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Mark C. N. Sullivan is an editor at a Massachusetts university. He is married and the father of three children. Email
Patriarch Michel Sabbah is isolated even within the Palestinian Catholic community, Magister writes, because he is partisan; excessively aligned with the extremist currents that throw their weight around in Bethlehem and the territories, and that conditioned and distorted the Dec. 31 peace march.
Sabbah is the churchman who last September, after the announcement of the arrival in Jerusalem of Cardinal Martini – who is judged to be pro-Israeli – said that the Milanese cardinal was a “persona non grata.”
Sabbah is the man who gave this justification of Palestinian suicide terrorism; his words were transcribed from a videotape of a February 2002 discourse to the faithful:
“The situation is simply military occupation, from 1967 until today. Ours is an occupied country, which explains why people are tired and blow themselves up. The Israelis tell Palestinians: Stop the violence and you will have what you want without violence. But one has seen in the history of the last ten years that the Israelis have moved only forced by violence. Unfortunately, nothing but violence makes people march. And not only here. Every country has been born in blood.”
And it is he who in a homily for Easter 2002 Mass said that “injustice and oppression have been imposed on only one of the two peoples,” the Palestinians. And “the [Israeli] leaders must stop talking about terrorism to hide the root evil [committed by them] and to justify and feed the permanence of death and hatred.”
And what do they think about Patriarch Sabbah in the Vatican? In its April 4, 2002 issue, “L’Osservatore Romano” carried large sections of that Easter homily, as if in support of its theses.
Meantime, the equally indispensable John Allen offers a dispatch on the visit of Tariq Aziz to Assisi, with revealing background on the clerics in his retinue, among them a French former UN functionary-turned-priest who shills for Iraq, and this remarkable Melkite patriarch :
[O]ne of the more striking sidebars to the Assisi visit [was] the conspicuous presence alongside Aziz of Archbishop Hilarion Capucci, an auxiliary bishop of the Greek Melkite church in communion with Rome. Capucci, who led a tiny Melkite community in Jerusalem in the 1960s and 1970s, carries the personal title of “patriarch.”
To call Capucci’s past “checkered” would be an under-statement. He first came to public attention when he was arrested on August 18, 1974, by Israeli security forces in after returning to Jerusalem from a trip to Lebanon. His car was found stuffed with TNT and guns headed for the Palestinian Liberation Organization.
At the time, Israeli interrogators said Capucci had blamed “blackmail” by Al Fatah guerillas, claiming that they had threatened him with physical force and “disclosure of actions that might threaten his position in the church.” In August 2002, Franciscan Fr. David Maria Jeager, spokesperson for the Franciscan custodians of the holy sites in Jerusalem, supported this hypothesis in an interview with the Italian publication Libero. Jeager said Capucci in the 1960s had developed “personal interests, not at all compatible with the dignity of the priestly or episocopal office” that had left him vulnerable to Palestinian blackmail.
Reports suggest that prior to the 1967 war, Capucci had worked easily with Israeli authorities, so much so that some regarded him as a “collaborator.” After his arrest, however, he became an ardent champion of the Palestinian cause.
Capucci was sentenced to 12 years in prison and began organizing an international campaign to secure his release. At one point he declared a hunger strike. Pope Paul VI intervened with a personal letter to then-President of Israel Ephraim Katziv. Capucci was released in 1977, with, Israeli sources insist, an understanding that he would stay out of politics.
If so, the deal has been honored largely in the breach. Capucci served as a member of the Palestine National Council, the PLO’s parliament-in-exile, and in 1980 was dispatched by Yassir Arafat to negotiate the return of the bodies of American soldiers lost in the attempt to rescue the embassy hostages in Iran.
Capucci, now 81, has lived in a private apartment in Rome since his release, and according to sources, has maintained a low profile within Melkite circles in town. Yet he is quite visible on the political scene, often taking part in demonstrations or appearing on TV. Italian author Oriana Fallaci, whose recent anti-Islamic polemic La Rabbia e L’Orgoglio was a publishing sensation in Italy, has called Capucci “that saintly man with a Mercedes full of bombs who lives in the Vatican.”
In December 2000, Capucci made a visit to Lebanon to visit Sheikh Nabil Qaouq, a Hezbollah leader. In front of reporters, when he reached the Lebanese-Israeli border, Capucci picked up a stone and hurled it in the direction of the Israeli territory.
“I wish I had been with the heroes of the intifada to take part in their battle for the independence of Palestine,” Capucci said.
In March 2002, Capucci participated in a march in Rome which had been billed as an apolitical appeal for peace in the Middle East, but which some believe turned into a pro-Palestinian and anti-Israeli exercise, with slogans and banners that even members of Italy’s secular left described as “anti-Semitic.” A group of young Palestinians dressed as suicide bombers led the procession.