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Strategic Perspective:

The Case for Jerusalem

by John Loeffler

World Affairs Editor

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"If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning..." Psalm 137:5

Intelligence experts are warning that 1999 is likely to be a year of serious upheaval in the Middle East. King Hussein of Jordan is suffering from lymph cancer, and a major conflict between Turkey and Cyprus over the issue of the delivery of S-300 missiles has been postponed only temporarily until the end of the year.

This conflict could well embroil Russia and the United States. Turkey is also dealing with serious internal problems with the rise of fundamentalist Islamists as well as a Kurdish insurrection in the south.

Palestinian Authority leader Yasser Arafat's health is failing. Jordan faces destabilization from Syria, which is on poor terms with Amman, and Iraq, which has a score to settle over the King's support for opponents of Saddam Hussein.

Syria is making preparations for the next war and is also in conflict with Turkey, Israel's ally. Egypt - currently under a peace treaty with Israel - is preparing for some kind of war (with whom one could only imagine) and its newspapers publish rhetoric, which grows more nad more hostile to Israel. Egypt is also continuing its arms buildup, including setting up a Scud-C misslile brigade with covert Russian assistance.

Meanwhile, the Palestinians have been threatening to declare a Palestinian state in May 1999, but this seems to be abating in light of the latest efforts to jump start the peace process. As of this writing, Arafat was rounding up Palestinians opposed to the peace process and Netanyahu was already balking at whether or not the Palestinians could keep their peace guarantees, and it remains to be seen whether or not the Palestinians will keep their pledge to remove calls for Israel's destruction from their charter.

Regardless of the short-term outcome of the "peace process," one thing is almost certain: the fate of the peace process will hinge on the future of the city of Jerusalem. Israel has claimed Jerusalem as its capital and is tightening its grip on the city by extending its boundaries to increase the Jewish proportions. The Palestinians are making the claim that Al Quads (the Arabic name for Jerusalem) will also be the capital of a newly declared Palestinian state. So what are the candidates for a successful resolution of the fate of the city?

Redivide the City in Halves

In the 19 years between 1948 and 1967, the city was divided by barbed wire, walls, and armed troops separating the population, making it a difficult time for all living there. Jerusalem's development as an integrated community was severely inhibited. All of that changed after the city was reunited in 1967. Thus redividing the city again is not feasible.

Divide the City into Districts

This would assumably be based on whichever population had a marjority in a given sector, but this would unnaturally divide Jerusalem into enclaves splattered around the city, since neighborhoods cannot be uniformly linked to allow formation of exclusively Jewish and Arab areas'such a combination would also unravel the social and infrastructure nature of Jerusalem. This is not a feasible option either.

Control of Jerusalem by an International Authority

This proposal was given some serious consideration but now appears to be waning. In the late 1960s, Arab states outside Israel (Jordon excepted) preferred this solution, since it seemed most likely to put an end to Israeli control.

The Vatican's support for this has been an up-and-down roller coaster. It originally supported the concept of an internationalized Jerusalem but subsequently changed its views in favor of "international guarantees" for the holy places. Now, within a week of this writing, the Holy See once again stated that Jerusalem should be protected by "a special internationally guaranteed statute." This was announced by Monsignor Jean Louis Tauran, who is responsible for the Vatican's foreign policy.

The practical problems of internationalization are too numerous to make it feasible. Nothing would be more likely to disrupt the life of a city and its population than imposing a system divided, external government.

Control by a Single Nation

Recognizing the sovereignty of one nation (Israel or Palestine) over Jerusalem, while guaranteeing open access and the internal administration of religious places by their adherents is also a possibility, but not a probability.

Israel believes that Jerusalem must function as an increasingly tolerant, peaceful and prosperous city, where a diverse, multicultural population may live and work. Israelis are committed to ensuring that Jerusalem remains safe and attractive, and that the atmosphere of the city facilitates tourism and worship. The government of Israel has stated that it is ready to sign international commitments enshrining these principles. However, this option will be unpalatable to the Palestinians and will most likely be thrown on the trash heap of history.

Given the fighting which is occurring over it, what are the historical claims of both sides to this seemingly unimportant city?

Claims on Jerusalem

Known as Yerushalayim to the Jews and Al Quds to the Arabs, the future of Jerusalem is the future of the Middle East Peace Process. The city is holy to Judaism, Islam and Christianity, but only the Jewish people have a religious prescription to live there. All three main monotheistic faiths, Judaism, Christianity and Islam (Sikhism is likewise a monotheistic faith) all consider Jerusalem a holy city, with major events in each of their histories being linked to the city. However, it is only for Judaism that the city itself is uniquely holy, representing the hope and meaning of Jewish existence and continuity.

The Palestinian Case for Jerusalem

The Koran details how one night, the prophet Mohammed was miraculously transported from Mecca to Jerusalem and from there made his ascent to heaven on his winged horse, al-Buraq. But for Islam, Jerusalem has never been as sacred as Mecca and Medina. The Temple Mount, with its Dome of the Rock and al-Aqsa Mosque (7th century), is considered by Muslims to be the third most important site in Islam after the Ka'aba in Mecca (in whose direction all Muslims pray, including Muslims in Jerusalem) and the Mosque of Mohammed in Medina.

Similarly, the claim to Jerusalem (or at least its eastern part) as the capital of a Palestinian state is unfounded. The Palestinians have failed to offer any legal grounds in support of their claim to the city. Jerusalem has never been the capital of an Arab state, and there has never been any state of Palestine.

When the Arabs first took control of the region in the Middle Ages, they established Ramle as their capital. Later Arab and Mamluk empires ruled from Baghdad and Damascus, respectively. Never Jerusalem. The Ottoman sultans resided in Constantinople (Istanbul). More recently, the Jordanians who held the eastern part of Jerusalem between 1948 and 1967 had Amman as their capital.

Prior to 1948, Palestinian Arabs refused to accept any of the proposed solutions to the Arab-Jewish conflict. They would not consent to anything short of establishing Arab rule in all of what was called the Palestine Mandate, expelling or killing all Jews living in that area. On November 29, 1947, the United Nations General Assembly voted to partition Mandatory Palestine into Jewish and Arab states, making Jerusalem a corpus separatum (separate body) under international control with guarantees for the holy places.

Between 1948 and 1967, there were only isolated calls for a Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital. Arabs living in Judea, Samaria and eastern Jerusalem were Jordanian citizens and remain such to the present day. It was only after 1967, when Israel successfully defended itself against Arab aggression in the Six-Day War (after Jordan violated the armistice agreement and attacked Israel), that Palestinian Arabs begin to lay claim to Jerusalem as their political capital. There is no basis for a "historical" claim that Jerusalem was a Palestinian capital.

The Jewish Case for Jerusalem

The first archaeological evidence of Jerusalem's history dates back to the Early Bronze Age (circa 3000 b.c.). With very little exception, the Jewish People have had a continual presence in the city since King David made it his capital 3,000 years ago, a religious and historical connection which fueled the modern Jewish Zionist movement. Throughout the centuries, Jews have dreamed of returning to Jerusalem and have never ceased to mourn the destruction of the ancient city. Days of fasting, marking the destruction of the first and second Temples, are an integral part of the Jewish calendar.

Jerusalem is remembered at all Jewish weddings, when the groom breaks a glass to commemorate the destruction of the Temple - even at this most joyous of occasions. Indeed, the restoration of Jerusalem as the national and religious capital of the Jews is an oft-repeated theme. "Next year in Jerusalem" at the Passover seder is a motif that permeates all religious observances.

King David's son, Solomon, built the First Temple in Jerusalem. In 586 b.c. Judah's rulers were defeated by the Babylonians, when King Nebuchadnezzar occupied the city, destroyed the Temple and exiled the population to Babylon. When the Persians defeated Babylon in 536 b.c., Cyrus the Great allowed the Jewish exiles to return home and soon thereafter the Second Temple was built and dedicated under Nehemiah, whom the Persians had appointed governor in 445 b.c.

Alexander the Great conquered Jerusalem in 333 b.c., leading to the establishment of the Hellenistic monarchies. Antiochus IV, however, tried to make Jerusalem a Hellenic city, desiring to transform Jerusalem into a Greek metropolis. His desecration of the Temple provoked a Jewish insurrection headed by Judah Maccabee, who succeeded in liberating Jerusalem. In 165 b.c., the first Channukah ("dedication") was celebrated with Jews again able to worship at the Temple.

In 63 b.c., Roman General Pompey imposed Roman rule on Jerusalem and in 37 b.c., Herod was appointed King of Judea. One of Herod's fortification projects included construction of the still-standing Western (Wailing) Wall. After Herod's death, Judea became a Roman province (around 6 a.d.) and Jerusalem was governed by Roman procurators from Caesarea. It no longer was the capital of Judea.

There are several decades of sporadic riots, usually clashes with Roman troops. By the middle of the 1st century a.d., the Jews again fought to liberate Jerusalem from the Romans, but their war ended in 70 a.d., when the armies of Titus conquered the city and destroyed the Temple. Most of Jerusalem's residents were killed or perished during the Roman siege. Survivors were sold into slavery or executed. The entire city was virtually destroyed.

In 130 a.d., Emperor Hadrian rebuilt Jerusalem as a pagan city, provoking another Jewish Revolt against the Romans. Jerusalem was once again liberated briefly, but ultimately, Rome crushed the revolt and renamed the city Aelia Capitolina.

In the 4th century, Christianity became the state religion and Emperor Constantine made Jerusalem into a Christian center. At this time, Jews began making their way back to the city. During 5th century Christian rule, Jews were more or less free to practice their religion. However, Emperor Theodosius II later deprived the Jews of autonomy, along with the ability to hold public office. Jews were forbidden to enter Jerusalem except on one day a year, to mourn the destruction of the Temple.

Under early Arab rule, a Jewish community was reestablished in Jerusalem and flourished from the 8th - 10th centuries, when harsh measures were imposed on the Jews by the Fatimids. The Crusader period in the 12th century saw terrible massacres by Christians along with a prohibition against Jews living in Jerusalem. From that time, there was continual Jewish presence in the city to the modern era.

Modern History

Following World War I, Britain occupied Palestine (including present-day Jordan), a situation endorsed by the international community. Britain was awarded the Mandate for Palestine by the League of Nations in 1922. Part of this mandate included fostering a Jewish National Home in the territory, as proposed by the Balfour Declaration.

Although the British demonstrated concern for Jerusalem, they pursued policies which promoted conflict between the various populations of Jerusalem. Between 1920 and 1940, Arab hostility to Jewish immigration and the majority Jewish presence in Jerusalem resulted in increasingly violent attacks against Jewish residents.

Continual Arab rioting, directed chiefly by the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin al-Husseini, caused the British government to issue its White Paper of May 1939, severely restricting Jewish immigration to Palestine. Meanwhile, the Arabs continued to reject all attempts to partition Palestine into separate Jewish and Arab states, as well as any attempt to internationalize Jerusalem.

The British quit Palestine on May 15, 1948, leaving Jerusalem's status undetermined. The Jews declared the State of Israel and the Arabs declared war on the Jews. In ten months of fighting, many Jews and Arabs fled Jerusalem, and all Jewish residents of the Old City were driven from their homes by Jordanian forces. The end of the 1948-49 Arab-Israeli war left the western part of Jerusalem under Israeli control, with the Old City and eastern section controlled by Jordan. Israel and Jordan signed an armistice, dividing Jerusalem into two demarcated zones, seen by both sides as temporary until a peace treaty could be concluded. The cease-fire lines were never viewed as permanent borders. Jerusalem was divided for the first time in its millennia-old history, along the cease-fire lines of the Israeli and Jordanian forces.

Under the armistice, Jordan promised to allow free access to the holy places as well as use of the ancient Jewish cemetery on the Mount of Olives. It also provided free access guarantees to Hadassah Hospital and Hebrew University on Mount Scopus, agreements which were never fulfilled. No Jew was allowed to pray at the Western Wall. The Jewish Quarter of the Old City was systematically destroyed and tombstones from the Jewish cemetery were used to pave a path to a Jordanian military latrine. What had been intended as an interim period for working out a peace treaty became a 19-year period of mine fields and barbed wire along borders traversing the city.

East and West Jerusalem Under Israeli Rule

In June 1967, Jordan (ignoring Israel's diplomatic pleas to maintain the armistice cease-fire), joined several Arab countries in initiating a war against Israel. In defending itself, Israel gained control of the eastern part of Jerusalem on June 7 and the city was once again reunited. Jews were again able to pray at the Western Wall. The point that Jordan violated the armistice agreement by attacking Israel and in the process lost control of Jerusalem is critical in the light of today's negotiations.

Contrary to much media hysteria, the extension of Israeli law to eastern Jerusalem did not constitute a violation of international law, since that part of Jerusalem had no legal status under international law. That part of Jerusalem was part of the Palestine Mandate, whose ultimate status had never been determined.

The Future of The Holy City

The Bible warns that anyone who attempted to deal with the issue of Jerusalem in the end times would be grievously injured:

And in that day will I make Jerusalem a burdensome stone for all people: all that burden themselves with it shall be cut in pieces, though all the people of the earth be gathered together against it.

As the future of Jerusalem is played out along Biblical guidelines, it would seem that prophecy is being fulfilled before our eyes.
Zechariah 12:3


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