Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Jerusalem of gold, copper and light

Trump’s controversial announcement to move the US embassy to Jerusalem has elicited a larger than usual number of skew comments.  What I mean is that the various reactions do not relate to the same Jerusalem although the name of the city is the same.

To explain, to religious and ideological Jews, Jerusalem is the soul of Judaism, the basis of the faith, and is symbolized by the Wailing Wall and Temple Mount.  Without Jerusalem, Israel has no anchor for existence. While this image is very strong and commonly felt even by non-religious Jews, it ignores many facts. A Jewish state without Jerusalem in ancient times did exist when there was a split between Judah and Israel. Secondly, administratively and population wise, East Jerusalem is more Jordanian/Palestinian than Israeli.  Many of its key institutions are directly or indirectly run by Amman, including the educational system and Waqf. Despite the fact that Jerusalem was united more than 40 years ago, it remains a divided city.

That does not mean that the official Muslim portrayal of Jerusalem is any more accurate. In the eyes of many Muslim, Jerusalem is the city from where Mohamed rose to heaven. Its holiness is symbolized by the Golden Dome Mosque, Al-Aqsa. Jewish control of the area represents a spiritual threat to the religion as a political threat to the Palestinians, who also consider Jerusalem as their religious anchor. This approach ignores the fact that the mosque is build on the ruins of a church, which is built on the ruins of the two ancient Jewish temples, which was built in the area conquered by the Jewish King David from the …….  There is no certainly no clear Muslim or even Arabic title to this land. Moreover, the Koran does not even directly mention Jerusalem, although the city may be referred to indirectly. Thus, to claim that Jews have no title to the city is ridiculous.

The “neutral” international attitude to Jerusalem is muddled. Jerusalem has an important place in Christianity. Yet, Christian access is not threatened either by the former or new US position. More importantly, the world is bewildered by the fervency and lack of rationality in regards to any discussion regarding the city’s status. Thus, it prefers to bury the issue under the carpet and allocate to later discussions between the disputing parties, who so far cannot agree on far simpler matters. On the other hand, like any fundamental dispute, the status of Jerusalem and its holy places will continue to heighten tensions to everybody’s loss. It is a bit of a Gordian knot. It is often forgotten that Jerusalem is not only a symbol but also a real city with people trying to cope with a complicated geographical, architectural, political and social structure.

My view is that fundamentally Trump’s declaration and eventual implementation changed very little. In any case, the US Embassy would be located in West Jerusalem. This move would not in fact prevent the Palestinians from having their own state and making East Jerusalem their capital if such a solution is ever agreed upon. The facts on the ground should (but do not always) determine the reality.  The two state solution is theoretically possible with Jerusalem as a divided city, albeit not necessarily according to pre-1967 borders on the condition that freedom of religion for all is maintained and the parties can agree.

Yes, I know the John Lennon song Imagine comes to mind, hopefully or cynically. In any case, we need a bit of Naomi Shemer‘s light to enter the Middle East and allow people to live their lives in peace. Let all of us pray to the peace of Jerusalem, whichever city you have in mind.  If we can make that happen, anything is possible.

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