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Archbishop Hilarion Capucci: The Anti-Occupation Revolutionary from Aleppo

posted on: Jan 4, 2017

BY: Nisreen Eadeh/Staff Writer

Hilarion Capucci’s life began and ended with occupation. The late archbishop of Caesarea in the Melkite Greek Catholic Church was born in Aleppo during the French occupation of Syria and Lebanon, and his life was devoted to resisting the Israeli occupation of Palestine.

For the first 21 years of his life, Capucci lived in the French Mandate of Syria established on the heels of the Sykes-Picot agreement. The agreement divided the Arab world into British and French territories that intended to release control of the territories to the native inhabitants once they learned how to self-govern. The French quickly divided Syria in order to foster “economic competition” between Aleppo, Damascus, and Alawite territories, sparking a discrepancy, which has lasted through present time.

During the French intervention and Ottoman Empire, Aleppo was a city of multi-religious coexistence. Christians, Sunni Muslims, Jews, and others made up the city’s society and economy, offering Capucci an understanding of secular values rarely found in the international community.

The Catholic leader resonated with supporters of Palestine and other occupied territories in his discussions on independence, freedom, and morality. He witnessed the inception of the occupation of East Jerusalem and the West Bank by Israel, igniting a revolutionary spirit that got him arrested for smuggling weapons into northern Israel. While appointed archbishop in Jerusalem, Capucci was found guilty of smuggling weapons into Israel from Lebanon. According to the Israeli Army, Capucci had worked with Fatah and the Palestinian Liberation Organization to fire three Katyusha rockets into Jerusalem.

Capucci was the highest-ranking Christian clergyman to be charged with crimes against Israel, but he is certainly not the first. For decades, members of various Christian clergy in Jerusalem have spoken out against the violent occupation of Palestinians, Israel’s overwhelming human rights violations, and the unmet needs of Palestinian children.

The archbishop served only three years of his 12-year sentence, but remained a vigilant force in Palestinian resistance efforts. He disobeyed Israeli orders to stay out of the Middle East. Only two years after being released from jail, he attended a meeting of the National Council of the Palestine Liberation Organization in Damascus in 1979.

Capucci fearlessly maintained his activism throughout his life, ignoring the threats of occupying forces. Later throughout his life, he defied Israel’s orders and visisted Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, and Gaza to resist imprisonments and blockades. The archbishop’s dedication to assisting others in achieving sovereign, dignified lives in the face of persecution and occupation has made him a revolutionary hero.

Today, Capucci is remembered as a symbol of pluralism, which Arab Americans embody everyday in their shared customs with fellow Arabs of many faiths. The archbishop once quoted the Qur’an, the Muslim Holy Book, to describe the love that comes from respecting each other’s religious beliefs. More notably, the Catholic leader believed himself to be a shepherd for all Palestinian people – Muslims, Christians, and Jews alike – to achieve freedom from oppression.

Throughout his lifetime, he has been honored by Syria, Egypt, Iraq, Libya, and Sudan for his eternal messages of liberation. Archbishop Capucci died in Rome at the age of 94 of unknown causes. Others may choose to headline his 1974 arrest at the defining moment of his life, but Archbishop Capucci is far more wholesome and visionary than his day of arrest – he is the anti-occupation force from Aleppo whose revolutionary spirit will be missed dearly by all who have suffered from oppression.