Is it not long overdue to retire Jerusalem as a capital city for any warring grouping?
Having been attacked 52 times, captured 44 times, and completely destroyed twice, Jerusalem reeks with the aftermaths of human folly. It has been vasty overused as a source of conflict. Yet, it does deserve to survive, minus politics, and as an historical mecca for those who relish human emotions.
In Canada, in 1979, Joe Clark, to curry Jewish votes, made an election promise to move Canada’s Israeli embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. With victory for his Progressive Conservative party, he started to fulfill his promise, but was met with such animosity from other nations that he prudently abandoned the move.
Likewise, Donald, could I convince you that a little humility is a good thing and persuade you to back off your declared goal of moving the US embassy to Jerusalem, also an election promise. It could lessen the distaste that too many in the rest of the world nurture over the numerous missteps the US has made worldwide to enhance the interests of US oligarchic capitalists, a small but powerful grouping. The Middle East, both blessed and cursed by Geography having placed it at the confluence of Africa, Asia, and Europe, inherits an ever-changing ethnic mix that promotes both trade and turmoil. Yet, the current mix of the area is all Semite and Arab, but what is a Semite and what is an Arab?
We humans are all one species, yet we have excelled in dividing ourselves into a bewildering array of aggressive, altruistic, economic, ethnic, language, national, political, racial, religious, etc groupings. Greed infiltrates all of these as do dangerous human passions.
So, what role has, and does, Jerusalem play?
First, we need to know that Semites were an Akkadian Indo-European people who replaced the Sumerian civilization in the upper reaches of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. They were not Arabian as widely believed. Once-fertile Arabia became desert over 7,000 years ago (ya) before the Semitic exodus. Between 8,000 and 6,000 ya the ecological disaster of the Mediterranean breaching its bounds and flooding what became the Black Sea (origin of the Hebrew and Christian flood accounts?) prompted the Semites into fleeing.
About 6,500 ya, Semitic Canaanites built a settlement where Jerusalem now stands, but it did not enter the history books until 4,000 ya when Egyptians recorded it under the name Rusalimum. Much later, archaeologists revealed that, about 3,700 ya, a rock wall, 1.8 metres high, was built to protect water sources. Then, 3,500 ya, Egypt expanded to include it as a vassal state under the name Urusalim.
Jerusalem, known as Jebus, remained a Semitic Canaanite area, inhabited by the Jebusite tribe until 3,000 ya when Semitic Hebrew Israeli tribes, led by King David, attacked and sacked it. It was then called the City of David and capital of the United Kingdom of Israel even though it was in the adjacent Kingdom of Judah. The Bible tells us that David wrote psalms, played the harp, slew the Philistine’s Goliath of Gath, had 7 wives, two of whom were daughters of King Saul, numerous concubines, 19 sons, and one daughter.
The Philistines were also Semites who fled to Gaza, Israel, Lebanon, and Syria 3,300 ya. The Greek historian, Herodotus, 484-425 BC, labelled them Palestines and the whole area Palestine.
The Arabs, originally out of the Arabian Peninsula, were late arrivals. Converted to Islam a mere 1,300 ya, they burst out to take their language and religion to what is now the Arab League that includes Algeria, Bahrain, Comoros, Djibouti, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco, Oman, Palestine, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates, and Yemen.
While Palestine’s claim to Jerusalem as first there is valid, Islam’s claim is weak. Jerusalem is mentioned 823 times in the Jewish bible, 154 times in the Christian bible, and not at all in the Our’an (Koran).
Nor is it mentioned in the Hindu Bhagavad, the Taoist Tao-Te Ching, the Buddhist Dhamapada, or the Zoroastrian Zend Avesta. Outside the Judao-Christian world, Jerusalem was unimportant.
In 622, when Muhammad fled Mecca for Medina, he was quite friendly towards the Jews and adopted many of their practices, including praying facing Jerusalem but, in 624, the Jews rejected his new religion and his friendship. So, Muslims rejected Jerusalem and prayed facing Mecca. Muslim interest in Jerusalem became political and temporary. The based-in-Damascus Umayyad dynasty, to suppress a 680-692 dissident revolt, glorified Jerusalem, established a mosque there and started a building spree including the Dome of the Rock where a Jewish temple had stood. Myths were created, including an overnight visit to Heaven from there by Muhammad to add to the Islamic importance of Jerusalem. Women had a significant role. The caliphate stretched from Spain and Morocco to Afghanistan, In 750 the Abbasids took over, moved the capital to Bagdad, neglected Jerusalem, and ruled until 1258 when overthrown by the Mongols.
The Dome of the Rock collapsed in 1016 and Jerusalem was described as a shambles. It was not until well after the 1099 Crusader conquest did Islamic interest revive. In 1187 Saladin, the first sultan of Egypt and Syria, retook the city and his Ayyubid dynasty went on a rebuilding spree, including the Dome of the Rock. During the Crusades, Muslim treatment of the defeated was considerably more humane than Christian.
In 1229, a grandson of Saladin ceded Jerusalem to the Crusading Franks. It was re-taken in 1239 by Ayyubid an-Nasir Da’ud only to have him give the ruins back to the Franks in exchange for help against a relative. The Franks turned the Temple Mount mosques into Christian churches. In 1244, the Ayyubids regained control, and Jerusalem stayed under Muslin rule for 700 years.
In 1258, the Mongols, who had swept out of Mongolia to slaughter and rape, sacked Bagdad but were met with their first major defeat 50 km north of Jerusalem at Ain Jalut in 1260 by Egyptian Mamluk forces.
During WWI, when a British army detachment was approaching Jerusalem in a drive to take it from the crumbling Ottoman-Turk Empire, the Ottomans did not consider Jerusalem important enough to risk resources in defending it, but ordered their local commander, Captain Schwartz, an Austrian Jew, to devastate Jerusalem and to blow up the Dome of the Rock before leaving. He refused, disabled his artillery, and surrendered in December 1917 to General Allenby and his UK-Australian-Indian-New Zealand troops.
The current power struggle in the Middle East has many contributors: Churchill’s conversion of the Royal Navy from coal to oil, the discovery of immense oil fields, the dismemberment of the Ottoman Empire by Britain, France, and Italy, leaving the US and Russia out of the picture, the Versailles Treaty, the Holocaust, the spread of Islam and its breakdown into warring fractions, the re-creation of Israel and its continued aggression to seize ever more land, and the need of the US to bind itself to Israel to achieve and maintain a dominant base in the oil-rich area. US president, Harry Truman, did have to threaten several countries with withdrawal of US post WWII aid if they did not vote for a UN bid to recreate Israel at the expense of Palestine to whom Britain owed thanks for help in defeating the Ottomans.
Oil has been a boon to humanity, even though a source of much grief in the Middle East. Greed quickly took control there with UK, French, then US companies, exploiting oil fields, many of which they found and developed, leaving scant amounts of the profits to the locals. Oil came to dominate and enlarge conflicts in Persia (Iran), Iraq, Libya, Syria, and Russia, causing humanity much grief. Competing interests in the re-routing of pipelines to Israeli refineries are a major cause of the Syrian disaster.
Sadly, the biggest culprit is Israel, heavily and consistently backed by the US. Israel has achieved
international status in creating a modern successful state but it has lost the sympathy it had due to the Holocaust. The Palestines are not blameless but, since 1948, Israel has thwarted every attempt at a 2-state solution. With vastly superior might, thanks mainly to German reparations and US bribes, it continues to defy the UN by stealing ever more Palestine land, thus creating opposition such as Hezbollah, Hamas, and Iran who now all claim historical rights to Jerusalem. What it is doing to Gaza is criminal. Its leadership and many of its citizens treat their fellow Semites, the Palestines, as a non-entity. It has benefited from the wealth and people that much of Europe and America showered on it, sharing little with its neighbours. Yes, Israel does have millions who disclaim the harsh policies of Prime Minister Netanyahu who has a 35% current approval rating.
Facebook and its ilk abide by rules set up by countries like China. Under Israeli orders they allow hateful attacks on Palestinians but have closed the accounts of Palestinians who protest Israeli policies. Resentment simmers but lacks power.
The so-called West is guilty of economic, military, and political incursions into the Middle East. The lack of concern for the local people is pathetic and criminal. Yet, the West does have hundreds of organizations and millions of people bursting with empathy. Their attainment of the power to improve is a slow process.
Perhaps a glimmer of hope lies in the rapidly-growing threat to oil from non-fossil energy sources. They should erode a major reason for Middle East conflict.
Jerusalem, you do need to slumber for a while, but you could awake as a beacon of brotherly and sisterly co-operation.
Make it so!
Ye Olde Scribe