[Marxism] Hilarion Capucci, Archbishop Jailed for Aiding Palestinian Militants, Dies at 94

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Tue Jan 3 09:40:26 MST 2017

NY Times, Dec. 3 2017
Hilarion Capucci, Archbishop Jailed for Aiding Palestinian Militants, 
Dies at 94

Archbishop Hilarion Capucci, who as the head of the Greek Catholic 
Church in Jerusalem was arrested in 1974 and charged with using his 
Mercedes sedan to smuggle arms to Palestinian militants, died on Sunday 
in Rome. He was 94.

The death was confirmed by the Vatican, which did not provide a cause or 
details about survivors.

Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian National Authority, praised 
Archbishop Capucci for “defending the rights of the Palestinian people.”

In 1965, Archbishop Capucci became the prelate of the tiny Melkite Greek 
Catholic community in Jerusalem, comprising around 4,500 Christians in 
Jerusalem, the West Bank and central Israel, most of them Arabs. The 
church acknowledges the pope’s primacy in matters of faith but follows 
the Byzantine rite in matters of liturgy and clerical discipline.

As a religious leader, the archbishop could travel across the 
Lebanese-Israeli border without being subject to inspection. On Aug. 8, 
1974, Archbishop Capucci was stopped in Jerusalem while he was trying to 
drive to Nazareth. Inside his car, the authorities said, was a cache of 
weapons: four Kalashnikov rifles, two pistols, 220 pounds of dynamite 
and several detonators.

He was released on his recognizance, but arrested 10 days later. He was 
accused of acting as an undercover liaison between Fatah, the dominant 
faction within the Palestine Liberation Organization, and guerrilla 
cells in the West Bank.

The authorities also said he had smuggled gold, whiskey and television 
sets across the border.

In addition, investigators said the archbishop had been involved in a 
plan to fire three Katyusha rockets toward Jerusalem during a May 1974 
visit by Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger. (The rockets were 
discovered before they went off.)

He was the highest-ranking Christian clergyman ever to be charged by 
Israel with such crimes, and the arrest made headlines. Yasir Arafat, 
the P.L.O. chairman, called the arrest “a terrible crime.” The Vatican 
noted it “with great sorrow.” The archbishop’s supervisor, Maximos V 
Hakim, the Melkite Greek patriarch of Antioch, petitioned for his 
release and flew to Rome to discuss the situation with Pope Paul VI.

The Israeli authorities, who had kept the archbishop under surveillance 
for some time, were unmoved. They said he would stand trial and then 
indicted him on charges that included maintaining contact with foreign 
agents and carrying illegal weapons. Prosecutors said he had met with 
Khalil al-Wazir, a top militant known by the nom de guerre Abu Jihad, 
and another militant at the home of the archbishop’s relatives in Beirut.

As the case moved toward trial, the Israeli Army said it had foiled an 
Arab terrorist plot to free the archbishop from jail. A judge rejected 
the archbishop’s claim of diplomatic immunity, noting that Israel and 
the Vatican did not have diplomatic ties. (Full relations were not 
established until 1993.) Archbishop Capucci refused to take the stand, 
insisting that the court was not competent to try him.

On Dec. 9, 1974, he was sentenced to 12 years in prison. Addressing the 
court, he said in Arabic that if Jesus were alive they would have wept 

Archbishop Capucci was given a one-person cell and permitted to 
celebrate Mass and wear his clerical robe. He was allowed visitors, 
including the Latin patriarch of Jerusalem.

On June 28, 1976, militants hijacked an Air France plane en route from 
Tel Aviv to Paris, diverted it to Entebbe, Uganda, and demanded that 
Israel release 40 prisoners, all of them Palestinians or supporters of 
their cause, including Archbishop Capucci. A week later, Israeli 
commandos rescued the hostages in a nighttime mission at the Entebbe 

Archbishop Capucci’s time in prison came to an end in 1977, after 
elections that brought the right-leaning Likud Party to power. The new 
government said it would be willing to release him if the pope made a 
formal request. The pope requested his release on humanitarian grounds — 
he had been on several hunger strikes — and on Nov. 6, his sentence was 
commuted. He was put on a commercial flight to Rome, where he was met at 
the airport by a P.L.O. delegation.

The release stipulated that Archbishop Capucci not be reassigned in the 
Middle East, and after an audience with the pope, he was sent to Latin 
America. He irritated the Vatican when, in January 1979, he went to 
Damascus to attend a meeting of the National Council of the Palestine 
Liberation Organization, of which he was a member. Nonetheless, Pope 
John Paul II transferred the archbishop to Western Europe later that year.

Archbishop Capucci maintained his activism in the region. He visited 
Americans held captive at the United States Embassy in Iran in 1979; 
accompanied the bodies of eight United States service members who were 
killed in an unsuccessful mission to free the hostages; and traveled to 
Iraq in 1990 to petition Saddam Hussein’s government to release a group 
of Italians after the invasion of Kuwait.

He was on board a Turkish-owned ship, part of a 2010 attempt to send 
relief to the blockaded Gaza Strip, when it was intercepted by Israeli 

Hilarion Capucci was born on March 2, 1922, in Aleppo, Syria, which was 
then under French control. He was ordained a priest in 1947 and 
appointed patriarchal vicar of Jerusalem and titular bishop of Caesarea 
in 1965.

In a 2010 interview with Al Jazeera, he said he had taken part in the 
Gaza aid effort “to meet the tortured, persecuted and wronged kinfolk in 
the strip to assure them that we are with them morally and spiritually.” 
He said his goal was “to establish a free, sovereign, independent state, 
with Jerusalem as its capital.”

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