March 20, 2000
volume 11, no. 56
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NEWS & VIEWS     Acknowledgments
Articles provided through Catholic World News and Church News at Noticias Eclesiales and International Dossiers, Daily Dispatches and Features at ZENIT International News Agency. CWN, NE and ZENIT are not affiliated with the Daily CATHOLIC but provide this service via e-mail to the Daily CATHOLIC Monday through Friday.

Is Jerusalem a landmine for Papal Visit?

    JERUSALEM, MAR 17 ( Only 63% of Israeli citizens know that in 1994 the Vatican officially recognized the State of Israel and that they currently maintain diplomatic relations, while only 44% of Israelis know the Church's official position on anti-Semitism. These are just two facts revealed in a recent Gallup poll, which explains statements made to the international agency "Fides," by Fr. David Jaeger, a Jew born in Israel in 1955 who, after converting to Catholicism, joined the Franciscan Order in 1981. Fr. Jaeger is also a jurist and, as such, participated in the Vatican-Israeli Bilateral Commission that elaborated the mutual agreements.

    "It must be said that in Israel all the progress made since Vatican II in relations between Catholics and Jews is virtually unknown. In future negotiations between Israel and the Vatican, we want to address this: what must be done so that these successes will be made known to the Jewish people. We need a project to educate the Jewish population." Even professors at the University of Tel Aviv are positively surprised to learn about documents that were published 30 years ago and are still unknown in Israel.


    Fr. Jaeger believes that "the government has a certain responsibility for this slowness in education and knowledge: the agreement between the Vatican and Israel signed in 1993 was made known in 1999; the second agreement, on the Church as a legal entity, ratified in February of 1999, has not yet been published in the Official Gazette... We want to request a review of the way in which Jesus Christ and the Catholic Church are presented in the school curriculum and official speeches, so that the Jewish population is informed and up-to-date on progress in our relations. Since Vatican II, the Church has revised the way in which it speaks about the Jews in the liturgy, catechesis and theology. On Israel's side, we need reciprocity in this."

    In referring to the Pope's visit, Fr. Jaeger believes that one of the most "significant" moments for the relations with Jews will be the visit to Yad Vashem, the Museum of the Holocaust.

Papal Visit, National Priority

    In regard to preparations for the Pope's visit to Israel, Fr. Jaeger confirmed the great efforts carried out by the government, which has turned it into a national priority. "Prime Minister Ehud Barak has made himself responsible for the preparations and entrusted Haim Ramon, his closest Minister, to dedicate himself completely to carrying out this project. And, although it is not a State visit in the strict sense, Israel has not spared any efforts."

    However, Fr. Jaeger acknowledged that "on the fringes of social life, there are groups with different views. The orthodox religious leaders are mistrustful of opening towards other religions, especially, towards Catholics."

Danger of Mixing Religion and Politics

    Fr. Jaeger said that "in recent years a theocratic minority has asserted itself and is combating the secular authorities. One could say there is a 'Kulturkampf' [cultural struggle] between the secular and the religious, in an attempt to broaden their spheres of influence. Christians hope the seculars will win."

    "The agreement signed by the Vatican and Israel has as its first article the guarantee of religious liberty, in keeping with the U.N. Declaration and the State of Israel's Declaration of Independence. In practice we have betted on the secularization of the State of Israel," added the priest.

    "When religion and politics mix, it is terrible for this land," asserted Fr. Jaeger. "All enlightened forces must struggle for the secularization of the Hebrew and Palestinian State. This is the necessary condition to guarantee peace, the rights of all citizens, respect for minorities, and women's rights. This is also the condition for the freedom of the Church in the Middle East."

    "In the Middle East, there is perhaps too much talk of God, too little of man, and much less of woman," Fr. Jaeger concluded.

    Ehud Olmert, the mayor of Jerusalem, has warned the Pope that it would be better if during his visit he does not touch upon the question of the Holy City's status, the "eternal capital" of the State of Israel.

    This is a particularly thorny problem, which over the last few years has become one of the biggest reasons for differences between the Vatican and Israel. It is a question that, as the international agency "Fides" reports, appears theoretically in the "agenda" of negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians on the final status of the city, but which political and religious leaders of Israel constantly avoid, insisting that Jerusalem is indivisible and will be the "eternal capital of Israel."

    Fr. Jaeger, a member of the Vatican-Israeli Bilateral Commission that made possible official relations between the two States, told "Fides" that he believes there are no "eternal capitals." Capitals "are always historical and political, not eternal. Only God is eternal, and the State of Israel has committed itself to find a just and negotiated solution to the problem. This is also the Holy See's position. The problem of Jerusalem must be solved at the international level and not unilaterally. The territorial future of Jerusalem and the city's political fortune must be sought jointly by Israel and the Palestinians. Moreover, Israel committed itself in Oslo to find a negotiated solution to the question of Jerusalem"

    In the plan of Palestine's division, which was approved in 1947 by U.N. Resolution 181, provision was made for the constitution of a "corpus separatum" that embraced Jerusalem and some neighboring cities under the aegis of the Security Council. This resolution was never implemented, and the Holy City remained divided in two sectors: Israeli to the West and Jordanian to the East, until the 1967 War, when Israel conquered the eastern sector, where the Holy Places are located, by force. Without entering into territorial disputes, the Vatican condemned all unilateral or violently imposed measures to effect geographic or demographic changes.

    "On behalf of the Church we say that, no matter what the political future of Jerusalem is, it must be shared," stated Fr. Jaeger. "Moreover, we Catholics ask that certain aspects be guaranteed at the international level, according to U.N. principles. I am speaking of the safeguarding of the cultural and religious patrimony of the city; of the 'status quo' in the shrines; liberty of religion and conscience; the juridical equality of the institutions of the three religions; access to the shrines by all. U.N. Resolution 181 (of 1947) set the same objectives, but thinking of the internationalization of the territory. This internationalization does not seem realistic. Therefore, this same objective can find another type of solution that is not of a territorial character, but of common agreement between Israelis and Palestinians on one hand, and the international community on the other."

    "A sign of hope is that the Palestinians have already made this view their own. Nothing stops us from thinking that our Israeli friends will do the same. Jews and Palestinians of good will are already thinking of a shared city, in which West Jerusalem is the capital of the Jewish State and East Jerusalem the capital of Palestine. As regards the rest, although Israel has made Jerusalem its capital, it has also committed itself to find a negotiated solution for Jerusalem: the only way out is to share the capital," Fr. Jaeger concluded. ZE00031702 and ZE00031703


March 20, 2000
volume 11, no. 56

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