Jerusalem – World Council of Churches Eighth Assembly action – Statement

Adopted by the World Council of Churches Eighth Assembly
Harare, Zimbabwe, 3 – 14 December 1998


At a time when Jerusalem is again a focus of worldwide attention, we are reminded that this city is central to the faith of Christians. In this city our Lord Jesus Christ was crucified, died and rose again. Jerusalem is the place where the gift of the Spirit was given and the church was born. For the writers of the New Testament, Jerusalem represents the new creation, the life to come and the aspirations of all people, where God will wipe away all tears, and "there shall be no more death or mourning, crying out or pain, for the former world has passed away."(Rev. 21:4) It is where for two thousand years faithful Christians have given a living witness to the truth of the gospel. Through these "living stones", the biblical sites take on life.

The WCC has repeatedly addressed the question of Jerusalem since 1948. Jerusalem has been at the heart of the Israel-Palestine conflict since the time of the League of Nations Mandate and Partition, yet the issue of Jerusalem has consistently been postponed to "future negotiations" due to the complexities of the issues involved. The inability of the parties and of the international community to settle this question has left Jerusalem vulnerable to a series of unilateral actions which have radically altered its geography and demography in a way which violates especially the rights of Palestinians and poses a continuing threat to peace and security of all the inhabitants of the city and the region.

Conscious of the fact that a solution for the question of Jerusalem is essential to any final negotiated agreement in the Middle East; The eighth assembly of the World Council of Churches, meeting in Harare, Zimbabwe, 3-14 December 1998

1. Reaffirms earlier positions of the World Council of Churches that:

1.1. Jerusalem is a holy city for three monotheistic religions — Judaism, Christianity and Islam — who share responsibility to cooperate to ensure that Jerusalem be a city open to the adherents of all three religions, a place where they can meet and live together.

1.2. Christian Holy Places in Jerusalem and neighbouring areas belong to the greatest extent to member churches of the World Council of Churches, specifically to the local 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.

1.3. The special legislation regulating the relationship of the Christian communities and the authorities, guaranteed by ancient covenants and orders, and codified in international treaties (Paris 1856 and Berlin 1878) and the League of Nations and known as the status quo of the Holy Places, must be safeguarded.

1.4. The settlement of any problems with regard to the holy places should take place through dialogue and under an international aegis and guarantees which must be respected by the parties concerned and by the ruling authorities.

1.5. The question of Jerusalem is not only a matter of protection of the holy places but is also organically linked with people who live there, their living faiths and communities. The holy shrines should not become mere monuments of visitation, but should serve as living places of worship integrated and responsive to all communities who continue to maintain their life and roots within the city, and for those who, out of religious attachment, want to visit them.

1.6. The future status of Jerusalem is to be seen as part of a general settlement of the wider Middle East conflict as related to the destinies of the Israeli and Palestinian peoples alike.

2. Reiterates the significance and importance of the continuing presence of Christian communities in Jerusalem, the birthplace of the Christian church, and condemns once again the violations of fundamental rights of Palestinians in Jerusalem which oblige many to leave.

3. Considers that negotiations with respect to the future status of Jerusalem must be undertaken without further delay and considered to be part of rather than a product of a comprehensive settlement for the region, and that such negotiations should take into account:

3.1. the contemporary context of the Middle East, especially developments in negotiations on the Israel-Palestine conflict since 1991;

3.2. the implications of the continuing conflict for international peace and security;

3.3. the legitimate concerns of all the peoples of the region, and particularly of the Israeli and Palestinian peoples, for justice, peace, security, equal rights, and full participation in decisions related to their future;

3.4. the historical commitment to the status quo of the Holy Places and the rights and welfare of the churches, living communities and peoples associated with them;

3.5. the statements of mutual recognition exchanged between the Palestine Liberation Organization and the state of Israel, and the rights of the Palestinian people to self-determination and to statehood.

4. Recalls the framework established in international law related to the status of Jerusalem, including:

4.1. the terms of the British Mandate for Palestine confirmed by the council of the League of Nations in 1922 which set a broad framework with respect to rights to the Holy Places and of religious communities;

4.2. the 1947 report to the UN general assembly (UNGA) of its Special Committee on Palestine and the "Partition Plan" (res. 181 (II), 29 November 1947) in which the general assembly addressed in detail the Holy Places and religious and minority rights, and established the city of Jerusalem as a corpus separatum with precisely defined geographical boundaries and a statute;

4.3. UNGA res.194 (December 1948) which specified the special status of Jerusalem and the right of return of Palestinian refugees, and successive resolutions affirming resolutions 181 and 194;

4.4. the fourth Geneva Convention (1949) which was and remains applicable to parts of Palestine regarded as "occupied territory";

4.5. UNGA res. 303 (IV), 9 December 1948, by which the general assembly restated "its intention that Jerusalem should be placed under a permanent international regime…" and "be established as a corpus separatum under a special international regime…administered by the United Nations"; and

4.6. UN security council resolutions 242 (1967) and 338 (1973) demanding Israeli withdrawal from all occupied territories including Jerusalem, and subsequent resolutions addressed specifically to Jerusalem.

5. Notes that the international community as embodied in the United Nations retains authority and responsibility with respect to Jerusalem and the right to authorize or consent to any legal change in the status of Jerusalem, and that no unilateral action nor final legal status agreed by the parties can have the force of law until such consent is given.

6. Welcomes especially the Joint Memorandum of Their Beatitudes and of the Heads of Christian Communities in Jerusalem on the Significance of Jerusalem for Christians (14 November 1994) 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".

7. Recognizes that the solution to the question of Jerusalem is in the first place the responsibility of the parties directly involved, but that the Christian churches and the Jewish and Muslim religious communities have a central role to play in relation to such negotiations.

8. Conscious of the churches' responsibility with respect to Jerusalem, adopts the following principles which must be taken into consideration in any final agreement on the status of Jerusalem and as the basis for a common ecumenical approach:

8.1. The peaceful settlement of the territorial claims of Palestinians and Israelis should respect the holiness and wholeness of the city.

8.2. Access to the Holy Places, religious buildings and sites should be free, and freedom of worship must be secured for peoples of all faiths.

8.3. The rights of all communities of Jerusalem to carry out their own religious, educational and social activities must be guaranteed.

8.4. Free access to Jerusalem must be assured and protected for the Palestinian people.

8.5. Jerusalem must remain an open and inclusive city.

8.6. Jerusalem must be a shared city in terms of sovereignty and citizenship.

8.7. The provisions of the fourth Geneva Convention must be honoured with respect to the rights of Palestinians to property, building and residency; the prohibition of effecting changes in population in occupied territories; and the prohibition of changes in geographical boundaries, annexation of territory, or settlement which would change the religious, cultural or historical character of Jerusalem without the agreement of the parties concerned and the approval of the international community.

9. With their beatitudes and the heads of Christian communities in Jerusalem, we regard Jerusalem to be a symbol and a promise of the presence of God, of shared life, and of peace for humankind, especially among the peoples of the three monotheistic faiths, Jews, Christians and Muslims.

10. With the psalmist, we pray for the peace of Jerusalem:

"May they prosper who love you!
Peace be within your walls, and security within your towers."
For my bretheren and companions' sake I will say, "Peace be within you."
For the sake of the house of the Lord our God, I will seek your good. (Ps. 122)

Final Report of the Public Issues Committee
8th Assembly and 50th Anniversary  

Document Type: Statement
Document Sources: World Council of Churches
Subject: Jerusalem, NGOs/Civil Society, Settlements
Publication Date: 14/12/1998

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