Israel (State), The Catholic Church in
ISRAEL (STATE), THE CATHOLIC CHURCH IN
The modern independent republic of Israel occupies galilee, the Plain of Esdraelon, the Mount carmel range, the coastal plain and the Shephelah (the foothills of ancient Juda) from Carmel south to the Gaza Strip, including a "corridor" to Jerusalem, and finally the Negeb reaching south to a point at the northern end of the Gulf of Aqaba. It is, therefore, an irregular, generally narrow strip about 265 miles in length with disproportionately long borders—590 miles on land and 158 on water. It is bordered on the north by Lebanon, on the northeast by Syria and the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, on the east by Jordan, and on the southwest by the Gaza Strip and the Sinai Desert of Egypt. Modern Israel includes but little of the heartland of ancient Israel—the highlands of Samaria and Judea. The region is predominately desert in the south, rising to mountains in the central region and low plains along the coast. Natural resources include copper, phosphates, bromide, clay, sulphur, manganese, and small natural gas and petroleum reserves. Agricultural products consist of citrus, vegetables, and cotton, as well as livestock and dairy.
History. The State of Israel grew out of the Zionist concept of a Jewish National Home. The Balfour Declaration of Nov. 2, 1917 established a Jewish national homeland in Palestine, which home was secured by the attribution to Great Britain of the Mandate on Palestine dated July 22, 1922. The working of the mandate—and the increase in the area's Jewish population—was increasingly hindered by the continuous friction between Arabs and Jews. Major riots occurred in 1921, 1929, and 1936, and in 1937 the Peel Commission recommended dividing the region into Arab and Jewish states. Matters came to a head after World War II, when the British refused to allow the immigration to Palestine of many thousands of Jews who had been victims of the Nazi persecution. Finally, Great Britain resigned her mandate,
and the Second General Assembly of the United Nations (UN) recommended the partitioning of Palestine into Jewish and Arab states and the creation of a separate enclave embracing Jerusalem and its surroundings under UN supervision. The Arabs rejected outright the Nov. 29, 1947 UN resolution, and the mandatory administration refused to allow the special commission charged with its implementation to come to Palestine. On May 14, 1948, the day before the mandate was to expire, the Jewish National Council and the General Zionist Council at Tel Aviv proclaimed establishment of a Jewish state, to be called Israel. A provisional government was set up and promptly recognized by the United States, the USSR, and a score of other nations. Israel was admitted to the UN on May 11, 1949.
While the Arab-Jewish war had actually started many months before the proclamation of Israel's independence, only "irregulars" were engaged in warfare. Now the troops of five Arab countries—Lebanon, Syria, Transjordan, Iraq, and Egypt—invaded the region that had previously been under British mandate. After four weeks of fighting, the invaders were defeated, and Israel succeeded in occupying a larger part of Palestine than that stipulated by the UN partition plan. Active hostilities continued until early 1949. Following protracted negotiations held in Rhodes that spring and summer, armistice agreements were signed between Israel and the Arab countries (except Iraq and Saudi Arabia) that fixed the provisional boundaries of the State of Israel according to the territory held at the end of the hostilities. Jerusalem was divided into two parts: the Old City under Jordan's rule, and the New City under Israeli administration. In 1950 Jerusalem was proclaimed the capital of Israel. On Oct. 29, 1956, Israel launched the so-called Sinai Campaign and occupied the Sinai Desert and the Gaza Strip in what became known as the Suez War. In compliance with the resolutions of the UN General Assembly, Israel later withdrew its contingents from the occupied areas.
Successive wars with its Arab neighbors occurred in 1967 and again in 1973, during which time further territories
were occupied by Israeli troops, among them the Sinai desert, the Golan Heights, and the West Bank. Despite granting Palestinians autonomy in the Gaza Strip and areas of the West Bank after 1993, disputes with Palestinian leaders continued the fighting into 2000. Some West Bank territories were re-occupied by Israeli troops in 2001 in response to continued Palestinian insurrection.
Religion. Israel's Proclamation of Independence guarantees social and political equality as well as freedom of religion, language, education, and culture to all its citizens. The proclamation also promises that it will safeguard the holy places of all faiths within its domain. The most important of the Christian holy places in Israel are the cenacle and the Church of the Dormition of the Virgin on "Mount Zion" (southwest of the walls of Old Jerusalem), the traditional home of Elizabeth and Zechariah in Ain Karim, and the sanctuaries in nazareth and on the shore of the Lake of Tiberias in Galilee. Although a secular democracy in principle, Israel maintains the Ottoman provision, according to which matters of personal status—marriage, divorce, alimony, maintenance, succession, etc.—are under the exclusive, or in some cases, concurrent jurisdiction of the religious courts of the recognized communities. These communities are the Muslim, with a special privileged status inherited from Ottoman times; the Jewish, whose prerogatives were precisely defined by the Rabbinical-Courts-Jurisdiction Law of 1953; the Christian communities; and the Druze community, which obtained legal status in 1957. According to the Day-of-Rest Ordinance of 1948, the official holidays were the Sabbath and the Jewish holy days, but non-Jews had the right to observe their own holy days.
Throughout much of Israel's history, the Vatican has worked toward an international recognition of Jerusalem as a sacred spot for all three of the world's major faiths, and has noted that despite the importance of other locations in Israel, Jerusalem remains of primary significance. Concerned that the historic and religious integrity of the city be preserved, Pope John Paul II, Latin Patriarch Michel Sabbah, and leaders of the other Catholic churches joined in encouraging all involved political leaders to work for the establishment of Jerusalem as a politically neutral, international city, its holy places open to Christians, Jews, and Muslims alike. However, by 1997 Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was adamant that Jerusalem stay united; freedom of travel to the city's sacred sites would be allowed, but a united Jerusalem would not be relinquished, even in the pursuit of peace. Although not acknowledged by many world powers, Israel proclaimed Jerusalem as its capital; Palestinians also intended the eastern half of the city for their capital. Incidents such as damage to a 5th-century Christian church in eastern Jerusalem caused by a bulldozer during Israeli efforts, in 1997, to construct a new housing project exacerbated the problem and heightened the Vatican's concern.
By 2000, among the three Catholic rites—Latin, Greek melkite, and maronite—there were 97 parishes tended by 76 diocesan and 308 religious priests. Other religious included 160 brothers and 1,050 sisters. The Greek Orthodox Church also had communities of believers in the country, led by a patriarch in Jerusalem, and its ownership of large amounts of land in Jerusalem gave it some influence over the Israeli government. In 1994 full diplomatic relations were established between Israel and the Holy See, reflecting an improvement in the relationship between the two faiths. In an agreement ratified by the Knesset, the Catholic Church gained full legal status in 1997, its many entities gaining juridical status under Israeli law for the first time. In 1998 a Vatican study of the Holocaust was released that detailed the mistaken anti-Semitism existing in aspects of the Church's teachings as well as the moral failures of some Catholics, during the persecution of the Jews by the Nazis during World War II, either to prevent the genocide or to speak out more forcefully against it. This public atonement for past failings on the part of the Church was appreciated by many Jews, particularly Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who in 2001 credited the pope with leading all Christians in working against hatred and violence in the region.
In March 2000 Pope John Paul II made an historic journey to the Holy Land that was supported by the Israeli government and which, as part of the Jubilee 2000 celebrations, served as a pilgrimage to rediscover the roots of the Bible. Calling his trip "a return to the origins, the roots of the faith and of the Church," the pope began his journey at Mount Nebo, moving from there to the Jordan River, Bethlehem, and Calvary, while also visiting a Palestinian refugee camp located near the city of the Nativity.
Bibliography: d. peretz, Israel and the Palestine Arabs (Washington, DC 1958). j. b. glubb, A Soldier with the Arabs (New York 1957). w. eytan, The First Ten Years: A Diplomatic History of Israel (New York 1958). r. patai, Israel between East and West (Philadelphia 1953). d. ben-gurion, Rebirth and Destiny of Israel, ed. and tr. m. nurock (New York 1954). c. weizmann, Trial and Error (New York 1949). g. e. irani, The Papacy and the Middle East: The Role of the Holy See in the Arab- Israeli Conflict, 1962–1984 (Notre Dame, IN 1996). l. rokach, The Catholic Church and the Question of Palestine (Atlantic Highlands, NJ 1987). a. j. kenny, Catholics, Jews, and the State of Israel (Mahwah, NY 1993). a. kreutz, Vatican Policy on the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict (Westport, CT 1990). j. ratzinger, Many Religions, One Covenant: Israel, the Church, and the World (San Francisco 1999). Bilan du Monde Encyclopédie catholique du monde chrétien, 2 v. (2d ed. Tournai 1964). 2:504–511.
[m. j. stiassny/eds.]