Vatican Wrongly Questions
Religious Freedom in Jerusalem
Vatican Secretary of State Angelo Sodano said that the Holy See goes ahead tirelessly in its commitment to seeing that Jerusalem becomes for its inhabitants a place of justice and freedom and for the entire world an environment of adoration, encounter and dialogue (AP, Feb. 19, 1998).
This is the latest of many statements from the Vatican suggesting that Israel's control over Jerusalem, its capital, has somehow limited religious freedom. In fact, after the 1967 war, Israel abolished all the discriminatory laws promulgated
by Jordan and adopted its own tough standard for safeguarding
access to religious shrines. Whoever does anything that
is likely to violate the freedom of access of the members of the
various religions to the places sacred to them, Israeli
law stipulates, is liable to imprisonment for a term of
five years. Israel also entrusted administration of the
holy places to their respective religious authorities. Thus, for
example, the Muslim Waqf has responsibility for the mosques on
the Temple Mount.
Since 1967, hundreds of thousands of Muslims and Christiansmany
from Arab countries that remain in a state of war with Israelhave
come to Jerusalem to see their holy places. Arab leaders are free
to visit Jerusalem to pray if they wish to, just as Egyptian President
Anwar Sadat did at the AlAksa mosque.
The rights of the various Christian churches to custody of the
Christian holy places in Jerusalem were defined in the course
of the nineteenth century, when Jerusalem was part of the Ottoman
Empire. Known as the status quo arrangement for the Christian
holy places in Jerusalem, these rights remained in force
during the period of the British Mandate and are still upheld
today in Israel.
Along with religious freedom, Palestinian Arabs in Jerusalem have
unprecedented political rights. Arab residents were given the
choice of whether to become Israeli citizens. Most chose to retain
their Jordanian citizenship. Moreover, regardless of whether they
are citizens, Jerusalem Arabs are permitted to vote in municipal
elections and play a role in the administration of the city.
Pope Paul VI was the last pontiff to visit the Holy Land. That 1964 visit was during Jordanian rule, when Jews were barred from visiting the Western Wall and other holy places in Jerusalem. At the time of the Six-Day War, the Vatican still supported the idea of internationalizing Jerusalem. In 1973, Prime Minister Golda Meir was granted an audience with the Pope and discussed their respective positions.
This new statement comes after a marked improvement in relations between Israel and the Holy See reflected in the Fundamental Agreement Between the Holy See and the State of Israel signed in 1993 and the subsequent Agreement Between the State of Israel and the Holy See initialled in 1997.
Pope John Paul II is reportedly considering a trip to Israel to coincide with the celebration of the millennium.