Faith groups urged to share Jerusalem
Written by William C. Winslow
Christians for Middle East Peace is mounting an ad campaign in denominational publications to make Jerusalem a shared city.
Jerusalem is considered by Israel to be its de facto capital. But it "is a city like no other," says CMEP, in that it is "home to all three religious traditions" and "cannot belong to any one people or religion." The American-based church group represents Catholics and Protestants, including the UCC and National Council of Churches. Since 1996, it has been working to make the city open to Christians, Muslims and Jews. It hopes that a shared status will bring stability to a city that is badly fractured and always on the brink of urban confrontation. The three faiths each revere sacred sites within the city.
Currently, Israelis would like the city for themselves, while Palestinians claim East Jerusalem as their capital. To dilute Palestinian claims, Israel has expanded the borders of the city, confiscating Palestinian lands while severely limiting both Palestinian Christians and Muslims to move freely to holy sites in the divided city.
Christians for Middle East Peace wants the U.S. government "to call upon negotiators to move beyond exclusivist claims" to create a Jerusalem that "is a sign of peace and a symbol of reconciliation for all humankind."
Progress has been slow but steady. While Congress favors Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and mandated in 1995 that the U.S. embassy be moved there from Tel Aviv, the Clinton administration has resisted. More recently, some Jewish groups, both in America and Israel, have warmed to the idea of a shared city. The American Jewish "Friends of Peace Now" and the American Arab "American Committee on Jerusalem" held a successful meeting in Washington earlier this year. Also, a group of Israeli and Arab academics, retired diplomats and military officers under the sponsorship of the Universities of Oklahoma, Haifa and Bethlehem, started to formulate a set of guiding principles for the future of Jerusalem. Timemagazine hailed the confab as "the first time a group of establishment figures in Israel has endorsed the idea of sharing Jerusalem with the Palestinians."
There are other pressures at work as well. The pope pleaded for "peace" when he became the first pontiff to visit the city earlier this year. And the government of Israeli prime minister Ehud Barak wants to make a good impression when millions of pilgrims and tourists flock to the city this millennium year.