Chapter 5. Jerusalem (Ur-Salem, Jebus, Yerushalaym, Al-Qods): A Pluralistic City
Many argue that a settlement of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict hinges on what to do with Jerusalem. European and American early maps placed Jerusalem not only at the center of the map, but sometimes at the center of the Earth and the Universe. Today many still view Jerusalem at least as being the spiritual center of our human universe. It is still a center of attention, a center of dispute, and a focal point for wars and religious intolerance. Its history has been variably glorified, exaggerated, diminished, maligned, or distorted for economic, political and religious ends. Political and religious history sometimes hid the history of its inhabitants while emphasizing the history of its rulers. The real history is now written by native historians and it is a history that is more meaningful and more hopeful than the traditional mythologies advocated by religious extremists. It is a history that has many surprises and certainly lessons for those seeking a durable peace. We address the history of the city in order to see what can be done in the context of coexistence and sharing.
Jebusites and Jerusalemites
A group of western Canaanites called Jebusites dwelt on and built Ur-Salem around 3,000 B.C. Ur is used for city in most Semitic languages including the languages of Akkad, Ashur, Aram, and Phoenicia. The name Salem is Shalem in the ancient dominant Canaanitic language (Aramaic) referred to the ancient God of the place. It is also found in the more derived neo-Aramaic, Arabic and Hebrew languages. In all these Semitic languages Salem or Shalem means in its root (S.L.M.) safety, peace, and protection. Some archeologists argued that Ur-Salem was also recognized as a neutral area not subject to the fierce border clashes of other more powerful economic groups. The city was a small urban center where inhabitants engaged in trade, farming, and small crafts. The city, more appropriately a small town at the time, could not support a large population because it had only one main spring and few natural resources or assets. This was the beginning of periods in history called city-states, where a city-state is defined as a small state with one large city center.
In the Bible it is stated that the King of the Jebusites was King Melchezedek, which means literally "good king" in Canaanitic languages, Malik Sadeq in Arabic, and Melch Tsedeq in Aramaic. He was also recognized as a priest of the high God. The High God or El in ancient Canaanitic tongues became Elohim in Hebrew and Allah in Arabic. The early prophets thus recognized and dwelt with the Jebusites as Canaanitic people. King David decided to conquer the Jebusite Ur-Salem and to make it a capital to unify the various tribes some 3000 years ago. Ur-Salem was not of religious or political significance to the tribes until David made it such for two likely reasons. First, Ur-Salem was halfway between the two holiest places in Judaism, with Shekhem in the North and Hebron in the South. Second, Ur-Salem (Yerushalaym) lay outside of the dominion area of the tribes, laying at the borders of lands assigned to Benjamin and those assigned to Judah. It was under Jebusite rule for over 500 years while other tribes and kingdoms, including Israelites, surrounded it. This made it more attractive because it was a more neutral area to have the Capital. This situation is analogous to the choice of Washington DC for the capital of the 13 states of the budding United states because DC was outside of the dominion of each of the states and thus a neutral area.
The area fluorished under the rule of King Solomon and then King David. Many books were written about this period in biblical history when the area was relatively stable and prosperous. Trade with neighboring kingdoms flourished and the locals (of varied religions) managed to coexist and develop the countryside. It would be misleading to think of that era as a novel era of a uniform Jewish people in a "Jewish state." The enlightened rule of those two kings was a continuity of previous Canaanitic cultures. Their people worshipped many Gods and their intermarriage and people movement made this era as pluralistic and "mixed" as any in the Land of Canaan before and after.
The magnificent temple of Solomon was built on the same place as the previous Jebusite temple. Historically, new religions did this so that they can adapt the locals to the new religion. Natives cannot be prevented from going to their holy places but it is possible to change what Campbell calls "the mask of God" 1. The Bible has been cited as a source of great revelations and by some even as a historically accurate document. Yet, it must be recognized that the Bible has contradictory statements about the conquests of the Land of Canaan by what became known as the Israelites. For example, the book of Joshua portrays the conquest of Canaan as a single event that took place in one campaign divided into a number of stages. The end result was that the inhabitants of the land were all slaughtered. "He left not a single survivor" (Joshua 11:8) and, "the land was now at peace," (Joshua 14:15) for, "the country now lay subdued at their feet." (Joshua 18:1). If Joshua annihilated the natives, how does one reconcile this with the writing in Judges stating that battles continued after Joshua's death: "After the death of Joshua the Israelites inquired of YAHWEH, 'which tribe should be the first to attack the Canaanites?'" (Judges 1:1).
We also read that "the country now lay subdued at their feet" (Joshua 18:1) and "Jericho fought against you, as did the Jebusites, but I delivered them into your hands, I drove them out before you" (Joshua 24:11). Yet in Joshua 10 we read that "as for the Jebusites the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the children of Judah could not drive them out: but the Jebusites dwell with the children of Judah at Jerusalem unto this day". Several centuries later, the natives vanquished by Joshua miraculously reappear in the Bible. "And the king David and his men went to Jerusalem unto the Jebusites, the inhabitants of the land: which spoke unto David, saying, Except thou take away the blind and the lame, thou shalt not come in hither: thinking, David cannot come in hither. Nevertheless David took the strong hold of Zion: the same is the city of David ... So David dwelt in the fort, and called it the city of David. And David built round about from Millo and inward." (2 Sam. 5:6-9)
Can one take the Hebrew Bible with these internal contradictions as a source of historical facts? There is no archeological evidence to suggest successful ethnic cleansing of those "inhabitants of the land", but merely episodic and incomplete triumphs in some areas with continued existence of many ethnic groups, kingdoms and tribes. This is similar to the lack of conclusive victory by the Israelis over the Palestinians and the partial success of the ethnic cleansing of 1947-1949. One explanation for the lack of concordance between the Bible and the historical record is that stories of battles in the Bible were written many years after the events and were intended for the most part to serve as means to get closer together and to obey God. They are sometimes exaggerated and sometimes inaccurate in a historical sense. Unfortunately "Biblical Archeology" as a field was and in many ways continues to be greatly influenced by individuals interested in proving the historicity of the Hebrew Bible than in strict adherence to scientific principles (see 2). When archeology is allowed to tell the story, the Bible stories are of little relevance to the actual events that transpired on the ground.
Changing Powers, Eternal People
Ur-Salem continued to be inhabited as it came under varying degrees of control from a wide variety of political powers. These included the Assyrians. Egyptians, Israelites, Romans, Islamic Khalifates, Islamic Ottomans, British, Jordanians, and Israeli/Zionists. Jerusalem has always been a center of commerce and activity for the predominantly Jebusite natives of the surrounding hills as Beirut was of the life Phoenicians inhabitants of that city’s surrounding hills. This was before the modern eras of colonialism and later nationalism. The modern construct of a political capital for a multi-city state is a much more recent historical development. Jerusalem has always been a pluralistic city with a multi-ethnic and multi-religious community. In the time of Kings Solomon and David a flourishing Canaanite population lived around the area and inhabitants practiced different belief systems and spoke several languages.
When the Romans conquered Jerusalem in 63 BCE, archeological information indicate that most of the population was composed of Aramaic speaking Nabateans and to a much lesser extent Hebrew speaking Canaanites. The Nabateans were Arab Canaanites who developed Nabatean Aramaic into the first written Arabic script. As before, the area was inhabited by a number of other ethnic and religious communities including those who worshipped Ba'al, Yahweh, and other gods as well as those who spoke other languages. The Romans were very tolerant of religious diversity and allowed autonomy to the local population as long as overall Roman rule was not challenged. A challenge to Roman rule did come about in 70 AD in the form of a rebellion by the Jewish Canaanites led by the Jewish King Herod. The Romans put down this revolt and from that point forward prohibited Jewish religious practices, although Jews continued to live in the surrounding areas. Another revolt in 135 CE led to even more restrictions and destruction. The Romans rebuilt the city as a Roman city and named it Alia Capitolina. Gradually the city became more Roman and records show that Judaism's influence declined in favor of Christianity as well as pagan religions of the primarily Canaanitic inhabitants. The Roman Empire adopted Christianity in the 4th century CE ushering in a new era of "state religion". During this new era other religions were oppressed while Christianity and similarly Jerusalem grew in importance.
The Persian takeover of Jerusalem in 614 CE was a significant blow to local communities. Local Jews took the side of the Persians and exacted violent revenge on the local Christian communities and remaining Romans for years of oppression. The Christian Byzantine Empire conquered Jerusalem in 628 CE banning Hebrews and many other natives from the city. But this was to be a very short brutal rule of 9 years because Jerusalem was brought under Islamic rule in 637 CE.
Jerusalem under Islamic Rule
There are a lot of published misperceptions about the Islamic rule in the Land of Canaan. Yet, there are also some good researchers who documented the facts. Karen Armstrong, in her well-respected book " Jerusalem: One City Three Faiths", wrote that Khalif Umar Ibn Al-Khattab, the Islamic leader at the time:
expressed the monotheistic ideal of compassion more than any previous conqueror of Jerusalem, with the possible exception of King David. He presided over the most peaceful and bloodless conquest that the city had seen in its long and often tragic history. Once the Christians had surrendered, there was no killing, no destruction of property, no burning of rival religious symbols, no expulsions or expropriations, and no attempt to force the inhabitants to embrace Islam. If a respect for the previous occupants of the city is the sign of the integrity of a monotheistic power, Islam began its long tenure in Jerusalem very well indeed 3.
Upon taking the city Umar lifted the ban on Jews worshipping in Jerusalem. Umar was discontented about how the Temple Mount had been allowed to deteriorate and set about clearing and restoring it. Armstrong wrote that, "Both the Jewish and Muslim sources make it clear that Jews took part in the reclamation of the Temple Mount." 4
Mecca and Jerusalem are each mentioned only once in the Quran and Medina only twice. Yet, the fact that they are mentioned so few times certainly does not diminish their status in the eyes of all Muslims. The Quran is not a book of history but mainly concerned with giving guidance to the believers on how they can best serve God. Jerusalem was the original Qibla, or direction of prayer, for Muslims. Muslims believe that Prophet Muhammad made a miraculous journey from Mecca to Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem in 621 CE., where he ascended to heaven and conversed with God. The event is central to Islamic belief, and is mentioned in the Qur'an (Al-Isra, 17), "Glory to Him Who did take his servant for a journey by night from the Sacred Mosque in Mecca to Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem Whose precincts We did bless-in order that We might show him some of Our signs"
Islamic texts are not only comprised of the Quran, but of the Hadith of the Prophet and the Shariah. The Hadith (sayings) of the Prophet include the idea that a prayer offered at the Haram area in Jerusalem is worth 500 prayers elsewhere. This is the reason many devout Palestinian Muslims risk so much to get through blockades and checkpoints for Friday prayers in Jerusalem. Further, much of the land in and around the city of Jerusalem is Waqf land or a religious endowment set aside so that no private or even state ownership is allowed.
Islamic rule was interrupted briefly by the brutal conquest of the city during the Crusades. Crusaders persecuted and many banished from Jerusalem not only Muslims but also Jews, and Eastern Christians. It was not until Islamic forces under the leadership of Salah Ed Din (Saladin) took back the city that all were invited back to the city they held sacred.
20th Century Nationalism
In the 20th century, inhabitants of many areas of the world fought for independence from Colonial rule. Over 70% of the countries in Asia and Africa acquired their independence in the periods between 1940-1965. Western Jerusalem and dozens of villages around it was ethnically cleansed well before the Arab armies came in ostensibly to create stability. Natives of villages west of Jerusalem were terrorized to leave or massacred outright (e.g. Deir Yassin). The activities of Ben-Gurion and his troops around Jerusalem are now well documented 5.
The Zionist leadership was involved in a tacit agreement with Emir Abdullah. According to this agreement, Abdullah would take that part of Palestine allotted to the Arabs west of the Jordan Valley according to UN Resolution #181 (II) of November 29, 1947. This part later became to be known as the West Bank. The rest of Palestine was to be left for the "Exclusive Jewish State". Documented with intriguing details of this agreement are reported in Avi Shlaim's book, "Collusion Across the Jordan: King Abdullah, the Zionist Movement, and the Partition of Palestine" 6.
Britain was aware and was highly supportive of this agreement. Abdullah was Britain's agent in the area, and expanding his emirate West of the Jordan would be consistent with Britain's interests. On February 7, 1948, the British Foreign Office received Tawfiq Abul Huda and Glubb Pasha for discussions on the future of Palestine. Glubb who was the "Arab legion" leader was also British. As Glubb led troops in to the areas designated for the Palestinian state in the areas which later were called the West Bank. Intense fighting really only occurred around Jerusalem. This was due partially to lack of communications and agreement between Abdullah and the Hagannah on the fate of the city designated as an international area by the UNGA resolution 1817
The history of the Israeli conquest of the Western part of the district of Jerusalem is now well known. The last population surveys by the British at the time of their mandate revealed that the Jerusalem area contained slightly over a quarter of a million inhabitants of whom 59.6 percent were Arabs, and 40.4 percent were Jews, who were predominantly new immigrants in the previous 15 to 20 years. Palestinian Christians and Muslims owned 91.8% (231,446 dunams) of the western part that was conquered by Israel in 1948. 2.7 percent of the Western part was Jewish-owned, and the rest (6 percent) was public land. This area was emptied of its native inhabitants and their lands turned over to the Jewish Agency (Jewish National Fund) for Jewish settlement. Villages like Deir Yassin were emptied by massacres, others by fear of attack, and yet others by straightforward expulsion. In total, 30,000 Jerusalemite inhabitants were driven out of places like Lifta, Shaikh Badr, Ein Kerem, Deir Yassin, Talbiya, and Al-Maliha. Israel declared Jerusalem its capital in 1950 and the same year Jordan annexed the West Bank. Both were illegal moves by standards of International law.
The UN general assembly resolution 181, on which the legality of the Israeli state is sometimes claimed, insisted that Jerusalem (including West Jerusalem) be designated an International city and thus is not to fall under the sovereignty of Israel or the Arab state. General assembly resolution 303 titled "Palestine: Question of an international regime for the Jerusalem area and the protection of the Holy Places" was adopted December 9, 1949. It reiterated the intention of resolutions 181 and 194 regarding Jerusalem being international. The Security Council implicitly accepted all three resolutions and has never recognized Israeli rule over Western Jerusalem. The Security Council was more explicit in rejecting administrative actions of Israel in Eastern Jerusalem as violating UN SC resolution 242. In this resolution, Israel was asked to withdraw from the areas occupied in 1967, which were deemed as "inadmissibility of acquisition of territory by force." No subsequent International treaty recognized West or East Jerusalem as part of Israel. No government has been willing to relocate its embassy to Jerusalem until the final status is resolved.
Israel has intentionally never defined its borders due to its expansionist character. On a practical level, this resulted in a process that led to physical, economic, and psychological separation of Jerusalem into two cities. Western Jerusalem developed a European character with new buildings in place of the demolished Palestinian neighborhoods and more of an ethnocentric and mono-religious character. Eastern Jerusalem became even more Arabic but retained Christian, Muslim, and people’s of other religious backgrounds. The two halves of Jerusalem truly became separate and unequal, as well as both remaining contested and unstable.
Between 1948 and 1967, citizens from both sides of the divided Jerusalem could not go visit the other side because officially a state of war existed and laws thus prevented freedom of movement. This does not mean that Jews were barred from the old city, but only that Israelis could not go to Jordanian controlled areas and Palestinians and Jordanians could not enter Israeli controlled areas. Many local Jews such as Samaritans in Nablus or European and American Jews could visit freely.
Reunification or Apartheid and Exclusion
In 1967, Israel initiated a war that resulted in its occupation of the remaining 22% of Geographic Palestine including East Jerusalem as well as the Egyptian Sinai and the Syrian Golan. Israel immediately carried out a general census of the entire newly occupied territory on July 25, 1967. All residents who were outside of the area for any reason whether working, studying, visiting relatives or touring, were considered absentees and thus denied their right to reside in Jerusalem or in the occupied areas. Their lands were acquired by the Jewish Agency as "absentee property." This was thus a repeat of 1948 displacement, but at a smaller scale (in 1947-1949 over 800,000 were made refugee, while in 1967 around 100,000). Israeli laws and actions continued the removal of native Palestinians and acquiring their lands: in 1948 era in West Jerusalem and in after 1967 in East Jerusalem. The government did not try to hide its plan to make Jerusalem into a Jewish metropolis while keeping non-Jews at a less than 30%. This was deemed to have the added advantage of preventing establishment of a sovereign Palestinian State with Jerusalem as its capital.
How did the Israeli conquest of Jerusalem fare in comparison to conquests by previous rulers? Karen Armstrong wrote:
On the night of Saturday 10 June 1967, after the armistice had been signed, the 619 inhabitants of the Maghribi Quarter were given three hours to evacuate their homes. Then the bulldozers came in and reduced this historic district--one of the earliest of the Jerusalem Al-Waqf Islamic trusts--to rubble. This act, which contravened the Geneva Conventions, was supervised by then Israeli Jerusalem mayor Teddy Kollek in order to create a plaza big enough to accommodate the thousands of Jewish pilgrims who were expected to flock to the Western Wall. This was only the first act in a long and continuing process of "urban renewal"--a renewal based on the dismantling of historic Arab Jerusalem--that would entirely transform the appearance and character of the city 8
The assault on Jerusalem's Arab inhabitants is well-documented in such books as "Separate and Unequal: the Inside Story of Israeli Rule in East Jerusalem", written by no lesser authorities than three Israeli Jews two of whom were former advisers on "Arab Affairs" to Israeli Jerusalem Mayors Teddy Kollek and Ehud Olmert, and the third author was a former senior reporter for the Jerusalem Post 9. The Israeli Knesset adopted three legislative acts on June 27, 28 and 29, 1967, extending Israeli law to the occupied Eastern sector of the city and enlarging the municipal boundaries of "united" Jerusalem. The "new city" thus expanded from 44,000 donums to 108,000 donums (approximately 29,000 acres). These laws defy UN resolutions and basic international law, which prohibit countries from acquiring territory by force.
The local Muslim Waqf held ownership of the Haram Al-Shareef area for hundreds of years. Claiming an ancient Jewish temple exists underneath provides a poor legal argument for sovereignty to be given to a modern state of Israel established as a Jewish state some 2000 years later. Jews consider the Western Wall as Holy and their rights of worshipping and visiting should be. But the claim to a religious site makes a feeble argument for Jewish sovereignty over the land. It should be noted that The Western Wall is a retaining wall to the hill and thus directly supports the compound of the Haram Al Sharif. Under a British Mandate an international team of investigation was dispatched to the city to resolve the issue of the right of worship and ownership of the holy places. On June 8, 1931, the results of the investigations were put into law. Regarding the Western Wall and the adjacent Moghrabi Quarters, the report stated:
To the Muslims belongs the sole ownership and the sole proprietary right to the Western Wall, seeing fit that it forms an integral part of the Haram esh Sharif area. To the Muslims there also belongs the ownership of the pavement in front of the Moghrabi (Moroccan) Quarter opposite the Wall.
Palestinians judge Israel's rule not just by its behavior in Jerusalem's holy sites, but also by its history of removing them and repressing them all over the city and indeed the whole country. Palestinians remember that after dozens of Muslims were massacred at the Ibrahimi Mosque in Hebron, Israel divided the Mosque in two and gave one part to Jewish settlers including the place where Abraham's tomb is believed to be located. More than 100,000 Palestinians in Hebron live under extreme duress to guarantee the "religious" rights of a few hundred Jewish settlers in Hebron. Palestinians see how Israel seized Rachel's Tomb and Joseph's Tomb in Bethlehem and Nablus, which had both existed unmolested for millennia, and turned them into armed camps for which non-Jews are banned, and from which Israeli soldiers control access to and from these cities. Joseph's Tomb was badly damaged by Palestinians after the Israeli army evacuated it in the recent events but was rebuilt and is now freely visited by Jews, Christians, and Muslims.
The Future: A City of Peace
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak offered the nascent Palestinian authority some control over the remaining Palestinian villages in East Jerusalem and would have ensured Israeli sovereignty in both West Jerusalem, most areas in East Jerusalem as well as the old city. Air control, security, and all other aspects of authority would still have been under Israeli dominion. Palestinians would be allowed to establish their capital not in Jerusalem but in the village of Abu-Dis. Further Palestinian refugees would not be allowed to return to their lands and homes anywhere in the Jerusalem district. The latest Palestinian uprising started when Sharon, authorized by Barak, "visited" the Haram Ash-Sharif, the third holiest cite in Islam) with 1000 security forces. Sharon wanted to show Israeli resolve to hold onto this area as the area of the Temple Mount. Jerusalem again became the focal point of this conflict.
Yet, Jerusalem has been and remains, as did for thousands of years, a multi-ethnic and multi-religious community. Its major inhabitants were and continue to be Canaanites of various religions. Jebusites and Hebrews and Nabateans and other Canaanites lived together in relative harmony except for short periods of strife. Wars were glorified and history exaggerated by later descendents of conquerors and rulers. There were political struggles to control power and borders with few conflicts arising over other issues. But no large ethnic cleansing occurred until recently. After the large-scale ethnic cleansing in West Jerusalem in 1948, there has now been a slow thinning of Palestinian residents in East Jerusalem (since 1967). This, coupled with massive immigration of primarily Ashkenazi Jews into the vacated and confiscated areas is changing the multi-ethnic, multi-religious character of this great city. Considering its history and its current composition, the envisaged solutions are now rather limited. The city cannot remain under Israeli rule with current discriminatory laws (covered in Chapter 7). Few are revisiting UN resolution 181 recommending a UN custodianship of the city. UN resolutions and International law actually require Israel to withdraw from the old city and the expanded Eastern half (conquered in 1967). But why not have this city be the capital of a pluralistic unitary country for all its citizens. As for the holy sites, it is very clear that a status quo existed for years where religious Muslims prayed in the Haram Ash-Sharif and religious Jews prayed at the Western Wall and religious Christians prayed at the Church of the Sepulchre. Under a condition of peace where no grup dominates and dictates to others, perhaps even a mutually agreed rebuilding of a third temple for the monotheistic religions can be initiated jointly at the Temple Mount. Clearly, considering the mixed neighborhoods of the city, and its status among the three main monotheistic religions, the only real viable and durable solution is a solution of sharing in equality and not by rule of a Jewish or a Christian or a Muslim state. Jerusalem will then become the unifying capital of a pluralistic society and as a unifying force. That is how the city of peace served the people of the land of Canaan in history. In such a vision, Jerusalem will also become a true Golden city of coexistence giving an example to all humanity in coexistence and tolerance.
Notes to Chapter 5
1. Joseph Campbell, The Masks of God: Creative Mythology (New York: Viking Penguin Inc., 1968).
2. Whitelam, The Invention of Ancient Israel: The Silencing of Palestinian History, (London: Routledge, 1997).
3. Karen Armstrong, Jerusalem: One City Three Faiths (New York: Knopf, 1996), p.228.
4. Ibid, p. 330
5. Michael Bar-Zohar, Ben-Gurion: A Biography (New York: Delacorte Press, 1977).
6. Avi Shlaim, The Politics of Partition: King Abdullah, the Zionist Movement, and Palestine (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1990).
7. Avi Shlaim, Collusion Across the Jordan, King Abdullah, the Zionist Movement, and the Partition of Palestine, (New York: Columbia University Press, 1988), p. 139.
8. Armstrong, Jerusalem, p.403.
9. Amir S. Cheshin, Avi Melamed, Bill Hutman, Separate and Unequal: The Inside Story of Israeli Rule in East Jerusalem (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2001).
Karen Armstrong, Jerusalem: One City Three Faiths (New York: Knopf, 1996)