The Bishop of the Roman Catholics in Syria, Ezidore Batikha, has said that Muslims and Christians should stand hand in hand in the face of the dangers poised if Israel had full control over the city and its holy sites.
In an interview with Albawaba.com, Bishop Batikha called on world Christians to rise up and defend the holy city, without which Christianity has no meaning.
“If Israel controls the Muslim and Christian holy shrines, this could involve a serious threat to the Christian shrines and to Christianity itself,” he said
Following is the full text of the interview:
Q: The future of Jerusalem will no doubt have an impact on the future of the (Middle East) region, how does the Church envisage a possible political solution regarding the issue of Jerusalem?
A: As a church, we’re not interested in politics, but if you are asking us about our position regarding Jerusalem as a holy city, that has both Christian and Moslem shrines; and the proposal by some to allow the ancient half to be administered by Israel and the new half by Palestine, we say that everyone must have access to the holy sites. People should not be subjected to any injustice by placing them under the control of the Jews.
Arabs have shown openness in the past 14 centuries by allowing easy running of the holy sites in Jerusalem. So the solution exists, it has always been there. Moslems have always spearheaded conciliatory moves among Christian denominations, therefore, as Christians, we don’t think there is any problem in Jerusalem maintaining its Arab identity, be it under the Palestinian authority, or under the administration led by the King of Jordan.
Islam has always shown affection to, and an understanding of, the Christians and Christianity. Christian churches do not fear Islam, because it respects Jesus, and Moslems know him well, but the ideas and beliefs of the Jews amount to a war against Christianity, they don’t accept Jesus, and they don’t consider him a true prophet.
Q: If the Israeli plan is implemented, and Jerusalem becomes the capital of Israel, what do you expect the Christians, Arab Christians and the world position to be?
A: I do hope that a Christian position will develop, so that we don’t reach the point whereby, God forbid, Israel controls the Muslim and Christian holy shrines. This could involve a serious threat to the Christian shrines and to Christianity itself.
Q: What kind of status do you envisage for the holy places?
A: First, we don’t want the holy places to be kept as museums in the hands of the Jews, or any others. We want the Christians to keep their holy places and have their life there, and the Church to remain where it started with Christ in Jerusalem. This is our primary concern. Secondly, the holy places should remain in the hands of people we get along with, and who understand and protect all the holy sites.
The Jews don’t know Christ and don’t believe in Jesus, they neither believe in his resurrection. or in what he did. Instead, they attack him and call him the antichrist, and they’re still waiting for the true Messiah. So there is a very fundamental point here that we don’t agree with.
Q: You demand a Christian stand. What are the motives behind this stand?
A: It is natural that a Christian stand should be taken by the Vatican, the Christian states, and the Christians in the east. The Muslim world has rightly demanded the same thing when the Aqsa sanctity was violated. I also demand that the Christian world have a similar reaction to that of the Islamic countries before it is too late.
Q: How do you evaluate the Vatican’s stand towards Jerusalem?
A: We know that the Vatican is a state as well as a Church leadership. What happened was that the Vatican reacted as a political entity in a political direction, and not as the leading church in the direction of presenting the Christian views of the issue. They sent an envoy with letters from archbishops explaining how they wish Jerusalem could be. So far, the Vatican has not come up with revolutionary strong stands, and have not presented the demands of the Christians, or met the expectations of the Arab Christians.
We wish that every Christian in the world opened his eyes wide to what is taking place in Jerusalem, and be aware of what will happen if Jerusalem comes under full control of the Jews. Today, they are attacking the Aqsa Mosque, and tomorrow they will assault Jerusalem church, to be followed by the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Bethlehem, because the Jews do not believe in what Bethlehem’s churches represent. They do not accept Jesus, so how could we ask them to respect the Church of the Holy Sepulcher?
Q: To what degree can the churches in the east have influence on the western churches and the Vatican?
A: Our influence on them is feeble, not because we are few in number, but because our media is weak and our capabilities are insufficient. We work within the limits of our potential. We never let any occasion or a meeting with an ambassador go without speaking out our position. Christianity should overcome this state of weakness in the future.
Q: So, in this context, what do you have to say about the Jewish sheer influence on the Western churches, and the American in particular?
A: The Jews have influence not only on churches, but on the whole western world in general. This influence is obvious in politics, economy and media.
We admit that the Arab media is weak, and as is the media of the Arab churches because we are part of the Arab world. However, we hope that our communication with the world Christians is enhanced so that we could convey to them our messages and make them open their eyes wide [for the danger]. We do not ask for the support of anyone, we just demand that the world see the reality.
Q: You say that you do not get involved in politics. But what is taking place is a political reaction that has had its impact even on theology. The war is being viewed as Islamic-Jewish. How could the Christians in the east have a role in this war?
A: We, as Arab Christians wish that when everyone talks about Jerusalem refers to it as a Christian-Muslim city. There has been exaggeration in telling the story as one that has to do only with the Jews and the Aqsa Mosque, which is not the only holy site threatened by the Jews. All sacred sites will be in danger so we have to depict the conflict as a Jewish versus all Christian and Muslim holy sites.
Q: The Intifada is still active in the Palestinian territories, what effects will it have on the holy sites issue?
A: The Intifada has attracted the world’s attention to the Jewish conspiracy against the Aqsa Mosque, that they plan to erect Solomon Temple on its yard. We can never forget statements by the Israeli leaders since 1967 that “Israel is meaningless without Jerusalem and the Temple.”
We are aware of that, and we do know that Israel does not seek peace because it is dangerous to it. They do not want war, either; what they are after is the chaos emerging from a state of no-peace-no-war, so that they can act freely while pretending to be a peace-loving nation.
Q: The Israelis claim that the so-called Solomon Temple is under the Aqsa Mosque. Is it possible that they will someday claim historical rights in the Church of Sepulcher?
A: It is. In fact that is what worries us, and that is why we call on the world Christians to wake up before it is too late. If the Jews are allowed to build the claimed temple, what will stand in their way if they go farther. Their history tells us that they have always exceeded the limits: they ask for the half and when they get it, they demand the half of the other half, then they negotiate the remaining quarter. This is the Jewish policy: they want domination not only over what they claim as theirs, but also over the major part of our lands and holy sites.
Q: You talked about peace as a threat to Israel. What is the peace formula do you envisage?
A: Peace in politics should be coupled with justice. There can be no peace between two groups if justice is absent, and any peace agreement will be temporary because the underdog in this case will always feel that he has been aggrieved and will start demanding his rights once more.
The peace that we want is a just and a lasting peace, which Israel has never offered.
Q: Israel has threatened both Syria and Lebanon with military offensives, and there are expectations of a limited Israeli attack on south Lebanon. How do you read this?
A: I do not think that Israel is able to invade the Lebanese soil, for they will find the resistance waiting for them to teach them another tough lesson. I do not want to call the resistance movement in Lebanon Islamic resistance or Islamic Jihad because Israel wants to label it as such. I would rather say it is a national resistance, because there were Christian elements involved as stated by Hizbollah Secretary General] Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah.
In my opinion, Israel will not dare invade south Lebanon again, because if it did, it means a world war, for the world will stand in its face this time, and Israel will not tread over the red lines drawn by the international community.
It is true that the world marks red lines for Israel and makes them flexible according to its interests, but there are final limits that would drag the world into a catastrophe if exceeded.
Q: Finally, what is your message to the Christian world?
A: First I would call on the Muslim Arabs to bear in mind that some of the holy sites in Jerusalem are Christian and that these should be defended in line with the Muslim holy sites. We all should feel that churches in the Arab countries are Arab, and the Arab church should take its role.
A Syrian politician who I respect very much told me once that the salvation of Jerusalem would be in the hands of the church.
I call on all of us to try to disclose the facts, and tell the Christian world of the hazards surrounding the holy sites in Jerusalem if the Israeli policy would continue the way it is now.
I call upon my bother Christians to rise up and defend Jerusalem. Christianity holds no meaning without Jerusalem. We, as Catholic Christians, do respect the Roman papacy, but we do not think Rome would replace Jerusalem, because the church of Jerusalem is the mother of all churches. The best example of this is that when the Pope wanted to perform pilgrimage as an ordinary Christian, he came to our holy lands: to Ur of Abraham, and to the Church of Holy Sepulcher to Bethlehem, and to the Aqsa Mosque.
And when he went to Egypt, it was not to see the Pyramids, but because the Holy Family went there escaping from the Jews when Christ was a child.
Saint Peter, who established the church in Rome was buried there, but Christ died in Jerusalem, and will be resurrected there -- Albawaba.com
© 2000 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)