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Op-Ed: Thinking Jerusalem...

a mention of Jerusalem itself is no where to be found in the Muslim holy book...interesting, since it was recorded in many other places besides the writings of the Jews themselves for over 1,500 years before the rise of Islam. Religious claims of both Christians and Muslims to Jerusalem exist primarily because of those religions' links to the Jews.
Published: Thursday, March 18, 2004 6:32 PM


If you thought the fence was a hot potato, just wait...
While it keeps getting shoved onto the back burner for fear of the intense heat that it will generate, there's no doubt that Jerusalem will be one of the most difficult issues to resolve in any so-called "peace process."

Not long ago, Yossi Beilin and some other fellow delusional Israelis brought the subject up in their Geneva fiasco with some of Arafat's conscious and unconscious manipulatives. As with the rest of that initiative, Jews would give up concrete tangibles -in this case sacred ones- in return for vague Arab promises a la Oslo. Given this, it's time to take a look at some blunt facts regarding Jerusalem, despite the risk of ruffling even some friendly feathers.

While Christians, Muslims, and Jews all have ties to Jerusalem, these ties are in no way "equal"- despite Arafat's now apparently wanting to have a quasi shrine erected for himself upon his passing on the Temple Mount.
In religious Jewish sources, for instance, Jerusalem is mentioned over 600 times, but it is never mentioned even once in the Koran. It is alluded to in the latter in passages about the Hebrew Kings, David and Solomon, and the destruction of the Temples of the Jews. Arafat and Co. deny a Jewish Temple ever existed there. They call the Temple Mount "Buraq's Mount," after Muhammad's supposedly winged horse. But a mention of Jerusalem itself is no where to be found in the Muslim holy book...interesting, since it was recorded in many other places besides the writings of the Jews themselves for over 1,500 years before the rise of Islam.

Religious claims of both Christians and Muslims to Jerusalem exist primarily because of those religions' links to the Jews. Political claims - based upon facts on the ground - are, admittedly, more complicated. Even so, throughout over three millennia since King David conquered it from the Jebusites, renamed it, and gave it its Jewish character, no other people except the Jews has ever made Jerusalem their capital, despite its conquest by many imperial powers, including that of the Arab caliphal successors to Muhammad as they burst out of the Arabian Peninsula in the 7th century C.E. and spread in all directions. Damascus and Baghdad were the capital seats of Arab caliphal imperial power, and Mecca and Medina the holy cities. This is not to say that Jerusalem was ignored by its Muslim conquerors (i.e. the Umayyads built the Dome of the Rock/Mosque of 'Umar on the Temple Mount making it Islam's allegedly third holiest city), but it is to say that Jerusalem was and is in no way the focus for Islam that it is for Jews and Judaism.

Since David made Jerusalem his capital and it became the site of his son Solomon's Temple, Zion became the heart and soul of Jewish national and religious existence. Jews from all over the early diaspora made their pilgrimages and sent offerings to its Temple. "By the Rivers of Babylon we wept..." and "If I forget thee O Jerusalem, may my right hand forget its cunning..." were just a few of the many Biblical expressions of the Jews for Zion. Such yearning persisted throughout subsequent millennia in the Diaspora as well. "Next Year in Jerusalem" sustained the Jew throughout countless degradations and humiliations culminating in the Holocaust.

There is no Muslim parallel to these claims, despite efforts to portray Palestinian Arabs (many of whom were new arrivals - settlers - in the land themselves), as the "new Jews."
Jews, coming from a hundred different lands (including those native to Israel itself), didn't have twenty-two other states to potentially choose from and suffered dearly for this statelessness. Most Muslim Arabs want sole rights over Jerusalem today, the same way they want sole rights over Tel Aviv. In their eyes, only they have legitimate political rights anywhere in what they regard as the Dar al-Islam.

Regardless of whatever theology one clings to - and despite Mel Gibson's whitewash of this in his new movie, The Passion of the Christ - Jesus' historical experiences in Roman-occupied Judaea and Jerusalem were those of a Jew living under extremely precarious conditions. Thousands of his countrymen had already been killed, crucified, etc. in the subjugation/pacification process. The contemporary Roman and Roman-sponsored historians themselves--Tacitus, Josephus, Dio Cassius, etc.--had much to say about all of this...a shame Gibson wasn't interested. Consider, for example, just this one telling quote from Tacitus:

" Vespasian succeeded to the throne...it infuriated his resentment that the Jews were the only nation who had not yet submitted."

These oppressive conditions led to open revolts and guerilla warfare to rid the land of its mighty pagan conqueror - wars which would eventually lead the Roman Emperor, Hadrian, to rename the land itself from Judaea to Syria Palaestina in 135 C.E. in an attempt to stamp out any remaining hopes for Jewish independence and national existence. Judaea was thus renamed after the Jews' historic enemies, the Philistines, a non-Semitic sea people from the eastern Mediterranean or Aegean region, to drive home the point.

For a modern analogy, imagine Lithuania as it was engulfed by the Soviet Union in the latter's heyday of power. Or a Hungarian freedom fighter or Greek partisan taking on the Soviets or the Nazis. Think of the sympathy and admiration normally given to such situations... Now think about the treatment the Jews have received over the ages for longing for this same freedom and dignity. Whatever Jesus did or did not mean in his alleged statement, "render unto Caesar...," this passage and others in the New Testament have been used to belittle this same desire for freedom and independence among the Jews.

Judaea Capta (not "Palaestina" Capta) coins were issued, and the towering Arch of Titus was erected after the first major revolt in 70 C.E. and shows, among other things, the Romans carrying away the giant Menorah and other objects from the Jewish Temple that at least many if not most Arabs and other Muslims claim never existed. It stands in Rome to this very day to commemorate Rome's victory over the Jews and Jewish Jerusalem.

When Muhammad, the Prophet of Islam, fled Mecca to Medina in 622 C.E. (the Hijrah), the inhabitants welcomed him. Medina had been developed centuries earlier as a thriving date palm oasis by Jews fleeing the Roman assault (the banu-Qurayzah and banu-al-Nadir tribes, etc.), and its mixed population of Jews and pagan Arabs had thus become conditioned for a native prophet speaking the word of G-d.

Muhammad learned much from the Jews. While the actual timing of his decision on the direction of prayer may never be known, during his long sojourn with the Jews of Medina, his followers were instructed to pray towards Jerusalem. Early prominent Arab historians such as Jalaluddin came right out and stated that this was done primarily as an attempt to win support among the influential Jewish tribes (the "People of the Book") for Muhammad's religio-politcal claims.

It is from the Temple Mount in Jerusalem that Muslims believe Muhammad ascended to Heaven on his winged horse. A mosque, the Dome of the Rock, would later be erected on this Jewish holy site after the Arab imperial conquest of the land in the 7th century C.E.

There is no doubt among objective scholars that Jews had an enormous impact on both Muhammad and the religion that he founded.
The holy sites for Muslims in Jerusalem (i.e. the mosques erected on the Temple Mount of the Jews) are now deemed "holy" precisely because of the critical years Muhammad spent after the Hijrah with the Jews.
The Temple Mount had no prior meaning to pagan Arabs. While there was some early Christian influence as well, intense scholarship has shown that the Holy Law (Halakha) and Holy Scriptures of the Jews had a tremendous influence on the Koran, Islamic Holy Law (Shari'a), etc. Muhammad's "Jerusalem connection" was most likely not established until after his extended stay with his Jewish hosts. This was no mere coincidence...Muslim religious beliefs regarding Muhammad's conversations with the Angel Gabriel, etc. notwithstanding.


When the Jews refused to recognize Muhammad as the "Seal of the Prophets," he turned on them with a vengeance. Before long, with the exception of Yemen, there were virtually no Jews left on the Arabian Peninsula. And the direction of prayer was changed away from Jerusalem and towards the Kaaba in Mecca instead...
To say that Jerusalem has the same meaning for Muslims as it has for Jews is to simply tell a lie.

In modern times, Jews constituted the majority of Jerusalem's population from 1840 onwards. When Jordanian Arabs - whose nation itself was formed from 80% of the original mandate for Palestine issued to Britain on April 25, 1920 - seized East Jerusalem after their invasion of reborn Israel in 1948, they destroyed dozens of synagogues and thousands of Jewish graves, using tombstones to pave roads, build latrines, etc.
When the Jews were denied access to their holy sites for almost two decades, the whole world remained silent. After Israel was forced to fight a defensive war in 1967 due to its being blockaded by Egypt's Nasser at the Straits of Tiran (a casus belli) and other hostile acts, Jerusalem became reunited. Access to all peoples and faiths subsequently became unhindered. It was at this moment that much of the world chose to rediscover Jerusalem...demanding its redivision, internationalization, etc. Now there's justice for you! Sickening...but, unfortunately, not really shocking or unexpected in the Jewish experience.

For centuries, Jews were forcibly converted and/or expelled, massacred, humiliated, demonized, inquisitioned, ghettoized, declared the "deicide people," etc., to one extent or another, in both the Muslim East (where they were also known as kelbi yahudi--Jew dogs) as well as the Christian West. They are determined that their rights in the sole capital of the sole, microscopic, reborn state that they possess will not be sacrificed on behalf of any 23rd state created for Arabs...especially since the latter show, in poll after poll, that regardless of how much more Jews will bare their necks for peace, Arabs will not accept the legitimacy of a viable Jewish Israel anyway.