Letter to Yasser Arafat Concerning Members of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia (ROCOR).
February 1, 2000
The Honorable Yasser Arafat
Palestinian Liberation Organization
Gaza City, Gaza
Palestinian Liberation Organization via Israel
Dear Chairman Arafat:
We are writing to express our extreme distress regarding the Palestinian Authority's actions in using police to forcefully evict U.S. based religious leaders from church property. This action violates the standards of international law and is an unacceptable action against the human rights of the members of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia (ROCOR).
The forced takeover of the Jericho church property two weeks ago was not the first use of force by the Palestinian Authority to expel the ROCOR from religious properties. As an authority with jurisdiction over numerous religious properties encompassing several religious denominations, the precedent of using police force to raid church property undermines international standards of judicial process. The dispute between the Moscow based Russian Orthodox Church and ROCOR should be resolved through the legal process rather than by arbitrary action by the Palestinian Authority. As the creator of a Commission to investigate the claims by both churches to the property in Hebron after the hostile eviction of ROCOR monks in 1997, we know you realize the importance of reaching a lasting solution to this property dispute. However, the Commission has never released any findings or reports. This time, concrete action needs to be taken. Unless a final and fair resolution to this conflict is determined by a court adhering to international standards of fairness, we cannot assume that this will be the last forced takeover of religious property by the Palestinian Authority.
As this dispute continues, the welfare of two American citizen nuns has been jeopardized by the hostile actions of the Palestinian police. Both nuns are maintaining their stance in the compound until a fair and judicial process rules on the property dispute between the two churches. While they have been barricaded in the church compound, limited to the gardens, a chapel and a small room on the monastery grounds, Russian diplomats and Moscow based Russian Orthodox monks are permitted to wander the property. Their behavior and freedom to roam the compound endangers the safety of the two nuns. Until a court can determine the ownership of the property, the Russian diplomats and Russian Orthodox monks of the Moscow Patriarchate should be immediately removed from the grounds for the nuns' safety.
In order to stop further conflict, we expect you will work fairly with both Churches to reach a fair solution to this conflict through the judicial process and adhere to the ruling of the court. Until a court decision can be reached based on international standards of fairness, the Palestinian Authority needs to assure that further land will not be seized. We urge you to promptly work toward turning this conflict over to the courts for a swift decision.
Carolyn B. Maloney, Member of Congress
Nancy Pelosi, Member of Congress
Matthew Martinez, Member of Congress
Michael Bilirakis, Member of Congress
Mike Forbes, Member of Congress
Robert Menendez, Member of Congress
Barbara Lee, Member of Congress
Bob Weygand, Member of Congress
Frank Pallone, Member of Congress
Joe Crowley, Member of Congress
Sue Kelly, Member of Congress
Barney Frank, Member of Congress
Maurice Hinchey, Member of Congress
Michael Capuano, Member of Congress