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Jerusalem ­ Historical Disaster In The Making
By Terrell E. Arnold
Benyamin Netanyahu has launched an Israeli effort to achieve the earliest possible end to any Palestinian dreams about statehood. Ignoring US White House and other international pressures to cease and desist, settlers are expanding their grip on the most choice lands-and waters-of the West Bank. Meanwhile, an official Israeli scramble is on to foreclose any prospects of a Palestinian capital in East Jerusalem.
The assaults (some long standing), include refusal to allow Palestinians to enter East Jerusalem, confiscation of property for "state" uses, condemnation and destruction of "illegally built" Palestinian homes, refusal of building permits to Palestinians, and continual harassment of those who refuse to leave. Tearing down the old Shepherd Hotel and building apartments for Jews in its place, while giving Jews permission to live anywhere, are just the latest steps in the gross Israeli process of expelling Palestinians from Jerusalem.
Election of a new American President, Barack Obama, with an agenda to bring peace to Palestine appears to have put the cat among Zionism's pigeons. To see where this is going requires a bit of history. In 1947-48, when the Zionist ethnic cleansing of Palestine began under Prime Minister-to-be David Ben-Gurion, the Israeli forces adopted a basic program design that has persisted to the present. As Israeli terrorist groups, Stern and Irgun, began destroying Palestinian homes, farms and villages, the goal was to destroy the evidence of Palestinian occupancy, erase the history and create a Zionist narrative in its place. That narrative, as touted in the West, became: The Israeli people took their ancient home, which had become an unoccupied and undeveloped land and turned it into a thriving new society.
People who had never been to or perhaps never even seen pictures of Palestine bought into this narrative. It worked especially well on people who were ignorant of the Middle East. It has worked well with fundamentalist American and other Christians dedicated to preparation for the biblically prophesied "end of days." Scripturally at least, that event requires Jewish control of Jerusalem's Temple Mount and reconstruction of the temple that was destroyed by the Romans in 70 CE (the Common Era that has replaced Anno Domini for enumeration of years since the birth of Christ).
The immediate Zionist quandary is what to do about Jerusalem. Jerusalem has a history, some of it pretty spotty, of more than three millennia. Biblically that goes back to a period when Moses led the Children of Israel out of Egypt, across the Sinai desert and to Judea. Without repeating that story, the period relevant to modern times is the period of King Solomon, the son of King David, who built the first temple on what is now the Temple Mount of Old Jerusalem. Since the birth of Christ and the founding of Christianity, followed by the birth of Mohammed and the founding of Islam, Old Jerusalem has been a sacred city to all three Abrahamic religions: Judaism, Christianity and Islam.
The hard right Zionist leadership of Israel, led by Benyamin Netanyahu, wants Jerusalem to become the exclusive capital of an all Jewish state of Israel. Since founding their state in 1948, the Israelis have sought to make Jerusalem their capital. Jews have been a minor population of the region and the city for virtually all of the past two thousand years, but as Abraham told it, God promised the land of Israel to his descendents. Except for this promise recorded in the sacred writings of both Jews and Christians, the Israelis have no claim on the lands of Palestine. The validity of the claim is even less real today, since the core population of the Zionists is Central European converts to Judaism, not the legendary "people of the book" (called that because they were referred to in holy scriptures) for whom the promise is said to have been made.
Aside from dubious rights of ownership, an equally large and intractable expulsion problem hovers above the city like a dark religious cape: the future of the historic Temple Mount. According to various scholarly estimates, Solomon built the first temple on the mount in about 950 BCE (Before the Common Era). His temple, conceived by King David as the repository for the Ark of the Covenant, was a sprawling structure with an interior ceiling of more than 16,000 square feet and a height of 50 feet. Some of the foundation stones, brought by unknown means from quarries miles away, weigh more than 20 tons. Even though Solomon's temple was apparently razed to the ground in 586 BCE by the Babylonians, those foundation stones were used to build a second temple sometime in the 600 years before 70 CE. In that year the temple was destroyed again, this time by the Romans. The foundation stones are still in place.
Complicating Jewish and Christian access to the mount are two Islamic monuments: The Dome of the Rock, finished around 691 CE, and the Al Aqsa Mosque. The mosque has a history longer than the Dome of the Rock. It is considered the second oldest mosque in Islam (after Mecca), and references to it antedate Mohammed's own construction of the mosque at Medina in 622 CE. Al Aqsa was destroyed or damaged and rebuilt about five times. The present Al Aqsa, completed about 1035 CE, is considered the third most important site in Islam, Muslims believe that Mohammed, whether in the flesh or in spirit, was transported from Mecca to Jerusalem's Temple Mount in one night, and that event made Jerusalem Islam's third holiest of places. That flight was the reason why in the early days of Islam Muslims prayed facing the Temple Mount in Jerusalem rather than the Kaaba in Mecca. That change in Islamic practice occurred about a year and a half after the migration of Mohammed and his followers to Medina from Mecca, the event known as the Hijra (Hegira in Latin) that occurred in about mid 622 CE.
The real point of this history, as many religious, historical and regional scholars point out, is that the Temple Mount is a sacred site in *all three* Abrahamic religions. However, Israel captured the whole of Jerusalem when it took the West Bank from Jordan in the 1967 war. At that time Israel turned Muslim holy places over to an Islamic authority called in Arabic the Waqf. The term means inalienable religious endowment. Since 1967, the Waqf has prevented Jews or others from entering or performing religious ceremonies on the Mount. Israelis, notably those in the Temple Movement and orthodox Jews, have pressed Israeli authorities to override those restrictions, and it appears that the Netanyahu government intends to follow through, perhaps opening the Mount to followers of all three religions.
So long as visitors do nothing to invade or desecrate the Dome of the Rock or the Al Aqsa Mosque, it would seem there is no honest choice but to open the Mount. If properly approached, rather than arbitrarily confronted, one can hope the Waqf, along with Muslims in general, would see the light on this.
However, Israeli groups have not been standing still. A recent edition of the Egyptian weekly Al Ahram reported that "three huge granite stones rest comfortably on the top of Midbar Sinai Street....in Jerusalem's northernmost district. Cut to specification, the imposing stones represent one of several preparations by the Temple Mount and Land of Israel Faithful Movement to erect a Third Temple on the Haram Al-Sharaf Temple Mount." That is the Arabic name for the Noble Sanctuary that includes the Dome of the Rock, the Al Aqsa Mosque and their surrounding gardens. Al Ahram is right in suggesting that the stones in waiting are a provocation, one that the Israeli government has done nothing to halt. Rather, Al Ahram speculates "Neglect and passivity have led to a belief by Israeli leadership that an eventual Muslim reaction to the increasing provocations will give the Israel Defense Force an excuse to seize total control of the Holy Basin." The term, Holy Basin, is used by numerous people to mean the Temple Mount, Mount Zion, various Christian holy sites and the Mount of Olives. It is the spiritual heart of Old Jerusalem for Christians, Jews and Muslims.
This is the historical footprint of Christianity. For that reason, one of the first acts of the then newly formed United Nations in 1947 was to propose holding Jerusalem as a UN administered territory. President Bill Clinton proposed to administer the Holy Basin under a "special regime". It is a critical part of the territory of East Jerusalem that Netanyahu may try to incorporate into a greater Jerusalem in his effort to expunge the Palestinians from Jerusalem and make it the exclusive capital of Israel. As various reports out of Jerusalem indicate, the Netanyahu/Zionist schematic is not merely to take exclusive control of Old Jerusalem including the Temple Mount, but to erase all evidence of history in the area except for limited and scattered Jewish sites and artifacts. In that direction, the Israelis already have destroyed one Old Jerusalem Palestinian area including its mosque. In one zone of the old city, the Israeli scheme is to destroy Palestinian homes and businesses and turn the area into a park.
Meanwhile, street names and local place names are being reissued in Hebrew versions that erase the evidences of the non-Jewish past. To recreate Old Jerusalem around its remnants of the Jewish past, there are major symbolic hurdles: Important ones are the Dome of the Rock and Al Aqsa Mosque. However, there are many more Christian than Muslim sites.
Among the most widely cherished by Christian denominations being the Church of the Holy Sepulchre (built around 326 CE), the Garden Tomb, the Church of St. John, the Condemnation Chapel, the Flagellation Chapel, and Mary's Tomb.
Many Israelis, especially among the young it seems, would not take to an allegedly exclusive Israeli capital with a landscape dominated by historic Muslim and Christian monuments. As that history makes clear, redesigning East Jerusalem to focus on its limited Jewish past has power to offend more than a third of humanity, counting only the Christian and Muslim peoples. So far, however, the most visible offenses have been directed against Muslims and their communities. As events move in that direction, a major crisis is brewing in the whole of Islam. Over a billion Muslims hold the holy places on the Temple Mount as the third most holy of their roster of sacred precincts. If Israeli authorities actually try to break the Waqf control of the Mount or to take it away, and especially if any harm is done to the Dome of the Rock or Al Aqsa Mosque, street war will break out.
Archaeologists and scholars who have tried to open historic tunnels or rooms below the Mount have excited demonstrations, bombings, and other outbursts. Those will prove to have been tame by comparison with the probable Islamic reactions to perceived desecration of the Mount by starting to build something new on it. Such reactions are certain if any new temple construction (as one group proposes) would cause damage to the Dome of the Rock or require its destruction. Israel may well use such outbursts to take over the Mount by warlike means and no doubt will succeed on the ground. It will not be able to control reactions, however, that will erupt throughout the region.
No doubt the time is approaching when the Temple Mount must become the commonly accessible property of all three Abrahamic faiths. However, the future of the Temple Mount simply cannot be decided by a military strike. If there is any change, it should be determined by appropriate representatives of all three religious communities. Practically speaking, the lead has to be taken by the Waqf. The Israeli goal, however, as being pursued by Netanyahu, is to incorporate East Jerusalem, indeed all areas of the ancient city of Jerusalem, in a singular capital for Greater Israel. The Israelis want a world class capital, however, and at least some believe that will not work if the principal ancient sites, place names and relics pertain mainly to Islamic and Christian history.
Here the egoistic Israeli narrative comes into play. From the beginning of Israeli ethnic cleansing of Palestine, as the Israelis conquered territory they destroyed farms and villages and replaced them with their own farms, homes, forests, whatever to fit the story that Israelis took the barren wasteland of Palestine and turned it into a modern state.
That narrative is now being played out in a new dimension in East Jerusalem as the Israelis destroy Palestinian homes, streets, neighborhoods, and historic sites in the old city. The design of Greater Israel, ruthlessly pursued in the whole of ancient Palestine so far occupied by the Israelis, has been to obliterate signs of Palestinian presence. It is the invention of a new archaeology that preserves only the limited signs of an historic Jewish presence. This is not a mere verbal rewriting of history, but a systematic deletion of the evidences of the past. The Israeli approach to a takeover, indeed makeover, of Old Jerusalem is both elaborate and extravagant. Construction of new Jewish homes on the sites of destroyed Palestinian homes progresses rapidly.
On one eleven acre site a gated community of million-dollar condominium residences is being offered to wealthy US investors.
Meanwhile, a schizophrenic pattern of US policy is being presented to the Israelis. The recent visit of 25 members of Congress under the leadership of House Republican Whip Eric Cantor illustrates the extremes. Contrary to official US policy, that delegation sided unanimously with Netanyahu on continuing settlement construction, while Cantor drove the point home by visiting a settlement that was clearly in West Bank Palestinian territory and that the Israel Supreme court had declared illegal. Cantor further revealed the extremes of Washington political thinking when he pooh-poohed the idea of the 1967 Green Line as the border between Israel and the Palestinian state and he criticized the White House for taking exception to Israeli expulsion of two Palestinian families from their East Jerusalem homes.
The reality that Congress, the Obama administration and the American public must now take on board is that the situation is reaching dangerous, more than likely explosive, intensity. The Israeli right obviously anticipates that it can act in ways that result in an Islamic explosion and get the whole problem blamed on the Palestinians. The Israeli actions further perfect a strategy that has worked for at least six decades: Keep most Americans ignorant of real life at the eastern end of the Mediterranean, keep taking Palestine away from its historic owners, and continue to play the victim of Palestinian "terrorism". The strategy may decline in value as more and more people become aware of the Palestine situation. However, the danger is that, as repeatedly in the past, the Israelis will create new "facts on the ground" , count on the United States to defend its right to do so, and stall out genuine peace talks. Under this strategy the Palestinian people --- immediately those of East Jerusalem --- will go on paying the price for Israel's continued ethnic cleansing of Palestine.
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