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Reports 1995-1998 Edited by Dwain C. Epps

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Statement on the Status of Jerusalem

Issued by the Central Committee, Geneva, 14-22 September 1995.

In previous WCC statements on Jerusalem, quoted below, the World Council of Churches has affirmed that:

  1. Jerusalem is a holy city for three monotheistic religions: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. (Central Committee, Berlin/West, 1974). It is therefore their responsibility to cooperate in the creation of conditions that will ensure that Jerusalem is a city open to the adherents of all three religions, where they can meet and live together. The tendency to minimize Jerusalem's importance for any of these three religions should be avoided. (V Assembly, Nairobi, 1975)

  2. Christian Holy Places in Jerusalem and neighboring areas belong to the greatest extent to member churches of the World Council of Churches, specifically to the Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox Churches... Any proposed solution as to the future of the holy places in Jerusalem should take into account the legitimate rights of the churches most directly concerned. (Central Committee, 1974)

  3. (The) question of Jerusalem is not only a matter of protection of the holy places, it is organically linked with living faiths and communities of people in the holy city. (It) is essential that the holy shrines should not become mere monuments of visitation, but should serve as living places of worship integrated and responsive to Christian communities who continue to maintain their life and roots within the holy city, and for those who, out of religious attachment, want to visit them. (V Assembly)

  4. The special legislation regulating the relationship of the Christian communities and the authorities, guaranteed by international treaties (Paris 1856 and Berlin 1878) and the League of Nations and known as the status quo of the Holy Places must be fully safeguarded and confirmed in any agreement concerning Jerusalem. (V Assembly)

  5. (The) settlement of the interreligious problems of the holy places should take place under an international aegis and guarantee which ought to be respected by the parties concerned as well as the ruling authorities; (and) should be worked out with the most directly concerned member churches, as well as with the Roman Catholic Church. These issues should also become subjects for dialogue with Jewish and Muslim counterparts. (V Assembly)

  6. (The) future status of Jerusalem ... has to be determined within the general context of the settlement of the Middle East conflict in its totality. (V Assembly).

  7. (Just) as the future status of Jerusalem has been considered part of the destiny of the Jewish people, so it cannot be considered in isolation from the destiny of the Palestinian people...(Central Committee, Geneva, 1980).

Against this background, and in the light of the deep religious, historical and emotional attachments of Christians, Jews and Muslims to Jerusalem and the turmoil to which this gives rise; and recognising the significance of Jerusalem to the continuing Middle East peace process, the Central Committee of the World Council of Churches, meeting in Geneva, 14-22 September 1995,

Welcomes the visit to Jerusalem by the General Secretary (15-21 May 1995), during which he met with the heads of Churches and Christian Communities in Jerusalem, with the Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Israel, the President of the Palestinian National Authority, and others;

Welcomes especially the joint Memorandum of the Heads of Christian Communities in Jerusalem on the Significance of Jerusalem for Christians, in which they call on all parties “to go beyond exclusivist visions or actions, and without discrimination, to consider the religious and national aspirations of others, in order to give back to Jerusalem its true universal character and to make of the city a holy place of reconciliation for humankind”;

Notes with appreciation their appeal for full respect of the rights of believers to freedom of access to holy places, of movement within the Holy City, and to carry out pilgrimages in the spirit of authentic tradition; the rights of local Christian Communities to freedom of worship and of conscience, both as individuals and as religious communities, to carry out their religious, educational, medical and other duties of charity, and to have their own institutions and their own personnel to run them;

Endorses their affirmation that, in claiming these rights for themselves, Christians recognize and respect similar and parallel rights of Jewish and Muslim believers and their communities, and declare themselves disposed to search with Jews and Muslims for a mutually respectful application of these rights and for a harmonious coexistence in the perspective of the universal spiritual vocation of Jerusalem;

Endorses their call

  • “for a special judicial and political statute for Jerusalem which reflects the universal importance and significance of the city;

  • “that, in order to satisfy the national aspirations of all its inhabitants, and in order that Jews, Christians and Muslims can be 'at home' in Jerusalem and at peace with one another, representatives from the three monotheistic religions, in addition to local political powers, ought to be associated in the elaboration and application of such a special statute;

  • “that, because of the universal significance of Jerusalem, the international community ought to be engaged in the stability and permanence of this statute and provide the necessary guarantees in order that Jerusalem not be dependent solely on municipal or national political authorities, whoever they may be, that Jerusalem not be victimized by laws imposed as a result of hostilities or wars, but be an open city which transcends local, regional or world political troubles.”

Reiterates its statement of August 1980 opposing the Israeli unilateral action of annexing East Jerusalem and uniting the city as its “eternal capital” under its exclusive sovereignty in contradiction of pertinent United Nations resolutions;

Expresses profound concern about the policies of the State of Israel which have created a situation of political and economic insecurity for the indigenous Christian population of Jerusalem which has contributed to a process of emigration which continuously diminishes the Christian presence in Jerusalem;

Appeals once again to the State of Israel to desist from its continuing, systematic policies of confiscation of buildings and land, destruction of buildings, establishment of new Jewish settlements in and around East Jerusalem, discrimination in the granting of building permits, constraints on the freedom of movement for Arab Christians and Muslims, as well as for indigenous Christians within and access to Jerusalem and the Holy Places, and from all attempts to alter the demographic status quo of the Holy City prior to the conclusion of agreements with regard to its future status;

Calls upon the Government of Israel and on the Palestinian National Authority to take up soon the question of the future status of Jerusalem in their negotiations, given its centrality to the ultimate success of efforts to implement the Accords and to promote peace in and beyond the Middle East region; and

Appeals to member churches to be constant in prayer and in acts of solidarity with the Christian communities in Jerusalem in order to ensure a continuing, vital Christian presence in the Holy City and to strengthen the historic role of these communities and their leaders in promoting open communication, dialogue and cooperation among all communities in the Holy City.

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