"Behold, I am going to make Jerusalem a cup that causes reeling to all the peoples around; and when the siege is against Jerusalem, it will also be against Judah. "And it will come about in that day that I will make Jerusalem a heavy stone for all the peoples; all who lift it will be severely injured. And all the nations of the earth will be gathered against it.

Zech. 12:2-3

National Catholic Reporter

March 1, 1996

page 13

By- Rosemary Radford Ruether

[Professor at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary, Evanston IL]

[NCR'S BIG headline]



Attempts by some Jews and Christians to make exclusive claims on Jerusalem have plunged the city into crisis.

Recognizing a growing problem, a conference in East Jerusalem in late January stressed the rich cultural diversity of the city throughout its long history and the equal rights of all three Abrahamic faiths—Judaism, Christianity and Islam—to religious attachment there.

Theological reflection on Jerusalem as a city for many peoples and three faiths, in contrast with exclusive claims, was the meeting's key. Specifically, the conference — envisioned as a positive step to express a prophetic vision and to raise awareness internationally — was about

Organizers were aware of the most recent territorial and demographic reshaping of Jerusalem, which began with the Israeli capture of East Jerusalem and the West Bank in 1967 and continues at a rapid pace today.

In 1967 the government of Israel not only annexed East Jerusalem as defined under Jordanian rule, but expanded its boundaries to 10 times its former size. Israel drew a gerrymandered territorial boundary around Palestinian East Jerusalem. Authorities avoided areas of Palestinian residency but defined open land owned by these Palestinians as state land or "green spots" on which Palestinians could not build. These areas within expanded Jerusalem have continually been redefined as areas of "public utility" for the construction of exclusively Jewish settlements. Remaining Palestinian communities between these settlements have been denied the right to expand, isolating and suffocating them.

There has also been an extensive Judaization of the Old City.

After 1967, the Moroccan quarter was completely razed to create a plaza in front of the Wailing Wall. Many Palestinian homeowners were expelled from an expanded and rebuilt Jewish quarter. In the past decade and a half, there has been a house-by-house takeover of properties in the Muslim and Christian quarters by militant Jewish settlers, many of whom belong to religious groups that are awaiting the destruction of the Muslim Dome of the Rock, a mosque that is the oldest extant Islamic monument, in order to rebuild the Jewish Temple in its place. These settlers see themselves as preparing the way for this "redemptive" event.

The October 1993 Oslo Peace Agreement between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization postponed a decision on the disposition of Jerusalem until May 1996. But Israel has only accelerated the building of settlements in the past three years in what seems to be a frantic race to consolidate a commanding Jewish presence in East Jerusalem and the marginalization of the remaining Arabs. Even today, the large settlement of Har Homa for 30,000 residents in its first stage is being planned for the remaining forested area north of Bethlehem on land taken from the villages of Beit Sahour and Um Tuba.

In addition to expanding settlements within the territory annexed in 1967, Israel has also been shaping a second ring of settlements reaching beyond Ramallah in the north, almost to Jericho in the east and down to Hebron in the south, and is engaged in defining this zone as "Greater Jerusalem." All together, this ring of settlements around former East Jerusalem encompasses some 30 percent of the former West Bank. Israel is also engaged in major projects of confiscation of Palestinian agricultural land to build bypass roads that link these various Jewish settlements to one another while Palestinian towns are isolated from one another and denied access to Jerusalem.

Beginning with the Gulf War in January 1991 and accelerating with the peace accords of 1993, Israel has been tightening the noose around West Bank Palestinian communities near Jerusalem as well as marginalizing those Palestinians who live within the area. Numerous fortified roadblocks have been thrown up on the roads that lead from Palestinian communities such as Ramallah, Bethany and Bethlehem. Access to Jerusalem has been denied to Palestinian residents of these areas on a continuous basis. For Palestinians who reside in these communities, only those who hold hard-to-get special permits can pass these checkpoints. Settlers zoom by these roadblocks without question. This has meant a great loss of employment to Palestinians of these regions who used to work in Jerusalem, as well as loss of access to hospitals, schools, religious sites and social, political and cultural life all located in the city.

These surrounding Palestinian regions are also isolated from one another, because roads leading from one to the other pass through Jerusalem. Bethlehemites cannot travel to Ramallah and vice versa. Six populated areas in the West Bank have been handed to the internal control of the Palestinian Authority. But this has only meant that the Israeli soldiers have withdrawn from the interior to a cordon of roadblocks that surround and isolate these communities from each other and from their historical capitol in East Jerusalem as well as from Israel. They become, as Palestinians say, a series of "big prisons," as Gaza has been and continues to be.

This isolation of West Bank Palestinians from Jerusalem meant that many Palestinian Christians who wanted to attend the conference were prevented from doing so because they were not able to obtain permits to enter the city. Several major presenters, such as Fr. Maroun Lahham, rector of the Latin Seminary of Beit Jala near Bethlehem, and Munir Fasheh, director of the Tamer Popular Education Center in Ramallah, could only get to the conference by entering the city illegally. Fasheh told me that he got to the conference by parking his car on the Ramallah side of the army checkpoint, walking over a hill and then taking a taxi on the other side.

Organizers of the conference were well-aware that this pattern of closure, checkpoints, expanding settlements and bypass roads is all part of a master plan by Israel to define an enlarged East Jerusalem as predominantly Jewish, cut off from Palestinians. The government of Israel wishes thereby to preclude any demand to hand back East Jerusalem to Palestinians as an integral part of the West Bank and as the capitol city of an interconnected Palestinian entity, much less state.

For this reason, the conference spoke not only of the religious rights of all three Abrahamic faiths but also of the cultural and political rights of two peoples, Israelis and Palestinians equally, to legitimate claims to the city as the joint capitals of two states.

In addition to a series of panels at the East Jerusalem YMCA on the biblical, theological, historical, cultural, legal, political and environmental aspects of Jerusalem today, conference participants journeyed out to experience these realities firsthand. Albert Aghazarian, Bir Zeit University public relations director who grew up in the Armenian quarter, conducted a walk of the Old City. Buses took participants on a tour to see the ring of settlements that surround East Jerusalem, as well as the reshaping of West Jerusalem from 1947. Since closure barred many West Bank residents from attending the conference, groups of participants traveled to the communities of Bethlehem, Beit Jala, Beit Sahour, Ramallah, Taybeh and Ramleh to conduct sessions in these regions and to meet with local Christians. The whole conference then traveled to Nazareth and Haifa for additional gatherings. A trip to Gaza was a further option.

The conference was organized by the Sabeel Liberation Theological Center, led by Naime Ateek, director of Sabeel and canon doctor and pastor of the Palestinian Congregation at St. George's Episcopal Cathedral in Jerusalem, in consultation with the Middle East Council of Churches. One hundred eighty-five international participants came from 25 countries across the globe, in addition to the many local participants from Palestine and Israel.

Representatives of the World Council of Churches, the National Council of Churches, the Church of England and numerous denominational leaders from Europe, the United States and Africa were in attendance or sent greetings to be read at the-conference. The conference drew from the rich ecumenical diversity of the churches of Jerusalem. Msgr. Michel Sabbah, Latin patriarch of Jerusalem and president of the Middle East Council of Churches, gave the opening address. Leaders from the Syrian Catholic church, the Greek Orthodox patriarchate, the Coptic church, the Armenian Orthodox church, the Episcopal and Lutheran churches of Jerusalem and the Middle East participated in the conference as presenters or worship leaders.

A strong feeling emerged early in the conference that it was not enough simply to engage in an educational event. The conference must result in commitments to action. The final conference statement urged the following points: the end of closure preventing access to Jerusalem for Palestinians; an immediate cessation of all land expropriation in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and of the building and expansion of Jewish settlements there, notably the Har Homa settlement; equal rights for Palestinians to build housing and institutions in Jerusalem; the inclusion of East Jerusalem in all political agreements between Israelis and the Palestinians; the release of prisoners; the right of return; and eventual sovereignty.

Jerusalem is and must remain a city of three faiths and two nations.


"Behold, I am going to make Jerusalem a cup that causes reeling to all the peoples around; and when the siege is against Jerusalem, it will also be against Judah. "And it will come about in that day that I will make Jerusalem a heavy stone for all the peoples; all who lift it will be severely injured. And all the nations of the earth will be gathered against it.

Zech. 12:2-3