Prof. Dr. Zekeriya Kurşun /Yeni Şafak
USA President Donald Trump’s declaration of Jerusalem (Qudus) as Israel’s capital activated the world, but particularly the Muslim world. Surely, the most active leader in this process was none other than Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. As the term president of the Islamic Organization of Cooperation (OIC), he gathered the organization’s members in Istanbul and ensured their union as a single voice against the decision; he also carried out serious diplomacy to activate the Christian world. In addition to his phone call with the spiritual leader of the Catholic world, his historic visit to the Vatican will be remembered as the most important step taken in the 21st century for the Jerusalem issue.
In addition to Muslims, Christians too have endured losses and suffering in Palestine and Jerusalem since 1917.
So, during this process, what happened to the Vatican’s Jerusalem policies?
Has the Vatican been taken hostage?
Jerusalem is a site holy to all three monotheistic religions. Judaism came to Jerusalem from the outside. Despite being the first qiblah, direction of prayer, for Muslims and being mentioned in the Quran, Islam is the same. So, what is the situation for Christianity that is historically stuck between the two religions? Jerusalem, the place of birth of Prophet Isa, known in Christianity as Jesus, and the place where he received the divine revelation, is, to Christians, the holiest city on the face of the earth. The Church of the Holy Sepulchre, where Jesus was buried after crucifixion – according to the Christian faith – is also in Jerusalem. Additionally, this location is the most important place of refuge and center of pilgrimage for the pious of the Western and Eastern Christian world.
Despite having religious freedom since the city of Jerusalem came under the control of Muslims in the time of Omar, a companion of Prophet Muhammad and one of the four great caliphs, the events that took place between Christians and Muslims to retake Jerusalem has been the subject of thousands of volumes of books. The papacy has been behind all the conflicts for centuries.
But what happened after that?
The Christian Catholic faith represented by the Vatican has been taken hostage a few times within history. One of these, without a doubt, was the spread of Protestantism and as a matter of fact, it becoming the school of thought of powerful states. One other is the French revolution. It not only faced extinction in France, but was almost completely wiped out of minds. Hence, the Catholic faith that withdrew to itself in Europe started to make do with the ancient centers of Christianity, where it could continue its existence, and started missionary operations in many locations, primarily in Africa. Yet, these operations led to another sin: colonialism, which does not fit in at all with Jesus’s teachings.
Vatican and Zionism
The Papacy that was gloating at the rising anti-Semitism in Europe in the 19th century did not show the courage to operate actively, but provided its support by keeping silent in the face of the developing incidents. Zionism targeted the Ottoman-controlled Jerusalem from day one and declared it would be establishing a Jewish state in Palestine. While the Ottoman Empire was politically placed on the target board, Jerusalem, the place of birth of Christianity, had also been religiously placed on the same target. Hence, the Vatican was taken hostage for the third time during this period when Zionism started to develop in Europe. The Vatican, which was initially unable to show a realistic attitude toward this issue and, as a matter of fact, saw this partly as an opportunity to get rid of the Jews, maintained its silence under the influence of the propaganda and rallies started by Zionists in Europe during World War I.
While Zionists continued their propaganda, the Papacy continued to maintain its silence. The Vatican, which showed no reaction to even the Balfour Declaration, would realize the true threat after its co-religionists, the British invaded Jerusalem. However, this time it had gone too far. Because the Jerusalem issue was no longer only a problem between the Catholics and Jews, and turned into a problem between the Catholics and Protestants. The British had planned that it could establish influence over the Catholic world by occupying Jerusalem and hence, have a greater advantage than its war allies France and Italy – and it happened as planned. The Vatican had become aware of this, but it was too late. Hence, the Vatican’s official newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, had subtly presented its displeasure by apologetically saying, “Rather than it being in the hands of another state, we would rather it be in the hands of a Christian state,” about the British occupation of Jerusalem.
However, the bitter truth was also revealed. A Protestant state was going to occupy the holiest grounds of Christianity and hand it over to Jews. According to views reflecting in some official documents, rather than falling into such situations, the Vatican had missed Jerusalem being in the hands of Turks who showed respect to all religions. However, the Papacy did nothing other than pray for Jerusalem to maintain its Christian identity in the hands of the British rather than pass over to the Zionists. Hence, it stood on the sidelines and watched the British torture Muslims and Christians during the Palestine Mandate – and, as a matter of fact, supported it. The Vatican was thus taken hostage once more.
The Vatican’s new approach
After the establishment of the Israeli state, the Vatican has always been interested in Jerusalem’s fate. Yet, this interest has been more in the context of holy sites. The Vatican, which, at times, openly expressed this, at times, drew attention to unjust Israeli practices with various reports. The Papacy took its most serious step in 2012 and made a call for Jerusalem to be held subject to a special status under international guarantee.
Pope Francis’s attitude became more apparent and, during his 2014 tour in the region, he directly went to Palestine and passed through to Jerusalem from there to give a new message. Prior to Trump’s announcement, Pope Francis’s call, aimed at protecting the status quo by stating that the city is holy to all monotheistic religions, paved the way to its current dialogue with Turkey.
In US sensitivity to and understanding of Turkish society, nothing has changed over the past 5 years
Rachael M. Rudolph joins Bryant Zhuhai as an Assistant Professor of Social Science in the fall term. Her research focuses on Sino-American relations, US-North Korean relations, strategic security in the Asia Pacific region, and transnational crime. She can be reached at: [email protected] M. Rudolph
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