Understanding the Situation in Jerusalem

by frankbeswick

We have just heard that President Trump has recognized Jerusalem as Israel's capital and decided to move the US embassy into it.

Jersualem is a city at the heart of a troubled region, with a religious importance that transcends any particular religious faith. Set on a mountain it is sacred to three religions, but it was a special place even before Abraham. Yet not only do three religions regard it as sacred, but Israelis and Palestinians want it as their capital city. Everyone has been treading lightly on the issue, but now a new stage in the conflict has been initiated, and no one knows what the consequences will be.

Image of King David courtesy of momentmal

Jersualem up to the Muslim Conquest

The story of Abraham  has been set in about 2000-2200 BC, and in chapter 14 of the book of Genesis we read of a positive meeting between him and Melchizedek, king of Salem [Jerusalem] and priest of God Most High [El Elyon]. This shows that even then Jerusalem was regarded as a site sacred to God. Later on, maybe about 1050 BC, David captured the city by exploiting a weakness in the defences, though the Jebusites who dwelt there were not massacred and survived to dwell in the city. David's son Solomon then made a radical change in the Hebrew faith by building a temple and enacting that sacrifice could only be offered at the temple on Temple Mount in Jerusalem.In this way he consolidated his father David's policy of controlling and centralizing the religious cult of God. Yahweh God of Israel was being identified with El Elyon.In fact, an ancient name for God was El Shaddai, the God of the heights or mountains,  quite apt for this mountain city. Certain ancient names for God were centralized in the one especially sacred location.

The temple lasted until 587 BC when the invading Babyloniians from modern Iraq destroyed it and deported the inhabitants of the city into seventy years of exile, from which they were freed in 527 by the Persians, whose king Cyrus conquered Babylon and  bought popularity by freeing captive peoples and allowing them to return home. A minority of the Hebrews returned and began to rebuild.They erected a smaller version of the temple on the site of the old one. Later in the first century BC Herod the Great [37-4 BC] began a process of renovation to develop the temple and make it magnificent. This was the Herod who is blamed for the massacre of the children in Matthew's Gospel [See my article Meet the Herods.] However, in 69-70 AD Israel  rebelled against Rome and in 70 AD the temple was destroyed again, never to be rebuilt. Its sacred treasures were deported to Rome [not the ark of the covenant, which had already vanished.] They have never been seen since. 

Christianity respected the site, so never tried a major building project there, so  the site of the temple remained empty for many years, though there may have been a small Christian chapel there, until the Muslim conquests in 638. The Muslims valued the site  as highly as the other faiths did, for they believe that their prophet made a night journey to heaven from Temple Mount. For this reason they constructed the Al Aqsah mosque there on the site of Solomon's temple.  This is the third most important mosque in Islam. However,over the centuries Christians and Jews have visited Jerusalem to pray at their sacred sites.

The city is therefore sacred to the three Abrahamic faiths, those that follow the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, these being Judaism,Christianity and Islam.I do not at this moment want to enter the argument about whether Christians and Muslims worship the same God. I think that they do, though they differ in their understanding of him. 

Jews and Palestinians

For many years the Jews were a diaspora among the nations, and while some lived in Israel, not many did. But during the nineteenth century nationalism began to arise in Europe, and with it came the belief that every nation has its rightful homeland, and for the Jews this was Israel. Hence we get the political movement of Zionism, which went for restitution of the land from which the Jews had beeen expelled by the Romans. The trouble is that there were Palestinians in the land already. Who  were they? A mixture of Muslims and Christians, they descend from a mixture of Samaritan and Jewish converts to Christianity, Arabs and others, including European crusaders. They have been there for centuries. 

In 1917 the British foreign secretary Lord Balfour agreed in a letter to one of the Rothschild family that the Jews were entitled to a homeland, a statement known as the Balfour declaration, and the Rothschilds ran with this declaration. The horrific treatment of Jews in the Holocaust gave energy to the drive for a Jewish homeland, and by 1948, after some Jewish settlers in Israel had launched a militant campaign of violence to force their will, the state of Israel was born.

But Jerualem was split between the state of Israel, which held the West, and the Jordanians holding the East. However, during the Six Day war of 1967 the victorious Israelis took control of East Jerusalem and also the Jordanian territory west of the river Jordan, known as the West Bank, which was Palestinian territory and which the conquered Palestinians saw as the nucleus of their new state. The Palestinians want East Jerusalem as  their own capital, but in 1980 Israel annexed East Jerusalem, though the United Nations opposed the annnexation, as it always opposes territorial land grabs. In 1993 Israeli- Palestinian negotiations in Oslo decided that  a decision on the final status of Jerusalem was to be deferred.

The United States decided that despite its support of Israel the wisest option was to oppose the  transfer of Israel's capital to Jersualem, so successive presidents kept the US embassy in Tel Aviv, so as to avoid annoying the Arabs in what is a  political hotspot. Then along comes Donald Trump who authorizes the moving of the US embassy,  with a de facto acceptance of the annexation.  The rest of the world, even including the clueless crowd who run Britain, think this is a bad idea, because if there is any rule for dealing with the Middle East it is "Don't  make matters worse;" and this move is likely to provoke animosity without solving any problems. Let's be clear, I am not an enemy of President Trump, for I thank him for his support of religious liberty, but I am concerned that he has erred in this decision. 



A Vision for Jerusalem.

Problems can only be truly solved when justice is done to all participants in the issue. For Jerusalem to be the possession of one side or the other in this case is not justice, for both sides have claims, and there is no justice in territorial grabs or victory for one side or the other. The issue of Jerusalem can only be resolved as part of a just solution which respects the rights of Israelis and Palestinians, with all rights being fully respected. 

St Luke in his writings, Luke's Gospel and Acts of the Apostles, centres Christ's mission on Jerusalem, which for him is the omphalos, the world centre. Christ journeys to his destiny in Jerusalem, and the Church spreads its post-resurrection message from there. Thus Jerusalem's destiny is to be a place from which the will of God spreads across the world, bringing peace, instead it is a sign of division.  

In 1948 the United Nations floated the idea that Jerusalem should be an international city outside the jurisdiction of nation states, and in 1949 Pope Pius the Twelfth supported this view in his enyclical Redemptoris Nostris Cruciatis.In subsequent years popes John the Twenty Third, Paul the Sixth, John Paul the Second and Benedict the Sixteenth have renewed their support for this proposal, but no one has taken it up. 

The Catholic Church, through Pope Francis  has expressed its disapproval of President Trump's  decision on Jerusalem, for it believes that this decision can only worsen the conflict and that in such a war-prone  area as the Middle East blood will therefore be shed because of it. The church's vision is for Jerusalem to be an international city free from any state and sacred to the three great Abrahamic religions, Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Only then  will Jerusalem be what it should be, a place of peace. 

Updated: 12/07/2017, frankbeswick
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frankbeswick on 12/08/2017

As I pointed out, Luke's Gospel presents Jerusalem as the place at the centre of salvation history. Moreover, the prophets spoke of God's ruling from his holy mountain and all nations coming to worship there. It is therefore not just any old place and should be treated as special.

cmoneyspinner on 12/08/2017

I am so glad you published this page. I suspected that you might because I know such matters are important and significant to you, as they are to me as well. Like Mary, the mother of Jesus, I often hide such things in my heart to ponder and pray about it.

I understand the situation in Jerusalem and can sum it up in three words. “God will decide.” All the ways of the nations are in the hands of God. But with respect to Jerusalem? It is so much more than the capital of Israel. It's the center of the world.

frankbeswick on 12/08/2017

Tel Aviv was established as Israel's administrative capital, so that is where the embassies were. When Jerusalem was named the capital most states kept their embassies in Tel Aviv to avoid provoking the Arabs and making matters worse. So at the moment the ambassadors will have to make journeys to Jerusalem to speak with the Israeli government. We in the UK are in such a mess due to Brexit and the clueless politicians running our country that we cannot afford any more trouble than we already have, so our embassy will not be moving.

But you are right.Tolerance is vital, and it begins with individuals.

blackspanielgallery on 12/08/2017

The point I have been confused about is that a nation chooses its own capitol, hence should be able to direct other nations where embassies can exist. Where a country opts to set up an embassy requires agreement with the hosting nation. Whatever Donald Trump does cannot change where Israel opts to set up its seat of government, only where an ambassador is sent, and that location must be approved by Israel.
This area has been in conflict for years, with roots in religious wars. So much has been done in God's name with warring people. The area is, and has been before Palestine, claimed as the land God gave to Moses. Then, the Muslims took control. And, how many crusades were launched against this area to protect the significant Christianity site? Some of those were directed against the Muslims to free the area. Religious war is often a difficult war to end, for losing land is one thing, but losing for God is another.
Tolerance is the answer. I just read of an event about to occur in New Orleans where a menorah of eleven feet is to be lighted in Spanish Plaza, a small area in downtown New Orleans. It will be done starting on December 12 as a Hanukkah celebration in an area that is traditionally Roman Catholic, yet I expect there will be no problems. I base this on an event of the past where two synagogues merged, and the congregation from the one being closed processed through the streets carrying the synagogue's Torah on two poles without incident. The procession was over several miles. The fact there is intolerance enough in Jerusalem that this is even an issue is the real problem. Of course, agitation of the other party is a good way to reduce tolerance. So outsiders who are not well enough versed in the region should not enter the conflict. With Trump, he really has only one advisor, himself, and he cannot be expert in all things. Let Israel direct where embassies are and respond to the directive.
Of course there is the issue of Palestine being dismantled after siding with Germany during World War II. Land loss is often challenged in the future. Look back at World War II, Hitler started by going after land lost after World War I, which s why he went after Poland. So, the entire region is at an uneasy place in time, and it may take centuries to heal. Yet tolerant individuals can be a start.

frankbeswick on 12/08/2017

Sheri, you make a vitally important distinction between the old city of Jerusalem and the whole Jerusalem municipality, which extends far beyond the old city boundaries. I think that it is the old city that is sacred to three great religions and I believe that this sacred status should be recognized.

The Jewish people are unique in that they are a nation and a faith, and it is without doubt that their faith centre is the old city of Jerusalem. It is, however, sacred to the other faiths as well, though we Catholics do not aspire to have any control of it, nor should any Christian group, for our interest in the city does not require our possessing it, but merely being able to visit it in safety.

Consider the model set by the Vatican, which is a state within the city of Rome existing for religious purposes, sharing facilities with Rome, but having special status. In the UK we have a city within a city. The tiny city of Westminster, where British government is based, is completely surrounded by London; and also the City of London, one square mile of mainly financial institutions, is an entity legally distinct from London itself and Westminster. There may be a future possibility in these models.

frankbeswick on 12/08/2017

Thank you for the informative comment, which I do not consider too long. I am aware that the Middle East is a complex place in which historical issues burn for a long period. My main concern is that we find a path through the issues which does full justice to everyone involved, and in which no blood is shed. I want to fully respect the rights, interests and safety of Jews/Israelis and Palestinians/Arabs.

I believe that the best way to resolve intractable problems is not to opt for one side or the other, but to transcend them with a solution that is of an order higher than the problem. Einstein pointed out that you don't solve a problem with the kind of thinking that created it. As a Christian I love Jersualem, but there would be no point in loving the place without showing love forte inhabitants. For this reason I want the best for them all, peace and safety. I would like to see the problem of Jersualem transcended by thinking of a higher level than most current thought.

Sheri_Oz on 12/08/2017

Hi Frank. I suppose you figured I would come along and comment on this post that you very timely put up. You have done a very good job, but let me put some fine-tuning on your understandings. First of all, the Palestinians that were here before 1948 were the Jews. The Arabs refused to refer to themselves as Palestinians until Arafat realized it was a good trick to play on those who did not know history. In Europe, before WW II, the Europeans used to tell the Jews to go back to Palestine. Only once we had the modern state of Israel, did they start telling us to get out of Palestine. Palestine was the Roman name given the region in order to separate it from any association with the Jews. And the word, Palestine, was a Romanized version of the word, Philistine, from the Bible. The Philistines were invaders from the area around Greece or Cyprus.

In 1948, when all the Arab states rose up to quash the Jewish population, Jordan captured land they later called the West Bank. This land was originally Judea & Samaria and it, and Jerusalem, was part of the land that was intended to be for the Jewish State after 70% of Mandatory Palestine was split off to make Jordan, a state that had never before existed in all of history. The Arabs were offered an additional section of what was supposed to be Israel (the partition plan) and they chose war instead. Jordan occupied Judea & Samaria and what is now called East Jerusalem until they lost the 1967 war against Israel. When they originally occupied all that territory, they killed or expelled the Jews (all of them), stole their property and destroyed sacred Jewish sites. My ex-in-laws were among those expelled - my FIL from the Old City of Jerusalem and my MIL from Hebron.

Every other nation in the world has the right to declare its own capital. So does Israel. Western Jerusalem was never in dispute -- only the Old City and the Eastern part of the city. The American embassy will be in western Jerusalem. All Trump did was recognize that Israel has the right to western Jerusalem as its capital. It will never be an international city. People conflate all of Jerusalem with the Old City. I am willing to talk about the Old City, but not about all of the Jerusalem municipality. It is important to be precise and exact.

There is more I could write about this, but this comment is already too long.

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