Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Orthodox Christian Archbishop Calls for Conference on Jerusalem

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Orthodox Christian Archbishop Calls for Conference on Jerusalem

Article excerpt

Orthodox Christian Archbishop Calls For Conference on Jerusalem

By Shawn L. Twing

"I am calling for an Orthodox summit conference on Jerusalem," His Eminence Archbishop Philip Saliba told the Washington Report, because "I can't understand the silence of the Orthodox patriarchs about this most important and most pressing issue." On a recent visit to Washington, DC, the Lebanese-born, U.S.-educated church official said the status of Jerusalem, a holy city for Jews, Christians and Muslims, has become an increasingly inflammatory topic during recent months, particularly since the Israeli government announced, and then suspended under domestic political pressure, plans to expropriate more Arab land in East Jerusalem for Jewish housing and a police headquarters.

Complicating the issue are moves by Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole (R--KS) and House of Representatives Speaker Newt Gingrich (R--GA) to introduce a bill to move the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, which would give de facto U.S. support for Israel's claim that Jerusalem is the "eternal and undivided capital of Israel." Archbishop Saliba and other Christian leaders wrote a letter to President Clinton urging him to place the status of Jerusalem higher on the U.S. agenda in the peace negotiations, and most importantly to pressure the Israelis to stop their aggressive settlement policy in East Jerusalem.

Of particular concern to Archbishop Saliba is the status of the Orthodox Christian community in Jerusalem. During the last 25 years, the number of Orthodox Christians in Jerusalem has decreased dramatically, from 50,000 in 1970 to fewer than 2,000 today. The Archbishop attributes this to what he calls the "Israeli plan to Judaize Jerusalem at the expense of the Christians and Muslims" through the building of settlements and expropriation of land.

The significance of Jerusalem to the three Abrahamic faiths--Judaism, Christianity and Islam--is cited frequently, but often there is little discussion about why it is so important beyond references to the Temple Mount, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and the Dome of the Rock. As Archbishop Saliba points out, Jerusalem is not merely "an archeological site," but a city central to understanding the origins of the monotheistic religions. Abraham, the patriarch from whom Jews, Christians and Muslims trace their religious roots, traveled to the Holy Land from `Ur (in present-day Iraq) some two thousand years before the birth of Christ. According to the Bible, Abraham encountered native peoples there--the Canaanites, Jebusites and Hittites. The name Palestine is derived from one such group, the Philistines. The book of Genesis relates how the patriarch Abraham insisted on paying a Hittite for a cave in which to bury his wife Sarah. Upon such biblical sources Orthodox Christians base their own claims in Palestine. The Orthodox reject the notion that the land of Israel is holy only for the Jews. Archbishop Saliba often has commented that "God is no longer in the real estate business."

The Community's History

The history of the Orthodox Christian community is important in order to further understand the importance of Jerusalem. Orthodox Christianity has its roots in an 11th century schism between Rome and the other patriarchates at the time (Jerusalem, Antioch, Constantinople and Alexandria). …

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