OFFICIAL RECORDS OF THE SECOND SESSION OF
THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY
SUPPLEMENT NO. 11
UNITED NATIONS SPECIAL COMMITTEE ON PALESTINE
REPORT OF THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY
ORAL EVIDENCE PRESENTED AT PRIVATE MEETINGS
Lake Success, New York
VERBATIM RECORD OF THE THIRTY-FIRST MEETING (PRIVATE)
Held at the Y.M.C.A. Building, Jerusalem, Palestine, Tuesday, 15 July 1947, at 9 a.m.
MR. SANDSTROM Sweden, CHAIRMAN
MR. HOOD, Australia
MR. RAND, Canada
MR. LISICKY, Czechoslovakia
MR. GARCIA GRANADOS, Guatemala
SIR ABDUR RAHMAN, India
MR. ENTEZAM, Iran
MR. BLOM, Netherlands
MR. GARCIA SALAZAR, Peru
MR. FABREGAT, Uruguay
MR. BRILEJ, Yugoslavia
Mr. Hoo, Assistant Secretary-General
MR. GARCIA ROBLES, Secretary
The CHAIRMAN : I call the thirty-first meeting to order.
The agenda for this private meeting contains two items—the hearing of the Right Reverend Father Gustos of the Holy Land and the hearing of representatives of the Sephardi Community Shall we adopt this agenda?
No objection raised.
Sir Abdur RAHMAN (India): May I know whether anything has been decided about going to Beirut or anywhere else? We see all kinds of things in the papers but we know nothing officially.
The CHAIRMAN : I can tell you just as much as you have seen in the papers. Answers have been received from three of the States—Egypt, the Lebanon and Iraq.
I shall now ask His Paternity, Father Gustos, to come to the table.
Reverend Brother Simon Bonaventure, representing Father Gustos, took a seat at the table.
Brother BONAVENTURE : I have a letter from His Paternity addressed to the Committee. With your permission I will read it:
"15 July 1947 "
Mr. Justice Sandstrom, Chairman, United Nations Special Committee on Palestine, Jerusalem, Palestine "Mr. Chairman,
"We take this opportunity to thank you and all the associated delegates of the United Nations Special Committee on Palestine in favouring us with this present occasion to present to the Committee our memorandum bearing on the Christian Holy Places in Palestine. For the presentation of our memorandum we have delegated as our representative the Reverend Simon Bonaventure, our confrere, whom, we trust, will be acceptable to your honourable Committee.
"With due thanks for your kind consideration, I have the honour to be, sir,
"Your obedient servant,
"Fr. Alberto Gori, "Gustos of the Holy Land"
The CHAIRMAN : Are you prepared to expose to us what His Paternity has to say?
Brother BONAVENTURE : Yes.
The CHAIRMAN : Will you please begin?
Brother BONAVENTURE : Mr. Chairman, Members of the Special Committee:
Mindful of the terms of reference conveyed by the General Assembly of the United Nations authorizing its Special Committee on Palestine to ascertain, if possible, additional information of facts for the peaceful solution of turbulent Palestine, and instructing this same Special Committee to give "most careful consideration to the religious interests in Palestine of Islam, Judaism and Christianity", we feel not only privileged but more so conscience-bound to aid your Special Committee to give that careful consideration of the religious interest of Christianity here ** in this sacred land of Palestine. Our position as Gustos of the Holy Land, emanating directly by appointment from the Holy See, confers a heavy responsibility, a duty that obliges us to safe-guard rights and practices held throughout the course of centuries, as well as the decorous maintenance of the Christian Holy Places entrusted to our care on behalf of the Roman Catholic Church. The Custody of the Holy Land-an international body of religious men forming pan of the world-wide Franciscan Order—is composed of twenty-five different nationalities with a local membership of over four hundred priests and brothers. Excluding a few sanctuaries held in joint proprietorship with other religious communities, we hold immediate and exclusive jurisdiction over more than forty-five Holy Places scattered throughout Palestine—protecting and preserving these monuments of Christian heritage in full accordance with their religious dignity. We therefore appear on behalf of more than 300,000,000 of our Catholic brethren throughout the world who have deep religious regard and keen sensibilities for these Holy Places.
Rightly so is Palestine called the Holy Land, made holy by the physical presence of the Divine Master, and entrusted with the memorable and sanctified sites of His birth, life and death. And because this land of Palestine is holy to almost 600,000,000 Christians throughout the length and breadth of all continents, watchful eyes and throbbing hearts follow with greatest concern the impending destiny of their sacrosanct shrines. The question of the Christian Holy Places cannot and must not be fogged by the rivalry of clashing political ambitions. The question is neither one of power, aggrandizement nor material gain these Holy Places cast their lustre from the presence and divine power of the Omnipotent. The question of the Holy Places is not a national problem as to whether political expediency counsels partition, sovereign independence or a bi-national State. The question is independent of whatever political decision may be deemed conducive to the peace of Palestine. And yet it is bound up most intimately with whatever solution may be imposed. The shrines of Christian heritage dot the land from north to south, be it on the shores of the Lake of Tiberias or in the hamlet of Cana, be it at Nazareth made memorable by the Annunciation and boyhood days of Jesus Christ or on the secluded summit of Mount Tabor in testimony of the Transfiguration; likewise Jerusalem, Bethlehem, the Jordan River with its traditional site of the Baptism of the Saviour . . . these and many more of varied importance garland Palestine as the Holy Land of universal recognition, reverence and respect.
We are indifferent to the political tug-of-war that is now raging in Palestine and which has riveted world-wide attention. However, in view of the insistent demand for political autonomy-be it partition or independent sovereignty, should such an eventuality ever be realised—it is of paramount importance that solid international guarantees embodying effective protective measures for the safeguarding and preservation of these Christian shrines be assumed. It would be somewhat far-fetched to expect a non-Christian Government to exercise an active and sympathetic regard for Christian Shrines of which they, would have little or no understanding or evaluation. Should history repeat itself with regard to Christian shrines within the domain of a non-Christian Government, unfettered in moments of decision regarding the possible difficulties that might ensue, there is a very probable likelihood that universal Christian reaction might result in serious consequences. Free access to all sanctuaries at all times and the unhampered conducting of religious services must necessarily constitute prerequisites in whatever modus vivendi established. The oft-repeated "enclave" for the Holy Places in Jerusalem and Bethlehem may well ensure these shrines, but what about the isolated ones as mentioned above? For all practical purposes a Commission specially deputised, and to whom juridical recourse could be had in case of need might serve the required purpose of avoiding any friction, danger or, if we may say so, even desecration.
We express our firm hope that as this Special Committee on Palestine is instructed to give its careful consideration to the religious interests of Christianity in Palestine, this very definite and all-important problem of safeguarding and preserving these Holy Places, so dearly venerated by Christendom, be given weighty consideration in its recommendations to the General Assembly, irrespective of whatever new political solution-provisional or permanent—may be established.
The CHAIRMAN : I thank you, Brother Bonaventure. Will you answer the questions that we will put to you?
Brother BONAVENTURE : To the best of my ability.
The CHAIRMAN : The memorandum speaks about certain guarantees which would embody effective protective measures for the safeguarding and preservation of the Christian shrines, and in perhaps guarded terms, you have suggested first of all, free access to all Sanctuaries at all times and the unhampered conducting of religious services; further, an "enclave" for the Holy Places in Jerusalem and Bethlehem; and thirdly, the constitution of a commission specially deputised, to whom juridical recourse could be had in case of need. Do you recommend these measures?
Brother BONAVENTURE : Should there be a non-Christian State, certainly we recommend that measures—international guarantees—be embodied in any arrangement with the new State that may possibly be set up.
The CHAIRMAN : Do you consider these measures which are suggested in this memorandum as sufficient, or do you suggest any other measures?
Brother BONAVENTURE : Of course we suggest -effective protective measures. The minutiae of working out these details would go to a working committee in conjunction with the religious heads of the Christian communities in Palestine, and, I would also add, in conjunction with the individuals who would compose that commission. It might be suggested that this commission would be composed of Western countries, and there would have to be a consensus of opinion between the member States, you might say, on the commission and the Government here in Palestine. I dare say it would be workable, but coming down to the minutiae that would be up to the commission to work out.
The CHAIRMAN : When you speak of an "enclave" for Jerusalem, do you refer to any special plan, or what do you mean by. this "enclave"?
Brother BONAVENTURE : This "enclave" has been mentioned frequently in the press as serving the purpose of the shrines in Bethlehem and Jerusalem—either a part of the country having extra-territorial rights, or you might also have it as being embodied in this commission. When we come to the final analysis of these arrangements, it would have to depend on what State is constituted and what best arrangements could be effective. But this off-repeated, much publicised "enclave" of Jerusalem and Bethlehem is not in accordance with the Holy Places as such. The Holy Places are not merely in Jerusalem and Bethlehem; they are scattered throughout Palestine, and even though at the present time Jerusalem and Bethlehem are considered the all-important sanctuaries, that does not mean that we are to permit these other sanctuaries of Christianity to be rubbed out in the course of time by not attending to their safeguarding and protection.
The CHAIRMAN : But because of the special importance of the Shrines in Jerusalem and Bethlehem, you propose this special measure of an "enclave"?
Brother BONAVENTURE: I would not necessarily say they are of special importance, because while we have the Nativity at Bethlehem and the Death of our Divine Master here in Jerusalem, we also have the Annunciation, which is a very important shrine. So these are not the only important shrines; there are others outside of this section of the country—that is, Jerusalem and Bethlehem.
The CHAIRMAN : I mention the special importance of these shrines and perhaps also that there are so many shrines concentrated in this area; do you therefore propose a special measure of an "enclave"?
Brother BONAVENTURE : That would be helpful, since there are a large number of shrines in Bethlehem and Jerusalem. And that would be helpful as regards the shrines. As regards the political element I do not wish to enter into that part.
The CHAIRMAN : You mean that "enclave" to be placed under special administration?
Brother BONAVENTURE Yes.
The CHAIRMAN : Would in your opinion a restricted area—let us say to the Old City—be Sufficient?
Brother BONAVENTURE : By no means, because right outside the Old City we have shrines. There is the Garden of Gethsemane and there is the Tomb of the Blessed Virgin. There is the Mount of Olives, the site of the Ascension, outside of the Old City; we have the site of the Cenacle. The wall would not be a means of circumscribing all the shrines of Jerusalem.
Sir Abdur RAHMAN (India): Might we have a list of the important shrines and sanctuaries which, according to the Brother, are important and should be safeguarded. If we get a list it will be helpful to us.
The CHAIRMAN : Have you got a list of all these shrines?
Brother BONAVENTURE : Is that only for Jerusalem, or for all Palestine?
Sir Abdur RAHMAN (India): For all of Palestine, and for Jerusalem particularly. I am asking you to give it later, not now.
Brother BONAVENTURE : You can have it tomorrow. In fact I have it here, but it is in a different language, and I would much prefer not to present that.
Sir Abdur RAHMAN (India): If you would kindly let us have a list of the important shrines and sanctuaries scattered throughout Palestine, and in Jerusalem, both inside and outside the city.
Brother BONAVENTURE : I would like to draw a distinction there. We do not wish to suggest only the important places. There are places of varied importance. There are some shrines you might call first-class, and others of lesser importance. We consider these shrines of lesser importance, not of equal value, but of equal esteem. Therefore I would prefer the list to contain all the shrines.
Sir Abdur RAHMAN (India): You might give a list of all the shrines and point out which, according to you, are very important and which are important.
Brother BONAVENTURE : That we cannot do because we consider them all important.
The CHAIRMAN : May I consider that it is against your feelings to classify them?
Brother BONAVENTURE : No, it is not against my feelings—by no means. But once it is declared that this is important and that is not important, should it ever come to pass that a new State be born in Palestine there might perhaps be a distinction made as to those which would be entitled to protection, and the others not considered very important.
The CHAIRMAN : My conclusion is that we would be content with a list of the shrines without any classification.
Sir Abdur RAHMAN (India): That is quite enough.
Mr. RAND (Canada): I should to know something of the nature of the proprietorship and the legal position of your administration. For instance, prior to 1917, what sort of title—I am using terms in law with which I am familiar— what was the nature of the title in any of these important shrines in this city? The Chairman spoke of a deed. Do you have actual title in any body of men, or in a man, to that particular site?
Brother BONAVENTURE : May I ask you a question first to correct any misunderstanding that I may have? Does the gentleman wish to question me as to whether we have a right to these shrines?
Mr. RAND (Canada): I am just trying to find out the nature of the ownership.
Brother BONAVENTURE : First of all, I might say this. The ownership of these shrines is recognized by the Government of Palestine as belonging. to the Community. Thus exclusive jurisdiction! in any shrines are not in question.
Mr. RAND (Canada): I am not questioning anything of that sort of all. Could you five me the nature of the title which is conceived to reside in such a place? For instance, in the country where I come from if you build a church the land of that church has to be owned by some individual or some corporation—some recognised body. Now, is that the nature of your ownership here?
Brother BONAVENTURE : Well, the ownership of our shrines is centered in the custody of the Holy Land.
Mr. RAND (Canada): Is it vested in the trustees?
Brother BONAVENTURE : In the person of the Gustos of the Holy Land who is the official representative of the Holy See here in Palestine for the Holy Places.
Mr. RAND (Canada) Now where does the Holy See get its legal basis for jurisdiction here, both as to ownership of the shrine and as to administrative powers? Under the Turkish rule who was the custodian?
Brother BONAVENTURE : The Gustos of the Holy Land, for the past six hundred years.
Mr. RAND (Canada): And then it was given by the sovereign power having jurisdiction over Palestine at that time?
Brother BONAVENTURE : Yes.
Mr. RAND (Canada): Well, then, that is really the basis of your legal jurisdiction.
Brother BONAVENTURE : The basis of our legal jurisdiction goes back farther than that, I dare say. If we are going to find the basis for any legality as to these places, we cannot begin only six hundred years ago; we must begin at the very beginning of these Christian places. At that time there must have been a legal basis.
Mr. RAND (Canada): I do not care how far back you go if you tell me exactly the legal sources.
Brother BONAVENTURE : We have permanence of jurisdiction from the time of the Turkish regime.
Mr. RANK (Canada): And that has been recognized throughout the intervening time?
Brother BONAVENTURE : Yes.
Mr. RAND (Canada): And what is the scope and extent of the jurisdiction which you actually exercise? What does it consist of?
Brother BONAVENTURE : That jurisdiction extends to the right of proprietorship at the shrine, the conducting of religious services, the arrangement of the personnel stationed there, and whatever repairs are necessary.
Mr. RAND (Canada): I suppose there is a division of interest among the various denominational groups?
Brother BONAVENTURE : Well, each denomination takes care of its own shrines.