Lebanese writer Fred Maroun explains that Jerusalem must remain Israel’s eternal capital city and must not be divided because Israel has an impeccable record in protecting the holy sites of all three religious faiths that cherish the city while the Arabs don’t have such a record.

Photo Credit: Channel 2 News

On June 5, 2016, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu re-iterated his pledge that “Jerusalem will never again be divided” and he said, “The reality of a divided city, a wounded city, a torn city we don’t want to go back to. Placing our flag at the Western Wall was the second most important day after the Declaration of Independence.”

The status of Jerusalem has been an important part of any discussion about the permanent borders of Israel and any potential Palestinian state. However, keeping Jerusalem united is not only important to Israel or to Jews. It is in the best interest of all three religions and to anyone who cares about the religious significance of that city.

Significance of Jerusalem to the three religions

Muslims consider Jerusalem their third-holiest city after Mecca and Medina in Saudi Arabia. Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem include:

  • Al-Haram ash-Sharif – Name given by Muslims to the Temple Mount on which the following three sites were built.
  • Dome of the Rock – Where Prophet Mohammed ascended into heaven.
  • Al-Aqsa Mosque – Second Muslim house of prayer constructed after the Masjid al-Haram in Mecca.
  • Dome of the Chain – Where Judgment Day will occur and where a chain will stop the sinful and let the just pass through.

For Christians, Jerusalem is important because it is where Jesus ministered and where he died and was resurrected. Christian holy sites in Jerusalem include:

  • Church of the Holy Sepulchre – Where Jesus was crucified and buried, and where he resurrected.
  • Via Dolorosa – Road that Jesus walked from the place of the sentencing by Pontius Pilate to the location of the crucifixion.
  • Dormition Abbey – Where the Virgin Mary fell into eternal sleep.
  • Garden Tomb – Considered by Protestants to be the site of Jesus’ burial.
  • Mount of Olives – Where Jesus taught his disciples and where he stood when he wept over Jerusalem.
  • Mary’s Tomb – Where Mary was buried before she was resurrected three days later.

Jerusalem is the Jews’ holiest city and the site of their Holy Temple. Their daily prayers refer to Jerusalem as “Your City” and ask G-d to rebuild the Holy Temple within it. A traditional Jewish prayer is the phrase “le-shanah ha-ba’ah bi-Yerushalayim” (Next year in Jerusalem). Psalms Chapter 137 includes the phrase, “If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning. Let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth, if I remember thee not; if I set not Jerusalem above my chiefest joy.” The Jewish holy sites of Jerusalem include:

  • Holy of Holies – The inner sanctuary of the First Temple that is currently not accessible and many believe to be covered by the Dome of the Rock.
  • Temple Mount – Site where the First Temple and later the Second Temple were built; the First Temple was destroyed by the Babylonians and the Second Temple was destroyed by the Romans.
  • The Kotel – Also known as the Western Wall; a remnant of the Second Temple.
  • Mount of Olives – Where the resurrection of the dead will begin when the Messiah comes.
  • David’s Tomb – Burial place of David, King of Israel.
  • Mount Scopus – First vantage point from which a traveler would see the Holy Temple.

Photo Credit: Fred Maroun

Deplorable Arab record in protecting religious sites

If an Arab state took control of Jerusalem’s holy sites, access by Jews, Christians, and Muslims to religious sites would be in grave danger.

After the Israeli-Arab War of 1947/1948, Jordan expelled all Jews from the Old City, denied them access to all Jewish holy sites, and as reported in the Jerusalem Post, the Mount of Olives “cemetery was systematically desecrated in blatant violation of the Hashemite Kingdom’s undertakings to safeguard holy sites. The destruction was unbridled and premeditated; ancient tombstones were torn out to be used as floors for latrine and pavement stones. The Intercontinental Hotel and Jericho Road were constructed over graves. Garbage and debris were regularly dumped on the tombs.”

After Israel took control of East Jerusalem from Jordan in the Six Day War of 1967, control of Temple Mount by the Islamic Waqf resulted in extreme mismanagement of the Al Aqsa Mosque, as reported by Mudar Zahran, a Jordanian-Palestinian author. He wrote, “Upon entering the silver-domed mosque, one can quickly notice how neglected the mosque is and badly in need of maintenance with dirty walls, dust-covered ceilings and worn-out chairs, including the one on which the Imam sits. Fire equipment, tossed randomly in a heap in a corner, looks as if it has not been touched in a long time.”

Under the management of the Muslim Waqf, as reported by journalist Khaled Abu Toameh, Palestinian extremists have been allowed to store “stones, firebombs and pipe bombs” in the Al Aqsa Mosque to be used against Jews. The Waqf’s control over the Temple Mount has also resulted in the harassment of Muslims who do not appear Muslim enough to the al-Aqsa sentinels, as reported by American Muslim physician Qanta Ahmed.

Careless excavation work undertaken by the Muslim Waqf resulted in the damage of important religious artifacts, as reported by various newspapers including the far-left Haaretz. Investigation of the construction work concluded that, “Works were carried out without any coordination with the authorities that deal with legal enforcement in the Temple Mount and without the required permits and licenses. The use of mechanical tools during some of the works regretfully damaged some of the archaeological evidence. The preservation of antiquities at the Temple Mount and the prevention of their destruction is a public duty of the highest order.” To recover some of the artifacts, Israel established the Temple Mount Sifting Project.

In April 2016, a United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) resolution was submitted by Algeria, Egypt, Lebanon, Morocco, Oman, Qatar, and Sudan, all Arab and Muslim countries. In that resolution, the Jewish history of the Temple Mount was ignored; the Temple Mount was referred to only by its Arab name Haram al-Sharif or the Holy Sanctuary. In the words of centrist Israeli politician Yair Lapid, the resolution “erases the Jewish people from the historical narrative.”

Impeccable Israeli record in protecting religious sites

Israel, on the other hand, takes the protection of holy sites very seriously and it has an impeccable record of protecting them for all three religions. One of Israel’s Basic Laws is the “Protection of Holy Places Law,” which states that, “Holy Places in Jerusalem are now open to all who wish to worship in them – members of all faiths” and “whosoever desecrates or otherwise violates a Holy Place shall be liable to imprisonment for a term of seven years.”

When Israel conquered East Jerusalem back from the Arabs in the Six-Day War, on the initiative of Moshe Dayan, who was then Defense Minister, Israel voluntarily relinquished control of the Temple Mount and put it in the hands of the Muslim Waqf. Dayan also relinquished the right of non-Muslims to pray on the Temple Mount. Despite the controversy within Israel about this agreement, Israeli governments of all stripes have abided meticulously by it.

Israel’s missteps

Dayan’s decision to allow the Muslim Waqf to control the Temple Mount was unwise since it has proven not to be reliable in protecting the sanctity of the site.

In 2000, Prime Minister Ehud Barak agreed to relinquish sovereignty over East Jerusalem including the Temple Mount after initially stating that Temple Mount was not negotiable. In 2008, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert made a similar concession. Both of these offers were painful for Israel to make and yet neither resulted in a peace agreement.

Israel relinquishing East Jerusalem would not provide peace but it would guarantee that the Jewish people would feel betrayed and humiliated. Since Israel has a flawless record of respecting holy sites of all three religions and considering that Arab Muslims are far from having such a record, Israel should not make such concessions.

The missteps of Dayan, Barak, and Olmert are understandable in the context of Israel’s strong desire to make peace with its neighbors but giving up control of Jerusalem affects much more than Israel and the Jews. It exposes all the holy sites to mishandling and abuse.

Taking a stand for Jerusalem

Maintaining Israeli sovereignty over all of Jerusalem especially the Old City is the only way to safeguard the ability of people of all three religions to access the holy sites that are important to them.

Since the protection of Jerusalem’s holy sites benefits everyone, not only Jews or Israel, the burden should not be left on Israel alone to make this case. Any responsible nation that is interested in safeguarding the holy sites of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam should state that Jerusalem must remain united and must remain part of Israel.