Jerusalem Belongs to Whom?

Latin Patriarch Fouad Twal preaches about the significance of the Holy City of Jerusalem.

This burning question has dominated the thoughts of a few of us participating in the annual Holy Land Coordination meeting, led by a number of bishops from Europe and North America.

Following World War II, the United Nations voted to partition Palestine, which had been governed by Great Britain under a mandate from the old League of Nations. The General Assembly in November 1947 decided to divide Mandate Palestine into three parts: a Jewish state, an Arab state and a separate political entity, a corpus separatum, the city of Jerusalem.

Since the 1967 war, things changed dramatically with the Israeli occupation of the Old City, East Jerusalem and all of the West Bank. The Palestinian Authority, as it now attempts to form an independent state, claims East Jerusalem as its capital. Israel claims that an undivided Jerusalem is the capital of the Jewish state.

Despite these claims, facts on the ground are fast determining who retains rights to which lands.

One claim comes from many Orthodox Jews, who believe the city and territories surrounding it are theirs according to ancient biblical texts. The Israeli media has reported that some who advocate this point of view are growing increasingly intolerant. They have reported random acts of violence directed at anyone, even Jewish Israelis, who claim otherwise. Archaeology, some argue, has become politicized as diggers try to find out who was in Jerusalem first. But many argue this will only serve some and will deny others; they believe that the city needs to be shared by all the communities who call it the Holy City.

In a meeting with the deputy mayor of Jerusalem, Naomi Tsur, she acknowledged that there is a certain intolerance and impatience from some Jewish Orthodox communities, but she believes that people of the city need a common plan. Her dream is to have a “green” pilgrimage city that could unite all peoples to advocate an environmentally clean city.

Her plan is impressive and would be a real success in any city of the world, but Jerusalem isn’t any city.

During his homily last Wednesday, Latin Patriarch Fouad Twal stated that, because of its history and nature, Jerusalem belongs to the world not to one country or one people or one religion. Actually, Jerusalem belongs to all people of faith, he said. This city has to succeed in showing the world that it is possible for Christians, Jews and Muslims to live together in a just world. He called for our prayers and action to help this holy city live up to its religious vocation in the interest of peace.

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