Holy Land Christians Say Israel No Longer Guarantor of Shrines

JERUSALEM, Nov 29, 01 (Fides/CWNews.com) - The leaders of Christian communities in Jerusalem issued a joint statement on Thursday in which they said the building of a controversial mosque in Nazareth could destroy the Jewish-Christian dialogue built with difficulty over several decades.

They Christian leader also called on the international community to extend the UN guarantee for Jerusalem to all the Holy Places. The leaders accuse Israel of abuse of power and manipulation of religious feelings to sow division between Christians and Muslims. Israel has made promises it does not keep, and it can no longer credibly claim that it can be trusted to respect any religion's Holy Places, they said.

The leaders renewed their appeal to the Israeli government to overturn the decision to build a mosque in front of the Basilica of the Annunciation in Nazareth. The statement is signed by 12 Christian leaders including Latin-rite Catholic Patriarch Michel Sabbah, Greek Orthodox Patriarch Eirenios I, Bishop Mounib Youan of the Lutheran Evangelical Church, and Father Giovanni Batistelli, of the Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land.

"This government project contradicts the original plan made by the Arab Mayor of Nazareth, Tawfiq Zayad, to beautify the city in preparation for the year 2000. That plan designated the same state-owned land for a public square, a pleasant meeting place for the city's Christian and Muslim inhabitants, and for the gathering of pilgrims, facilitating their access to the Shrine. It is this plan that we are demanding the government to respect and implement," they said.

The leaders said they are surprised to see that the government's promises have not been honored and that appeals from around the world have been ignored. They recalled that leading Muslim authorities have criticized the project: "This is an ill-advised plan by certain Israeli political circles who are making use of a marginal group of Muslims in order to sow division between Christians and Muslims in Israel and among Muslims themselves."

The leaders also recalled that criticism of the project and solidarity with Christians has also been voiced by Muslims and Jews in many places. "We know that our Jewish friends would be deeply concerned about the destructive effects that the government decision for Nazareth could have on the fruits of decades of hard work to build up and expand Jewish-Christian dialogue. We are therefore particularly confident in appealing for support of Jewish religious leaders and Jewish organizations, in Israel and worldwide."

The leaders end their statement by taking a firm stance. "If some Israeli authorities abuse their governmental power to manipulate people's religious sentiments, to divide the population to create conflict, to foment intolerant fundamentalism, then they cannot credibly claim that they can be trusted to respect any religion's Holy Places in their jurisdiction, whether in Nazareth or elsewhere." They then called for the UN resolution 181 from 1947 to be expanded to include international guarantees for all shrines in the Holy Land.

Catholic World News Service - Daily News Briefs
29. november 2001