DAILY CATHOLIC    TUESDAY     December 7, 1999     vol. 10, no. 232

from a CATHOLIC perspective

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Interview with Ehud Olmert, Mayor of Jerusalem

        JERUSALEM, DEC 5 (ZENIT-FIDES).- There is no lessening of tension in the Holy Land over the disputed government decision to accept a request filed by a group of fundamentalist Muslims to build a mosque in Nazareth next to the Basilica of the Annunciation. The Israeli government's decision dismayed Christian leaders everywhere in the Holy Land and around the world. By way of protest against the symbolic laying of the building's foundation stone on November 23, Christian shrines and churches of all denominations in the Holy Land kept their doors closed for two days.

        Disagreement and discontent have been manifest even among Israel's political leaders. Ehud Olmert, Mayor of Jerusalem since 1993, is among the most critical. "Fides" interviewed Mr. Olmert about the situation.

    -- What do you think about Minister Ben Ami's decision to give government land for the building of a mosque in front of the Basilica of the Annunciation in Nazareth?

    EHUD OLMERT: I think the decision is wrong. The government land was assigned to squatters who took possession claiming previous historic rights of ownership, rights which proved to be without foundation and were rejected by the Court in Nazareth.

    -- What impact has this decision had on relations between the Israeli government and the various churches?

    EHUD OLMERT: The relationship between churches (in this case with the Catholic Church) and the State of Israel is a tapestry woven with delicate and fragile threads; it cannot bear heavy blows. This decision does not contribute to good relations. It is obvious that the churches reject this act and see it as a humiliation for Christian status in the Holy Land. At the same time, for the churches the relationship is important and must be maintained and improved. Good sense must prevail and every effort be made to localize the incident, putting it into perspective to avoid compromising these fragile relations.

    -- What must be done now?

    EHUD OLMERT: The decision should be annulled. I suggest reclaiming the ownership of the property for the building of a public square for residents and tourists alike. This is on the government level. On the municipal level, the local building committee and the district building committee should not approve the construction of the plan, since these statutory rights are in their jurisdiction. I am not familiar with the specific details in Nazareth, but it does not seem to me that the plan could be approved in such a short period of time. So I find it difficult to see how the municipality of Nazareth gave permission for the laying of the foundation stone for a building of which the plans have yet to be approved. The only one in charge of these matters is the city of Nazareth, not the government of Israel.

        -- In Israel and the rest of the world people are thinking of the imminent Christian Jubilee Year and wondering if this humiliation and friction will cause pilgrims and tourists to decide not to visit their Holy Places of Bethlehem, Nazareth and Jerusalem, towns that are preparing to accommodate hundreds of thousands of visitors. As mayor of Jerusalem, are you concerned?

    EHUD OLMERT: Although squatters have illegally taken the land, the churches are not in the habit of disturbing the peace or breaking the law. The churches are confident that the Jubilee, an occurrence of unprecedented importance for all Christians, will be a peaceful, joyful event. ZE99120220

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.

December 7, 1999       volume 10, no. 232


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