Jerusalem 101, Trying to Understand a Complicated City — Part I

If I forget thee, O Jerusalem let my right hand forget her cunning. Bible

Jerusalem — Yerushalayim the Hebrew name originates from two words — Ir and Shalem. Ir means city. Shalem comes from Shalom, which means Peace. City of Peace. Sounds great — what happened?

My intention in writing this was to try to understand the complexities of Jerusalem. After much research, I hope it helps you too. If it cracks open just a bit of understanding, Peace toward one another – Amen.

What’s the big deal about where Israel’s capital is? What’s the sticking point about where the U.S. embassy is? Jerusalem is the lynch pin in this explosive situation.

Regardless if you are Democrat or Republican, you have to admit President Trump has people talking about substantive issues, people concerned about Israel are interested in resolving.

Come to think of it, the first time we were cowering in bomb shelters scared for our lives, was in Jerusalem too. During our family’s summer vacation to Israel in July 2014 — missiles were raining down throughout our beloved country. Even the fine print of the travel brochure left this possibility out.

I suppose you could say this week is our third year anniversary. Three years ago, my life changed dramatically, but I didn’t know it then.

Lucky us — it was the first time in eight years Jerusalem had been bombed.

Palestinian rockets pummeled Israel from the north to the south. Beleaguered Israeli families from Ashkelon and Ashdod, taking the brunt of the missiles and suffering signs of P.T.S.D. (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder), sought refuge at the seaside resorts in the far south in Eilat. That’s where we were headed too. We were told we’d be safe there — the missiles don’t go that far – until they did.

What we discovered was a modern-day Exodus. We sat in a bizarre traffic jam of families trying to escape the insanity and mend their frazzled nerves. At 1 a.m., 5 a.m., and 6 a.m. as the sirens blared, each time we ran to the hotel bomb shelter and rockets blew up, we learned first-hand there was no escape.

I’ve grown to believe the timing of our visit was meant to be – an alarming pointer to my life’s purpose.

I recount our adventure in my book I’m writing, Blasted from Complacency. The missiles exploded just close enough to blow apart my world as I knew it. I now am writing a book, have my blog, founded Writers4Writers, a writer’s support group – the list is endless. No one, including me, would recognize this mom’s current life, compared with my former reality.

Ultimately I want to work on Peace. It’s my purpose with each blog on Israel that I write – a small step toward compassion and understanding. I’ve begun to meet amazing grass-roots people facing the challenges. You don’t have to wear a red cape and tights to be a hero. Looking at each others’ festering wounds is painful and can only be seen through brave and honest — open eyes.

Let’s look further at Jerusalem, a modern city where life flows from the heart of its ancient past. Alive and vibrant, beating in the center is the section walled in like an ancient Turkish fortress called The Old City. If the walls could talk – the tales would be never-ending.

Jerusalem is the heart of the Jews — their most sacred city. Though for centuries Jews were forcibly scattered throughout the world — the Diaspora, we were eternally connected to the city and each other. Our love for Jerusalem linked our Jewish hearts like a necklace.

It is extremely important to understand — even with the danger, humiliation and possibility of death – the JEWS NEVER COMPLETELY LEFT ISRAEL.

Historian James Parkes wrote about why it is important the world recognize this fact. In Parkes 1969 essay, Arabs and Jews in the Middle East: A Tragedy of Errors, Parkes says, “But a real tragedy is that the Zionists were their own worst propagandists. They ignored not merely their strongest argument, but their real case. They were NOT bridging a gap of two thousand years. They were augmenting a Jewish population which had never ceased to exist in the country, and which survived largely because every successive Muslim ruler recognised that it had a right to be there.”2

1948 didn’t create the Jewish homeland – we’ve been there since the Biblical times through the Romans, the Muslim Dynasties, Crusader rulers, the Mamluks, Ottomans’ rule, the British and until today’s modern times. Granted the majority were forced to leave, but always regardless of the terror, some brave Jewish souls stayed.  They refused to abandon their cherished Israel.

According to Israel’s Bureau of Statistics, as of December 31, 2015, 79.2% of Israel is Jewish and 20.8% is made up of Arabs.3

Jerusalem is central to being an observant Jew. No matter in what country, Jews pray facing Jerusalem – toward the hallowed Western Wall. The love and longing for Jerusalem is woven throughout Jewish prayers and customs. Even at our weddings, a wonderful, happy occasion, the bride groom stomps on a glass, as a reminder of the two Temples’ destruction. We’ve always remembered. Could you forget your home?

Jerusalem’s Old City is not only sacred to Jews, but also to Muslims and Christians.

Jews and Muslims – it’s unfortunate, this mishpacha’s (family’s) members don’t get along. They’re forever intertwined and as uncomfortable as Siamese twins. A family feud of Biblical proportions -– can’t we just get along?

Add to the mix Jesus lived and died here. The Church of the Holy Sepulchre and other significant Christian religious sites are visited daily.

It’s a crowded neighborhood — everyone is involved in everyone else’s business.

Jerusalem, Israel, humans – we’re all multifaceted diamonds in the rough. It takes detailed explanations and patience to understand us. We might even need a miracle to get past the resentments and beliefs that theirs’ is the one true and righteous narrative whoever’s side you are on.

In the seventh century, the Muslims conquered Jerusalem. The Muslim Arab ruler, Umayyad Caliph Abd al-Malik ibn Marwan ordered the Dome of the Rock’s construction on the identical place where The Second Temple had been destroyed. This is the most important site for Jews, although Jews aren’t allowed to pray here.4

Why? Religious and military control are two vastly different things – although in this case, the results are the same.

How Jerusalem’s fate has been administered has been complicated and often ugly for centuries, depending on who was in power and the environmental constraints.

Administrative religious control of the Dome of the Rock and al-Aqsa Mosque are dictated by the Muslims through the Jerusalem Islamic Waqf, and has been continuously since 1187.5

Israel’s military has regulated the Temple Mount for fifty years.  You might think since Israel’s in charge, they do whatever they want. After all that’s how Israel is often portrayed in the news – however, the assumption would be wrong.

Even though the holiest place for Jews to pray would be where The Temple was located, they would be risking their lives if they did. Jewish praying is unwelcome here amidst the Muslim residents. Therefore, the Israeli military prevents non-Muslim worship here to thwart triggering more rounds of assured Palestinian rioting and violence.6

These restrictions have been challenged in Israeli court — after all Israel is a democracy. The judge ruled Jews have a right to pray at the Temple Mount, however, security forces can enforce restrictions for safety purposes. As often is the case here, it’s contradictory and muddy.7

To add another layer to the onion, The Dome of the Rock, was built in the exact same place where Abraham bound his son Isaac as an offering to God – a story central to Judaism.8 Oey!

The al-Aqsa Mosque is Islam’s third most significant religious location, and also stands where The Temple courtyard once stood.9 Tension is predictable.

It might surprise you — Mecca is the holiest Muslim site but it’s not in Israel, it’s located in Saudi Arabia.

The second most holy Jewish site, but the only one Jews can reach to pray in Jerusalem, is called the Kotel or the Western Wall. This was The Second Temple’s retaining wall, and its only remaining structure.

It’s sometimes referred to as the Wailing Wall — the Arabic term for The Wall, el-Mabka, means place of weeping.10 This disparaging description came from seeing religious Jews openly crying in mourning due to The Temple’s destruction, and praying for its rebuilding at the Western Wall.

Whether this was intended as merely a description or something more malevolent – it doesn’t help these distant relatives to get along. The traditional three week period of mourning for the destruction of the First and Second Temples begins today.

These are only some reasons who controls Jerusalem is such a controversial issue – past governance is atrocious. Revered locations weren’t treated with respect when other countries have controlled them.

Look at recent history. Jordan took over in 1948 until the 1967 Six Day War. Even Arab Christians weren’t allowed access to their holy sites. Jews were prevented from praying at the Western Wall.  Instead, Jordan expelled Jewish residents, destroyed over 50 ancient synagogues, desecrated the Mount of Olives Jewish cemetery which had been used to bury Jews for 2,500 years, and turned the area into a slum.11 More loops wrapped around the hangman’s noose of Jewish-Muslim relationships.

According to Chaim Herzog, who later became Israel’s sixth president, when he and other soldiers arrived at the wall at the end of the 1967 Six Day War, there was an actual toilet attached to our treasured Temple artifact.12 Another loop.

The first orders to the Israeli soldiers were to clean up our defiled, precious area. Sounds like a breath of fresh air, however, this was accomplished by demolishing the Moroccan Quarter.13 Adding another wrap around the noose strangling the Jewish-Muslim interactions by both sides. When will the two peoples realize they must take into account the long-term ramifications of their actions and just STOP hurting each other?

Today it’s a beautiful, proud temple plaza. And EVERY religious site – Jewish, Christian and Muslim, are protected by the Israeli government. As it should be. A glimmer of hope.

In Jerusalem 101 – Part II, I’ll discuss Jerusalem the Puzzle — are we talking about Jerusalem as a whole, West, East, the outskirts?  It’s similar to saying Ana’s going to Los Angeles, except Jerusalem is in a much smaller area.  All of these cities are within Los Angeles County, but is she going to Malibu, Pasadena or Vernon? With so much at stake, you need to be certain.

I invite you to Join Me on My Journey…

References:

  1. Rabbi Shalom Schwartz, “Jerusalem: City of Peace,” Aish.com. http://www.aish.com/jw/j/48969606.html (accessed July 8, 2017).
  2. James Parkes,Arabs and Jews in the Middle East: A Tragedy of Errors,” sites.google.com. https://sites.google.com/site/mtevansco/Home/arab-palestinian-conflict-with-israel/parkes (accessed July 8, 2017).
  3. Israel Central Bureau of Statistics, http://www.cbs.gov.il/www/publications/isr_in_n16e.pdf, (accessed July 11, 2017).
  4. Jacob Lassner: Muslims on the sanctity of Jerusalem: preliminary thoughts on the search for a conceptual framework. In: Jerusalem Studies in Arabic and Islam. Band 31 (2006), p. 176.
  5. Arab states neglect Al-Aqsa says head of Jerusalem Waqf”. Al-Monitor. September 5, 2014. (accessed July 8, 2017).
  6. Booth, William. “Israel blocks Jersusalem holy site amid rising tensions after activist shot”. Washington Post. Accessed July 9, 2017.
  7. Jeremy Sharon, “Jerusalem Court Upholds Jewish Prayer on Temple Mount,” The Jerusalem Post. March 2, 2015, http://www.jpost.com/Israel-News/Jerusalem-court-upholds-Jewish-prayer-on-Temple-Mount-392744 (accessed July 10, 2017).
  8. “Dome of the Rock,” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dome_of_the_Rock (accessed July 8, 2017).
  9. Al Aqsa Mosque,” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Al-Aqsa_Mosque (accessed July 8, 2017).
  10. “What is the Jerusalem Wailing Wall?” United With Israel. https://unitedwithisrael.org/what-is-the-jerusalem-wailing-wall/ (accessed July 8, 2017).
  11. Eli E. Hertz, “Jerusalem, One Nation’s Capital throughout History,” Myths and Facts (accessed July 9, 2017).
  12. Weizman, Eyal (2007). Hollow Land. London: Verso. pp. g.38. ISBN 978-1-84467-125-0.
  13. Joost R. Hiltermann, ‘Teddy Kollek and the Native Question,’ in Annelies Moors, Toine van Teeffelen, Sharif Kanaana, Ilham Abu Ghazaleh (eds.) Discourse and Palestine: Power, Text and Context, Het Spinhuis, 1995 pp.55-65, p.55-6

 

 

 

 

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