"JERUSALEM, THE MOST ILLUSTRIOUS CITY OF THE EAST..., NOT MERELY OF JUDEA"
- The public debate over the future of Jerusalem has been heating up. This is partly because of Israel's negotiations over the city with the PLO and also in light of the Jerusalem 3000 celebrations which mark 3,000 years since King David conquered the city. David made Jerusalem the capital of Israel, thereby transforming it from just another walled town in the mountains into a city of worldwide significance for religion, civilization, and culture, and for their history. As part of Israel and Judea, Jerusalem was the home of kings, priests and prophets, warriors, poets and the sages of the Sanhedrin. The Roman writer Pliny the Elder called the Jerusalem of Second Temple times, "the most illustrious city of the East by far, not merely of Judea" (Natural History, V:xv:70). It is of interest that the Jebusites, prior inhabitants of Jerusalem, merged so well with the Israelites that the descendants of Araunah the Jebusite (2 Samuel 16-24) became sages of Jewish law, as we learn from the Talmud.In the ongoing debate, proponents of dividing the city and handing Jewish holy places in it over to Arab-Muslim control complain that the Jerusalem 3000 celebrations ignore the Muslim (or Muslim and Christian) place in the history of the city. I am not aware that anyone holding official responsibility in the celebration does that. If so it would be wrong. By the same token, it is wrong for anyone to deny that the city's world importance has its roots in Jewish history.
Indeed, the city's meaning for Christians and Muslims is connected directly and indirectly with Jewish history and with the city's significance for Jewish religion and tradition. Detractors of the celebration might point out that the Muslims even use different names for the city, such as al-Quds and Bayt al-Maqdis. In fact these names derive from the Jewish tradition. They are adaptations of Hebrew names. Al-Quds comes from ha-Qodesh, meaning holiness or holy, a Hebrew appellation for the city found in the Bible. Bayt al-Maqdis comes from Beyt ha-Miqdash, the Hebrew name for the Temple and later a name for the city as a whole. Muslims may consider Jerusalem a holy city, but it does not attain in their eyes the degree of holiness of Mecca and Medina, places where Muhammud actually lived and preached. They pray in the direction of Mecca and pilgrimage to Mecca is ordained to be a duty of every Muslim who can make it.
No one can deny that Jerusalem is holy for Christians. It was a main location of Jesus' preaching and the place of his crucifixion by the Romans. Christians invested great resources over centuries in building churches and monasteries here. They sacrificed lives in fighting the Crusades to win the city back from Muslim rule and to hold on to it. They still retain great interest in the city and many Christians come here on pilgrimage. However, the New Testament accounts present Jesus and his followers as Jews. Christians believe that his status as a messiah is a fulfillment of prophecy in the Hebrew Bible.
Now voices are heard here and abroad calling for the city to be divided, for the sake of peace. Yet when the city was divided between Israel and Arab Jordan between 1948 and 1967 there was no peace. Arab Legion snipers shot from the Old City's walls at Jewish passersby in the Jewish section of the city. Israel had to put up concrete walls to protect its people from sniping. Many Jewish graves were desecrated on the Mount of Olives; Jewish gravestones were used to build roads and for purposes even more offensive than that. Jews were kept away from the Jewish holy places and Jewish archeological sites during Jordanian control, despite an explicit promise in the armistice agreement of Jewish access to the Western Wall. In fact Jews were not allowed at all in any territory under Jordanian control. Jews could not live in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City, nor in other Old City quarters where Jews had lived in the nineteenth century and up through the British conquest of the Holy City in 1917. Nor could Jews live in Jordanian-ruled Jerusalem outside the Old City. The Shimon ha-Tsadiq, Nahalat Yits'haq, and Nahalat Shimon neighborhoods (north of Orient House and the American Colony Hotel), Jewish up to 1948, were now off limits to Jews as was the adjacent Tomb of Simon the Just (Shimon ha- Tsadiq), a focus of Jewish pilgrimage before 1948.
There is more than a little hypocrisy on the side of those demanding the city's division on democratic grounds, especially on the part of Arab and Muslim spokesmen. Jews have been an absolute majority here since 1870 or even before, as early as 1854, depending on which contemporary estimate or census one wishes to accept. Muslims had been a minority long before that, since Jews and Christians together had made up a majority long before the Jews attained majority status. Can anyone imagine Arabs or Muslims agreeing to divide a city where they are a majority? In the days of Muslim imperial power, Muslims had no compunction about ruling as a minority over a non-Muslim majority. Consider Jerusalem under Ottoman rule. When the Sultan set up a municipality in the 1870s, the mayors appointed were never Jews despite the Jewish majority. Nearly all of them were local Muslim Arab notables.
Muslim-Jewish relations in Jerusalem have not been all negative. Muslim rulers were more tolerant towards Jews in Jerusalem in the Middle Ages than either Byzantine or Crusader rulers. However, this tolerance was relative. Muslim officials and local Arab notables displayed a predatory, exploitative attitude towards the Jewish population in Jerusalem both before and after the Crusades. For the pre-Crusades period we know this from documents that Moshe Gil and other scholars have uncovered in the Cairo Geniza and other sources. These documents tell of the oppression of Jews here. Not only did they have to pay the standard taxes, jizya and kharaj, imposed on non-Muslims (dhimmis) throughout the Islamic domain, but they also suffered the extortion of all sorts of irregular taxes, levies, fines, and bribes. One Jerusalem Jew wrote to a friend in Egypt, "They eat us alive," referring to all these exactions. Another Jew wrote,"Their throats are like open graves," waiting for money (a paraphrase of Psalms ). "The sons of Kedar [Muslim officials] in Jerusalem... harass a great deal," he complained.
Jacob Barnai has studied account ledgers of the Jewish community in Jerusalem from the second half of the eighteenth century. Here again, despite the passage of time, the picture is similar. The ledgers record, in addition to regular taxes, all sorts of unofficial compulsory payments to Arab-Muslim notables, some of whose descendants are still active as local Arab leaders today. As a sign of their rapacity, Arab creditors burnt down a Jerusalem synagogue in 1720 when a Jewish congregation was unable to pay its debts, driving the congregants from the city. Christians too were, as dhimmis, sometimes subject to similar treatment.
Arab promises of Jewish access to holy places are undependable, as we see from Jordan's violation of the 1949 armistice agreement in regard to access to the Western Wall. In general we may conclude from experience that when Arabs have control on the ground they do what they want, regardless of any accords that they may have signed. In the case of the Jewish holy places, the PLO-designated head of Muslim religious affairs has already declared that Jews cannot have access to Jewish holy places where Muslim law forbids them entry [see Jerusalem Post, 9-13-95, & Peace Watch Background Paper, 11-28-95]. Muslims today choose to overlook the assertion in the Quran that God [Allah] assigned the Holy Land to the Sons of Israel (Sura V:21).
One of the bizarre claims made by Arab spokesmen nowadays is that the Canaanites and Jebusites were somehow Arabs. This politically motivated invention has no foundation in fact. The Canaanites were known as Phoenicians to the Greeks and Romans. They continued to inhabit the coast of Lebanon and Syria after the Israelite conquest. Their language was very close to Hebrew. Some linguists call Hebrew and Phoenician dialects of the same tongue. Equally as false as the "Arab tribal identity" foisted on the Canaanites and Jebusites is the Arab claim or insinuation of continuity between the Jebusites and the present Arab minority living in Jerusalem. Actually, the Jews assimilated the Jebusites, as we have pointed out. Further, the city was destroyed and its people exiled, wholly or in part, on several occasions in ancient times. The Romans went farthest in this regard when they had suppressed the Jewish uprising led by Bar Kokhba in 135 CE. Not only did they expel all Jews from Jerusalem and a large surrounding zone (populated by Jews), but they colonized the city and the zone with foreign peoples. Several other demographic changes had taken place by the time of the Crusader conquest in 1099. The Crusaders made further changes by massacring all Jews and Muslims that they found in the city. Obviously Arab-Muslim spokesmen cannot point to continuity of Muslim residence here from before the Crusades.
Of course Arabs can and should have civil and religious rights here in Jerusalem. However, it is clear that civil and religious rights for non-Muslims, indeed human rights in general, can only be protected by an undivided Jerusalem within active Israeli sovereignty. Indeed there are no grounds for Arab sovereignty over any part of the city, not in history, nor in justice, nor in concern for peace, democracy or human rights, nor in accepted international practice.
September 22, 1995 by Elliott A Green
- Jacob Barnai, "The Jerusalem Jewish Community, Ottoman Authorities, and Arab Population in the Second Half of the Eighteenth Century," in Jewish Political Studies Review, Fall 1994.Moshe Gil, "HaShiltonot vehaOklusiya haMeqomit," in Sefer Yerushalayim: HaTequfa haMuslimit haQeduma (Jerusalem: Ben Zvi, 1987), p. 85 n.12.
"Peace Watch Background Paper," 28 November 1995.