Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Jerusalem Part I

By Eli E. Hertz


1st part of 2


One Nation's Capital throughout History

Jerusalem and the Jewish people are so intertwined that telling the history of one is

telling the history of the other. For more than 3,000 years, Jerusalem has played a

central role in the history of the Jews, culturally, politically, and spiritually, a role first

documented in the Scriptures. All through the 2,000 years of the diaspora, Jews have

called Jerusalem their ancestral home. This sharply contrasts the relationship between

Jerusalem and the new Islamists who artificially inflate Islam's links to Jerusalem.


The Arab rulers who controlled Jerusalem through the 1950s and 1960s demonstrated

no religious tolerance in a city that gave birth to two major Western religions. That

changed after the Six-Day War in 1967, when Israel regained control of the whole city.

Symbolically, one of Israel's first steps was to officially recognize and respect all religious interests in Jerusalem. But the war for control of Jerusalem and its religious sites is not over.


Palestinian terrorism has targeted Jerusalem particularly in an attempt to regain control

of the city from Israel. The result is that they have turned Jerusalem , literally the City of

Peace , into a bloody battleground and have thus forfeited their claim to share in the

city's destiny.


Jerusalem's Jewish Link: Historic, Religious, Political

Jerusalem, wrote historian Sir Martin Gilbert, is not a 'mere' city. "It holds the central

spiritual and physical place in the history of the Jews as a people." (1)


For more than 3,000 years, the Jewish people have looked to Jerusalem as their

spiritual, political, and historical capital, even when they did not physically rule over the

city. Throughout its long history, Jerusalem has served, and still serves, as the political

capital of only one nation – the one belonging to the Jews. Its prominence in Jewish

history began in 1004 BCE, when King David declared the city the capital of the first

Jewish kingdom.(2) David's successor and son, King Solomon, built the First Temple there, according to the Bible, as a holy place to worship the Almighty. Unfortunately, history would not be kind to the Jewish people. Four hundred ten years after King Solomon completed construction of Jerusalem, the Babylonians (early ancestors to today's Iraqis) seized and destroyed the city, forcing the Jews into exile. Fifty years later, the Jews, or Israelites as they were called, were permitted to return after Persia (present-day Iran) conquered Babylon. The Jews' first order of business was to reclaim Jerusalem as their capital and rebuild the Holy Temple, recorded in history as the Second Temple.

Jerusalem was more than the Jewish kingdom's political capital. It was a spiritual beacon.


During the First and Second Temple periods, Jews throughout the kingdom would travel to Jerusalem three times yearly for the pilgrimages of the Jewish holy days of Sukkot, Passover, and Shavuot, until the Roman Empire destroyed the Second Temple in 70 CE and ended Jewish sovereignty over Jerusalem for the next 2,000 years. Despite that fate, Jews never relinquished their bond to Jerusalem or, for that matter, to Eretz Yisrael, the Land of Israel.


No matter where Jews lived throughout the world for those two millennia, their thoughts

and prayers were directed toward Jerusalem. Even today, whether in Israel, the United

States or anywhere else, Jewish ritual practice, holiday celebration and lifecycle events

include recognition of Jerusalem as a core element of the Jewish experience. Consider


• Jews in prayer always turn toward Jerusalem.

• Arks (the sacred chests) that hold Torah scrolls in synagogues throughout the

world face Jerusalem.(3)

• Jews end Passover Seders each year with the words: "Next year in Jerusalem";

the same words are pronounced at the end of Yom Kippur, the most solemn day

of the Jewish year.

• A three-week moratorium on weddings in the summer recalls the breaching of

the walls of Jerusalem by the Babylonian army in 586 BCE. That period

culminates in a special day of mourning – Tisha B'Av (the 9th day of the Hebrew

month Av) – commemorating the destruction of both the First and Second


• Jewish wedding ceremonies – joyous occasions, are marked by sorrow over the

loss of Jerusalem. The groom recites a biblical verse from the Babylonian Exile:

"If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning,"(4) and breaks

a glass in commemoration of the destruction of the Temples.


Even body language, often said to tell volumes about a person, reflects the importance of

Jerusalem to Jews as a people and, arguably, the lower priority the city holds for


• When Jews pray they face Jerusalem; in Jerusalem Israelis pray facing the

Temple Mount.

• When Muslims pray, they face Mecca; in Jerusalem Muslims pray with their

backs to the city.

• Even at burial, a Muslim face, is turned toward Mecca.

Finally, consider the number of times 'Jerusalem' is mentioned in the two religions' holy


• The Old Testament mentions 'Jerusalem' 349 times. Zion, another name for

'Jerusalem,' is mentioned 108 times..(5)

• The Quran never mentions Jerusalemnot even once.

Even when others controlled Jerusalem, Jews maintained a physical presence in the city,

despite being persecuted and impoverished. Before the advent of modern Zionism in the

1880s, Jews were moved by a form of religious Zionism to live in the Holy Land, settling

particularly in four holy cities: Safed, Tiberias, Hebron, and most importantly –

Jerusalem. Consequently, Jews constituted a majority of the city's population for

generations. In 1898, "In this City of the Jews, where the Jewish population outnumbers

all others three to one …" Jews constituted 75 percent (6) of the Old City population in what Secretary-General Kofi Annan called 'East Jerusalem.' In 1914, when the Ottoman Turks ruled the city, 45,000 Jews made up a majority of the 65,000 residents. And at the time of Israeli statehood in 1948, 100,000 Jews lived in the city, compared to only 65,000

Arabs.(7) Prior to unification, Jordanian-controlled 'East Jerusalem' was a mere 6 square

kilometers, compared to 38 square kilometers on the 'Jewish side.'


Islam's Tenuous Connection to Jerusalem

Despite 1,300 years of Muslim Arab rule, Jerusalem was never the capital of an Arab

entity, nor was it ever mentioned in the Palestine Liberation Organization's covenant

until Israel regained control of 'East Jerusalem' in the Six-Day War of 1967.


Overall, the role of Jerusalem in Islam is best understood as the outcome of political

exigencies impacting on religious belief.


Mohammed, who founded Islam in 622 CE, was born in 570 CE and raised in presentday

Saudi Arabia; he never set foot in Jerusalem. His connection to the city came years

after his death in 632 CE, when the Dome of the Rock shrine and the al-Aqsa mosque

were built in 688 and 691, respectively, their construction spurred by political and

religious rivalries. In 638 CE, the Caliph (or successor to Mohammed) Omar and his

invading armies captured Jerusalem from the Byzantine Empire. One reason they wanted to erect a holy structure in Jerusalem was to proclaim Islam's supremacy (8) over Christianity and its most important shrine, the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.

More important was the power struggle within Islam itself. The Damascus-based

Umayyad Caliphs who controlled Jerusalem wanted to establish an alternative holy site

if their rivals blocked access to Mecca. That was important because the Hajj or

pilgrimage to Mecca was (and remains today) one of the Five Pillars of Islam. As a result,

they built what became known as the Dome of the Rock shrine and the adjacent

mosque. (9)


To enhance the prestige of the 'substitute Mecca,' the Jerusalem mosque was named al-

Aqsa. It means 'the furthest mosque' in Arabic, but has far broader implications, since it

is the same phrase used in a key passage of the Quran called "The Night Journey." In that

passage, Mohammed arrives at 'al-Aqsa' on a winged steed accompanied by the

Archangel Gabriel; from there they ascend into heaven for a divine meeting with Allah,

after which Mohammed returns to Mecca. Naming the Jerusalem mosque al-Aqsa was

an attempt to say the Dome of the Rock was the very spot from which Mohammed

ascended to heaven, thus tying Jerusalem to divine revelation in Islamic belief.


Jerusalem never replaced the importance of Mecca in the Islamic world. When the

Umayyad dynasty fell in 750, Jerusalem also fell into near obscurity for 350 years, until

the Crusades. During those centuries, many Islamic sites in Jerusalem fell into disrepair

and in 1016 the Dome of the Rock collapsed. (10)


Still, for 1,300 years, various Islamic dynasties (Syrian, Egyptian, and Turkish)

continued to govern Jerusalem as part of their overall control of the Land of Israel,

disrupted only by the Crusaders. What is amazing is that over that period, not one

Islamic dynasty ever made Jerusalem its capital.(11) By the 19th century, Jerusalem had

been so neglected by Islamic rulers that several prominent Western writers who visited

Jerusalem were moved to write about it. French writer Gustav Flaubert, for example,

found "ruins everywhere" during his visit in 1850 when it was part of the Turkish Empire

(1516-1917). Seventeen years later Mark Twain wrote that Jerusalem had "become a

pauper village." (12)


Indeed, Jerusalem's importance in the Islamic world only appears evident when non-

Muslims (including the Crusaders, the British, and the Jews) control or capture the

city.(13) Only at those points in history did Islamic leaders claim Jerusalem as their third

most holy city after Mecca and Medina.(14) That was again the case in 1967, when Israel

captured Jordanian-controlled 'East Jerusalem' (and the Old City) during the 1967 Six-

Day War. Oddly, the PLO's National Covenant, written in 1964, never mentioned

Jerusalem. Only after Israel regained control of the entire city did the PLO updated its

Covenant to include Jerusalem.


Jordan's Shameful Record

As recently as the mid-20th century, when Arabs last controlled parts of Jerusalem, they

exhibited no respect for the Holy City.


In 1948, when Jordan took control of the eastern part of Jerusalem, including the Old

City, it divided the city for the first time in its 3,000-year history. Under the 1949

armistice agreement with Israel, Jordan pledged to allow free access to all holy places

but failed to honor that commitment. From 1948 until the Six-Day War in 1967, the part

of Jerusalem controlled by the Jordanians again became an isolated and underdeveloped

provincial town, and its religious sites the target of religious intolerance.

The Old City was rendered void of Jews. Jewish sites such as the Mount of Olives were

desecrated. Jordan destroyed more than 50 synagogues (15), and erased all evidence of a

Jewish presence. In addition, all Jews were forced out of the Jewish Quarter of the Old

City adjacent to the Western Wall, an area where Jews had lived for generations.

For 19 years, Jews and Christians residing in Israel (and even Israeli Muslims) were

barred from their holy places, despite Jordan's pledge to allow free access. Jews, for

example, were unable to pray at the Western Wall; Christian Arabs living in Israel were

denied access to churches and other religious sites in the Old City and nearby Bethlehem,

also under Jordanian control.(16) During Jordan's reign over eastern Jerusalem, its

restrictive laws on Christian institutions led to a dramatic decline in the holy city's

Christian population by more than half – from 25,000 to 11,000, (17) a pattern that

characterized Christian Arabs in other Arab countries throughout the Middle East where

religious freedom is not honored.


It was only after the Six-Day War that the Jewish Quarter was rebuilt and free access to

holy places was reestablished. It is worth noting that after Jordan annexed the West

Bank in the 1950s, it too failed to make Jerusalem – a city that Arabs now claim as 'the

third most holy site of Islam' – its capital.


When Israel reunited Jerusalem after the 1967 Six-Day

War, one of its first acts was to grant unprecedented

freedom to all religions

Israel reunited Jerusalem as one city in 1967, after Jordan joined the Egyptian and

Syrian war offensive and shelled the Jewish part of Jerusalem. Israeli leaders vowed the

city would never again be divided.


Despite the disgraceful treatment of the Jewish Quarter and the Mount of Olives under

the Jordanians and despite the Arabs' violation of their pledges to make all holy sites

accessible to Jews and Christians, one of the first acts Israel undertook after reuniting

the city was to guarantee and safeguard the rights of all citizens of Jerusalem. This

included not only free access to holy sites for all faiths but also represented an

unprecedented act of religious tolerance. Israel granted Muslim and Christian religious

authorities responsibility for managing their respective holy sites (18) – including Muslim

administration of Judaism's holiest site, the Temple Mount. Eventually, however, the

Waqf, which holds administrative responsibility over the Temple Mount, violated the

trust with which it was invested to respect and protect the holiness of the Temple Mount

for both Muslims and Jews.


Jerusalem was Never an Arab City

Arab leaders continue to insist that Jerusalem is an Arab city. That myth is used to

implement a strategy to wrest partial control of Jerusalem from Israel and to make

Jerusalem the capital of a Palestinian state. It is also part of a long-range strategy to

destroy the Jewish state. This is one reason PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat rejected the

unprecedented now-or-never Israeli proposal at peace talks in 2000 at Camp David. The

proposal sought to solve the impasse over the status of Jerusalem by offering Arabs a

share in the administration of parts of the city. Afterwards, Arafat revealed his real

position in a post-summit statement that declared the PLO's demand for sovereignty

over Jerusalem included the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, the Temple Mount mosques,

the Armenian Quarter, "and Jerusalem in its entirety, entirety, entirety." (19)


The 'Two Jerusalems' Myth

Palestinians have nurtured a myth that historically there were two Jerusalems – an Arab

'East Jerusalem' and a Jewish 'West Jerusalem.'


Jerusalem was never an Arab city; Jews have held a majority in Jerusalem since 1870 (20), and 'east-west' is a geographic, not political designation. It is no different than claiming Annapolis the capital of Maryland should be a separate political entity from the rest of that state.


In 1880, Jews constituted 52 percent of the Old City population in 'East Jerusalem' and

were still inhabiting 42 percent of the Old City in 1914. (21) In 1948, there were 100,000

Jews in Jerusalem, with 60,000 Arabs. A joint Jordanian-Israeli census reported that

67.7 percent of the city's population in 1961 was Jewish. A 1967 aerial photo reveals the

truth about the area called 'East Jerusalem': it was no more than an overcrowded walled

city with a few scattered neighborhoods surrounded by villages. Prior to unification,

Jordanian-controlled 'East Jerusalem' was a mere 6 square kilometers, compared to 38

square kilometers on the Jewish side.

Although uniting the city transformed all of Jerusalem into the largest city in Israel and a

bustling metropolis, even moderate Palestinian leaders reject the idea of a united city.

Their minimal demand for 'just East Jerusalem' really means the Jewish holy sites

(including the Jewish Quarter and the Western Wall), which Arabs have failed to protect,

and the return of neighborhoods that house a significant percentage of Jerusalem's

present-day Jewish population. Most of that city is built on rock-strewn empty land

around the city that was in the public domain for the past 40 years. With an overall

population of 730,000 today, separating 'East Jerusalem' and 'West Jerusalem' is as

viable and acceptable as the notion of splitting Berlin into two cities again, or separating

East Harlem from the rest of Manhattan.


Arab claims to Jerusalem, a Jewish city by all definitions, reflect the "what's-mine-ismine, what's-yours-is-mine" mentality underlying Palestinian concepts of how to end the Arab-Israeli conflict. That concept is also expressed in the demand for the 'Right of

Return,' (22) not just in Jerusalem - Israel's capital, but 'inside the Green Line.'


Arab Fantasies, Destroying History

Arabs deny the bond between Jews and Jerusalem; they sabotage and destroy

archaeological evidence, even at the holiest place in Judaism – the Temple Mount.

Arabs continually denied the legitimacy of the Jewish people's connection to Jerusalem.

Arafat and other Arab leaders insisted that there never were Jewish temples on the

Temple Mount. They also claim the Western Wall was really an Islamic holy site to whichMuslims have historical rights.(23) Putting rhetoric into action, Islamic clerics who manage the Temple Mount have demonstrated flagrant disrespect and contempt for the

archaeological evidence of a Jewish presence.


Between 1999 and 2001, the Muslim Waqf removed and dumped more than 13,000 tons

of what it termed rubble from the Mount and its substructure, including archaeological

remains from the First and Second Temple periods, which Israelis found at dumping

sites. During construction of a new underground mosque in a subterranean hall believed

to date back to the time of Herod,(24) and the paving of an 'open air' mosque elsewhere on the Temple Mount, the Waqf barred the Israel Antiquities Authority from supervising, or even observing, work. When archaeological finds from any period – Jewish or otherwise – are uncovered in the course of construction work, the Authority is mandated by law to supervise and observe everywhere in Israel – legislation that dates back to 1922 and documented in the international accord of the League of Nation's - the "Mandate for



Such gross disregard for the pre-Islamic Jewish heritage of Jerusalem – particularly on

Judaism's holiest historic site - is a far more insidious form of the same Islamic

intolerance that motivated the Taliban to demolish two gigantic pre-Islamic statues of

Buddha carved into a cliff in Afghanistan.(25)


The Holy Places and Jerusalem

Jerusalem, it seems, is at the physical center of the Arab-Israeli conflict. In fact, two

distinct issues exist: the issue of Jerusalem and the issue of the Holy Places. Sir Elihu

Lauterpacht, a former judge ad hoc on the bench of the International Court of Justice

and a renowned and respected scholar of international law at Cambridge University, has


"Not only are the two problems separate; they are also quite distinct in nature from one

another. So far as the Holy Places are concerned, the question is for the most part one of

assuring respect for the existing interests of the three religions and of providing the

necessary guarantees of freedom of access, worship, and religious administration.

Questions of this nature are only marginally an issue between Israel and her neighbors

and their solution should not complicate the peace negotiations. As far as the City of

Jerusalem itself is concerned, the question is one of establishing an effective

administration of the City which can protect the rights of the various elements of its

permanent population - Christian, Arab and Jewish - and ensure the governmental

stability and physical security which are essential requirements for the city of the Holy



Eli E. Hertz

Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.


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