Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Holy sites need legal protection, say speakers at Rome conference

This is worth reading simply to get a slightly warped perspective.

By Cindy Wooden
Catholic News Service

ROME (CNS) -- Every Friday afternoon in Jerusalem's Old City, thousands of Muslims walk to Al Aqsa Mosque to pray, thousands of Jews walk to the Western Wall to pray and thousands of Christians carry a cross in procession along the Via Dolorosa, recalling the Way of the Cross.

[This is something that was not allowed when portions of Jerusalem were occupied by the most moderate Arab state, Jordan, and would also not be possible if the unnecessary solutions obviously favored by participants were ever to come into being.]

Daniel Seidemann, an Israeli lawyer, said the Friday afternoon scene "is not touchy-feely, it's not fuzzy warm and when the people glance at each other, more often than not it is a glance of disdain or contempt, but the damn thing works."

Seidemann, who describes himself as a Zionist committed to ensuring Jerusalem remains a city where Jews, Christians and Muslims coexist, spoke in Rome Dec. 10 at an international conference on different legal and religious approaches to the status of holy places and religious institutions.

The conference was co-sponsored by the interdisciplinary program in law and religion at Catholic University's Columbus School of Law in Washington.

Marshall J. Breger, a professor at the law school, told Catholic News Service, "We believe the political issues -- as difficult as they are in places like Palestine and Israel -- cannot be resolved without recognizing the religious issues involved."

"Conferences like this let us uncover the facts concerning the law, theology and culture of the different stakeholders in a conflict," he said.

Tariq Ramadan, a professor of Islamic studies at Oxford University and president of the European Muslim Network, said that while religious leaders should educate their followers in the obligation to respect the holy sites of all religions, if those sites are not protected by law, "in situations of conflict, there will be a mess."

[As there was before Jerusalem was reunited by Israel after being attacked by Jordan in 1967.]

"Idealism offers no protection from the dark side" of human behavior, he said, so laws are needed to protect and govern access to places people consider sacred.

Seidemann said that while Jerusalem may not be a model of interfaith friendship and cooperation, its identity is essentially tied to being a city where different religious groups exist side by side.

But, he said, the city's history has shown violence is almost guaranteed when there is a "real or perceived threat or violation of sacred space."

The government must guarantee the security of and access to holy sites and not allow fundamentalist Jewish, Muslim or Christian activists the opportunity to ignite more violence, he said.

[Fortunately, Israel does protect the security of and access to holy places, despite unfair criticism.]

While the majority of Israelis and Palestinians now agree that they want peace and have converged around a solution based on Israel withdrawing from the West Bank and Gaza Strip, "the volcanic core of the conflict" -- the Old City of Jerusalem and its holy sites -- remains volatile, Seidemann said.

[This is the statement most showing a profound misunderstanding.

Jerusalem was virtually ignored between 1948 and 1967, when all the holy sites were under Jordanian occupation. The fact that these sites were occupied by Arabs and Muslims did nothing to prevent the Arabs from trying to destroy Israel.]

So far, he said, peace proposals have shown themselves "inadequate for dealing with the religious ecosystem of Jerusalem."

[Trying to deal with the "religious ecosystem of Jerusalem" is part of the problem. If it's not broken, follow the Beetles' advice and "let it be."]

In addition, Seidemann said, the flight of Christian residents from Jerusalem threatens the already fragile coexistence of believers from the three faiths and "is the cultural, the religious impoverishment of Jerusalem."

"This is dangerous," he said. "The Christian community of Jerusalem is the canary in the coal mine; when that community is ill, everybody is ill."

Franciscan Father David Jaeger, who has been involved in Vatican-Israeli negotiations, said that except for the Church of the Holy Sepulcher and the tomb of Mary in Jerusalem and the Basilica of the Nativity in Bethlehem, all of the Catholic churches and shrines in the Holy Land are the private property of the Catholic Church.

The three major sites are governed by an internationally recognized agreement, which is guaranteed by both Israel and the Palestinian Authority, Father Jaeger said. "In the future, when Jerusalem has an internationally guaranteed special statute (something for which the Vatican hopes) that responsibility may pass to an international organization designated for the purpose."

[Jaeger is living in the past. The internationalization of Jerusalem was proposed by the United Nations in 1948 and rejected by the Arabs.

Nobody was calling for internationalization when the holy sites were under Jordanian occupation and Jews were denied all access to the Temple Mount and the Kotel; such calls were renewed only when Jerusalem was reunited and everyone given access.]

As for the other churches and shrines the Catholic Church considers holy, Father Jaeger said the Catholic Church asks only that the normal laws governing private property be respected.

In the Catholic codes of canon law, he said, sacred places are not sacred because of the traditions associated with the site, but because the church has performed a rite consecrating the place.

For Catholics, Father Jaeger said, "law, not mysticism, defines a sacred place" in contrast with other believers who "have decided that certain places are holy places for which they are prepared to shed blood -- their own and other people's."

[Jaeger paints others with a rather broad brush and has apparently never heard of the Crusades.]

The fairest way to deal with Jerusalem, as well as the only way that ensures access of all to their holy sites, is obvious when one notes that Jerusalem is central to Judaism while being peripheral to both Islam and Christianity and access to holy sites has been at best problematical whenever any entity other than Israel has been in control.

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