CALLING THE ISLAMIC AND CHRISTIAN WORLDS
FOR THE SAKE OF JERUSALEM
Delivered at the Muslim-Christian Conference for Jerusalem Beirut, June 14-16 1996
In the Name of Allah, The Beneficent, The Merciful
All praise is due to Allah, the Lord of the worlds, the Lord of the Universe. May peace and blessings be on Muhammad, on his forefather Abraham, on his brothers Moses and Jesus, on all the Prophets and their families, and on their companions and followers.
I thank Allah, the Exalted God, for the gathering of this meeting and for giving us inspiration to serve the Holy City. I thank the Middle East Council of Churches for this meeting and for supporting courageously the cause of the Arab Nations and the Holy City.
I would like to discuss some of the positions of the various parties concerning the issue of Jerusalem, then offer some proposals and recommendations.
I - The Muslim Position:
What do we mean when we speak about Jerusalem and its cause? What does it mean to us the Muslims? Does the meaning entail the Al-Aqsa Mosque, the Dome of the Rock, and the rest that is considered sacred to the Muslims, Christians, and Jews? Or does the meaning entail the cause of the nation, its destiny, and its future generations?
Truly, its meaning comes from all of these things. It is a comprehensive cause symbolizing true faith in Allah, the Exalted, in all His messages, in the succession of all the Messengers and Prophets, and in our responsibility to make it an open city for worship and the rightful capital of the Palestinian state.
Indeed, the Arab city was blessed before our beloved Abraham migrated to it. It is mentioned in the Torah that Abraham came to Jerusalem at the time when it was ruled by a pious and holy man who believed in the unity of Allah. He was the chief of the Canaan tribe and his name was Aliboseen.
The sanctity of Jerusalem also springs from the Muslim glorification of all divinely revealed religions and of the heavenly prophets: Abraham, David, Solomon, Moses, Jesus, and Muhammad, may peace be upon them. We believe that David, Solomon, Moses, Jesus, and other Prophets of Allah were in Jerusalem, and we believe in the holiness of the place which increased over time. The birth of our beloved Jesus Christ in the Holy Land adds to our belief in the sacredness of this land. Prophet Muhammad's night journey to Al-Aqsa Mosque is also a reason for belief in the sacredness of Jerusalem.
We do not discriminate between the Prophets because Abraham, David, Solomon, Moses and Jesus are our Prophets whom we hold in equal status with our Prophet Muhammad. We stand by them against their enemies as we stand by Muhammad, peace be upon him, against his enemies. Through the efforts of the Muslims, this land has become holier. Therefore, the Arab nation is in the best position to guard and protect Jerusalem and keep it open for worship by Jews, Christians and Muslims.
For many centuries, the Muslims had the honor of serving the Holy City, and also of preserving and defending it. The history of those times reveals the fact that the city was open to all, so that they were free to conduct their religious and worldly activities.
Under the canopy of Islam, Caliph Omar Ibn Al-Khattab refused to enter Jerusalem by military conquest. Students of history see the Muslim plan to conquer the Syrian land, but there was no thought of taking Jerusalem by military force because of its dignified status and sacredness. When the Muslims surrounded it, they did so from a distance, thereby isolating it from the Byzantine empire. It is the only city that surrendered its key to the Muslim Caliph. Its ruler, Sophronious, refused to give the key to any person except Omar. From that day it bore the name Al-Quds, Holy City of Jerusalem.
Under the canopy of Islam, Caliph Omar Ibn Al-Khattab refused to conduct his prayer in the Church of Resurrection, although the Bishops invited him to do so. He said he was afraid that if he prayed in the church, it would be an excuse for some Muslims to turn it into a Mosque later on.
To sum up these words, the protection of Jerusalem and the land around it, which Allah blessed, the defense of its holiness and the rights of its people and the defense of all occupied Arab and Muslim territories are a part of Islamic commitment, a commitment that is renewed with the birth of every Muslim baby. Islam will never be aggressive but will repel evey aggression, will protect human rights without discriminating against peoples, and will never violate those human rights. Therefore, under the canopy of Islam Al-Quds became the city of peace.
II - The Israeli Position:
Under Israel's rule, however, Al-Quds has been the city of conflict. There was the tragic massacre at Al-Aqsa Mosque. Israeli soldiers and Jewish settlers attacked and killed unarmed Muslim worshippers in the courts of the Mosque. Then in August 1968, some Zionists tried to destroy the Mosque by setting it on fire. After 1967 the Zionists allocated 200 million dollars to build the Temple on the ruins of Al-Aqsa. The Jerusalem Temple Foundation, an Evangelical Zionist foundation aligned with Israel, contributed 100 million dollars annually for this objective. This objective was clearly proclaimed by Ben Gurion when he said: Israel has no meaning without Jerusalem and Jerusalem has no meaning without the Temple. Works of excavation are still taking place under the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock, which undermine the foundation of both structures and threaten to make them crumble and fall. The destruction of both Al-Aqsa and the Dome of the Rock, and the building of the Temple in their place, is one of the major goals of the Zionist Movement.
If you study history, you will see that for thirteen centuries. Muslims, Christians and Jews lived together peacefully in Palestine and Jerusalem, which were open to all. But the Zionist movement and the Israeli policy have become a threat to the Jews and their future and no less than a threat to the Muslims and the Christians.
Ever since the Israelis took Jerusalem by force, they have been working to make it nothing but a city for Jewish people only. Political decisions on the highest level were taken to drive out both the Muslim and Christian inhabitants and to replace them with the Zionists and the Jews. Figures say that the number of Jews in Jerusalem is more than the number of Muslims and Christians together.
For example, the Christian population has decreased dramatically since 1967. There were 38000 Christians in Jerusalem in 1967, but there are only 12500 today. Because of the birthrate compared to the deathrate during the last 30 years, we would expect the Christian population to be 120000 instead of 12500.
Why has this been happening? Because Israeli policy has been to confiscate land and religious sites from Muslims and Christians, as well as to expel people from Jerusalem and Palestinian territories. The seriousness of the change is clear when you realize that the Jews in Palestine numbered only 55000 out of the 700000 inhabitants in 1918; or 8% of the population.
III - The Position of the Western Church:
Many Protestants supported the Zionists in establishing the Israeli state. They believed in the dreams expressed in the Revelation of John, the last book of the New Testament. John's vision was that Jesus will not return to rule the world for 1000 years until the Jews gather in Palestine and establish their state again. This idea was a part of Christian Zionism and it gained support from some Western churches and Western dignitaries, such as Lord Balfour of England, who declared that Palestine should become the homeland for the Jews. Today, many organizations, especially in America, support the Zionist project on the basis of their convictions about what will happen in The end times. These establishments number over 250. One example is the International Christian Embassy of Jerusalem, which was established in 1980 and sponsored a conference in Jerusalem with more than 1000 participants from churches in twenty-three countries.
Another conference in Basel, Switzerland in August of 1985 issued the following statement:
We the delegates gathering here and representing various churches have come for prayer in order to express our solidarity with Israel. We realize that the Jews have been facing vicious and destructive forces as they were exposed to in the past. We, as Christians, realize that the church has not been fair to the Jews in their history of persecution. We unify our word in Europe after forty years of the persecution of the Jews to express our support for Israel.
Here are some of the resolutions adopted at that conference:
1. To call the Vatican to recognize Israel.
2. To call all the nations to recognize Jerusalem as the eternal capital of Israel and to move their embassies to it.
3. To call the World Council of Churches in Geneva to recognize the Biblical link between the Jewish people and their promised land.
4. The delegates pray and look forward eagerly to the day when Jerusalem, the Lord's Kingdom, will become an actual reality.
In response to the pressure exercised by these organizations, a statement was issued by the American Congress recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
It is important to point out that within the Protestant churches there is a group opposing this trend represented by the National Council of the Church of Christ. This council has various media centers which exercise activities that are important and should be supported and developed to confront those racist Protestants who are in alignment with the Zionist movement.
IV - The Arab Church Position towards Jerusalem:
The Christian Arabs generally have strongly opposed the attitudes of the Protestant groups who support Israel. Also, they have denounced the agreement between the Zionists and Israel and the treaty of 30 December 1993. As reported in a London newspaper, the treaty recognized Israel and the status quo in occupied Palestine, i.e., it supported Israel in violating the rights of the Palestinians and the confiscation of their Land.
The treaty deals with the distinctive relationship between the Western Catholic church and the Jewish state, and the cooperation between them. In this statement it is clear that wherever the Catholic Church is mentioned, all the catholic institutions all over the world are included.
Allow me to present here an example of opposition which comes from the position of the Arab church in this excerpt from a valuable paper under the title: Zionism and its Danger to the Christian Church delivered by Bishop Pasilius Samaha and published in the Lebanese newspaper Al-Anwar on 16 Aug. 1967.
Zionism has realized that the great danger obstructing its goals is the Christian Faith. For that reason its vicious activity within the circle of Christianity aims at its abolition and thenceforth all the other faiths. It wholly dreams of taking over the Papal Palace at the Vatican, which will enable it to spread its sovereignty on other countries politically in accordance with its seventeenth protocol: when the time comes for the whole destruction of the Papal court an unknown power will give the onset charge, when people rush at the Vatican ragingly we will appear as defenders to stop the massacres. Thus we will enter the heart of this court and no power on earth will be able to drive us out. Thus we will have destroyed the Pontiff's power.
Zionism tries its best to extract from the Holy Book all that which contradicts its view point and is not in line with it. It adopts the explanations and interpretations of the Holy Book which agree with its caprice and justify its endeavors in order to gain legitimacy in Palestine and win the Christian Arabs to its side.
This reliance on manipulating some verses of the Holy Book is nothing but blasphemy, the aim of which is to reach the goal drawn by devilish Jews and in compliance with their distortive method which they have maliciously mastered.
World Zionism works today on the principle of planting mines and creating suspicions between lay Christians and their clergy. At one time they distort the meanings of the Holy Book; at another time they strive to exploit the divisions among the churches. They succeeded in making the Papal authority declare that they are innocent of the crucifixion of Christ. It is noteworthy to mention here that the Cardinal behind that is Peia whose origin is Jewish.
It is well to remember that the Middle East Council of Churches, which has called for this honorable meeting, had a defensive position and issued in April 1988 a statement rebutting the ideas of the conference held in the Swiss city of Basel in 1985 by the International Christian Embassy Organization in Jerusalem referred to above. From the said statement we read: As we understand the responsibility laid upon our shoulders toward the Christian sects and the universal public opinion we emphasize that the said meeting has a notorious political quality in spite of the various religious references. We condemn using the Old Testament and the religious feeling in attempting to ascribe a religious motive to establishing the state of Israel.
V - International Organizations and the Question of Jerusalem:
After the occupation of Jerusalem in 1967, in August the same year, the Israeli government issued an act declaring Jerusalem a unified city and the permanent and eternal capital of Israel.
Only a week later, the Security Council objected to the Israeli declaration and issued several resolutions confirming that Eastern Jerusalem is an occupied land, that Israel has no right to change the legal status of Jerusalem, and that Israel alone may not decide the destiny of Jerusalem, and that the resolutions issued by Israel concerning Jerusalem are invalid under the international law.
Scores of resolutions of the General Assembly of the United Nations and the Security Council were issued before and after 1967, all of which condemn, object and show sorrow towards the actions of Israel. There is, for example, the resolution No. 267 of 1969 in which the Security Council confirms its past resolutions concerning Jerusalem, and then states that it feels sorry because Israel has failed in showing any respect for the two resolutions of the Security Council and the United Nations. The Council denounces strictly all actions done to change the status of Jerusalem and emphasizes that all these actions are invalid. The Council furthermore asks Israel to stop any similar actions in the future.
Thus, the Security Council maintains its stand towards Jerusalem within the theoretical field, with its resolutions inactive. While on the other hand we find Israel actually proceeding to convert Jerusalem and the occupied Palestinian land into Jewish land neglecting the international law, and the international organization, and doing all of this arrogantly and scornfully.
At this point we see very clearly that the Security Council is applying a double-standard to Israel. It shows the complete inability of the Council to take any serious action toward Israel concerning Jerusalem and the occupied territories. Whereas we see its very swift and active measures when fulfilling other resolutions against other countries.
We, Muslims and Christians, in this battle of joint strife against the Israeli aggression on Jerusalem and its holy places, on Palestine and its people, on Christianity and the church, on Islam, Muslims and the Quran, we are all badly in need of strengthening our front holding fast to the strong rope of Allah so as to be all in one line to defend the rights of our nation and country. As Archbishop Samaha in his speech quoted above says: From our glorious history, from our unity and cooperation as Christians and Muslims in serving our nation and Arabism, from all these we see it very necessary that we should go on with our brotherhood and cooperation to save our Arab nation from the crisis caused by Colonialism and Zionism. Our history is abundant with this cooperation. The Christians welcomed the advent of the Arab Muslims when their troops came to the holy city of Jerusalem. They offered the keys of the city and the holy places to the just Caliph Omar as a token of loyalty, cooperation and love. Muslims, on their part, kept their pledges. Caliph Omar performed his prayer outside the Church of Resurrection so that the believers would not later have any claims in making the place where Omar prayed as a mosque for them. If I were to resort again to history to survey examples of this cooperation, it would take me a very long time, and it would mean hours and hours to spend with you to relate those instances, but it is enough now to start from that old cooperation to go on a continuous brotherly relation which stands to keeping Palestine as it has always been an Arab land for ever, and to keep the banner of our Arab nation flying over Jerusalem which was and will always be an Arab city for ever.
Finally, on the basis of what has been discussed I would like to offer these suggestions and recommendations:
1. To appreciate the role of the Middle East Council of Churches for its solid stance concerning the Jerusalem question, to call for generalizing this stance and spreading it in the Churches which we consider friendly and cooperative with us.
2. To denounce the attitude of the Security Council because of its unjust policy of double-standards, because of its passiveness in protecting the rights of the Palestinians and in its inability to stop the Israeli occupation from going on with its process of Judaization of Jerusalem and the Arab occupied territories.
3. To call upon all nations to press hard on the UN organization to abolish the system of the dictatorship of the VETO practiced by the major powers against the interests of the powerless nations.
4. To request the Middle East Council of Churches to plan on influencing the churches of the West which are allied with Israel in order to change their stance, and to arrange with the opposing sectors in the Evangelical and Protestant churches to support justice on the Jerusalem question.
5. To call for establishing a Universal Christian-Muslim assembly for the protection of Jerusalem. It should consist of personalities and organizations of Christians and Muslims everywhere who believe in the protection of Jerusalem. Such an assembly should have a worksheet and a general secretariat.
From this place and on this historical occasion I do appreciate the brave stance of our Christian Arab brothers for their support of the Arab rights in Palestine and Jerusalem. Also I feel very happy that we all agree, together with our nations, on calling for and working together towards making Jerusalem the capital of the anticipated Palestinian state and the city of peace, which will be open for everybody and for all followers of the three heavenly religions and to make the city of peace a symbol for peace and a haven for all those who truly and sincerely call for peace in all parts of the world.