historic Palestine. In 1967 Israel occupied the rest of Palestine, the remaining 22% of what had been Palestine before the establishment of Israel. Since the early 1990s, the Palestinians and much of the Arab world recognized the legitimacy of the state of Israel. In so doing, the Palestinians have already conceded 78% of the land as Israel’s. Palestinians now claim the remaining territory as their rightful homeland. They have been supported in this by United Nations resolutions calling for the exchange of land for peace.
Many say that late last year something close to the full transfer of territory might have been achieved. Meanwhile, Israeli annexations, confiscations, settlement-building, by-pass road and security zone construction made the establishment of a viable Palestinian state seem an impossible dream. These actions built up an enormous reservoir of mistrust which burst forth in the intifada. God willing, inshallah, the new cease-fire will make way for genuine peace.
1.3. How shall we escape from this situation? Israel’s priority is security, and that security remains threatened by Palestinian resistance. Security for Israel can come by dealing seriously with the Palestinian claims for independence, not by force. The best protection for Israel is the conversion of the Palestinian enemies of today into the friends of tomorrow.
2) The Situation of Christians
2.1. I know you want to hear about the condition of our Christian people. Let me tell you first how they see themselves. The normal way Christian Palestinians see themselves a part of their people, and they conceive of their future as one with their people.. Hence they are a part of the conflict. They may be found among the victims as among the survivors. They share in claiming their freedom and their land. To treat Palestinian Christians as a purely religious community without any legitimate national aspirations or distinct culture de-humanizes them. In this matter, we take solace in Pope John Paul II’s teaching that within a culture of peace national heritage plays an important part in people’s moral development. (CA 51; see 50.)
In the last eight months, Christian towns or villages (Bethlehem, Beit-Sahour, Beit-Jala, Ramalla, Zababdeh) have been bombed. In December, our Latin seminary and church in Beit Jala were shelled for three hours. In the village of Abboud, lands have been confiscated and thousands of olive trees cut.. Only two days ago I was called by the parish priest to that village to see more olive groves cut down by the army and settlers.
The sealing of towns and villages has deprived people of employment and essential services. Normal life is impossible. Lack of jobs for Christians as for all Palestinians makes providing daily food a hard matter. Catholic agencies (CRS, Pontifical Mission, Caritas, the Order of the Holy Sepulchre) are doing their best to help.
The siege made access quite difficult for the Patriarch, the Bishops, the parish priests. The sealing affected the running of the schools and the transportation of teachers and students. Economic instability has reduced the schools’ tuitions to the minimum, and has caused a deficit in the schools budget which has created a need for new support for the schools which are the basis of our pastoral action.
(3) The Role of The Church in This Conflict
3.1 The Holy Father has pleaded repeatedly for an end to the violence and a return to respect for international law in this conflict, and he has identified “contempt for international legality” as one of its causes. The Church must make clear that the international community has played a role in this conflict since its beginnings and so bears responsibility to help in its resolution. The Church should also insist on compliance with United Nations resolutions as the basis for any settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian dispute. The international community should be able to apply international law to this situation.
3.2 The Church should insist with all the means at its disposal on re-definition of the conflict.. The core of the question is the Israeli military occupation and Palestinian claims for freedom and land, and the quest for peace for all the people of the region.
3.3 Because justice for the Palestinians is essential to providing security to Israel, collaboration of Catholic churches with Jewish communities for a new shared vision of security for Israelis and justice for Palestinians is a much needed step. You in the United States, with your strong ties to the Jewish community, have a special role to play here.
3.4 The Church must continue to advocate for the future of Jerusalem. The Church ought not to overlook the political aspects of the question Jerusalem remains at the center of Palestinian identity as it is of Israeli and Jewish identity. Palestinian sovereignty over occupied East Jerusalem should be recognized. Then shared sovereignty over one undivided city could be discussed.
For us the religious dimension of Jerusalem is vitally important. As the Holy See has insisted, because of the unique holiness of the city a special statute, to be forged by the local political authorities, is required, and ought to be further supported by international guarantees. In addition, the present Status Quo in the Holy Places should be respected without modifications.
3.5 Finally, the Church needs to be active in resolution of the refugee question. If Israel recognizes its responsibility and accepts the right of return in principle, the modalities of return will be more easily discussed. In addition, the international community must recognize its responsibility for helping create the refugee problem and for helping resolve it peacefully.
In these days I hope we shall find ways both to work together more effectively for a just peace in the Holy Land and to act in decisive ways to secure the Christian presence in the Holy Land. May God bless you all.
Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem