AMERICAN FRIENDS
OF ATERET COHANIM

Making the old city young again

 

 

Jerusalem - an Introduction

by Mitchell Bard

Ever since King David made Jerusalem the capital of Israel 3,000 years ago, the city has played a central role in Jewish existence. The Western Wall in the Old City - the last remaining wall of the ancient Jewish Temple, the holiest site in Judaism - is the object of Jewish veneration and the focus of Jewish prayer. Three times a day for thousands of years Jews have prayed "To Jerusalem, thy city, shall we return with joy," and have repeated the Psalmist's oath: "If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning."

By contrast, Jerusalem was never the capital of any Arab entity. In fact, it was a backwater for most of Arab history. Jerusalem never served as a provincial capital under Muslim rule nor was it ever a Muslim cultural centre. For Jews, the entire city is sacred, but Muslims revere a site - the Dome of the Rock - not the city. "To a Muslim," observed British writer Christopher Sykes, "there is a profound difference between Jerusalem and Mecca orMedina, The latter are holy places containing holy sites." Besides the Dome of the Rock, he noted, Jerusalem has no major Islamic significance.

Meanwhile, Jews have been living in Jerusalem continuously for nearly two millennia. They have constituted the largest single group of inhabitants there since the 1840's (map ofJerusalem in 1912). Today, the total population of Jerusalem is approximately 850,000. The Jewish population in areas formerly controlled by Jordan exceeds 160,000, outnumbering Palestinians in "Arab" Jerusalem.

When the United Nations took up the Palestine question in 1947, it recommended that all ofJerusalem be internationalised. The Vatican and many predominantly Catholic delegations pushed for this status, but a key reason for the UN decision was the Soviet Bloc's desire to embarrass Transjordan' s King Abdullah and his British patrons.

The Jewish Agency, after much soul-searching, agreed to accept internationalisation in the hope that in the short-run it would protect the city from bloodshed and the new state from conflict. Since the partition resolution called for a referendum on the city's status after 10 years, and Jews comprised a substantial majority, the expectation was that the city would later be incorporated into Israel. The Arab states were as bitterly opposed to the internationalisation of Jerusalem as they were to the rest of the partition plan. Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion, subsequently, declared that Israel would no longer accept the internationalization of Jerusalem.

In May 1948, Jordan invaded and occupied east Jerusalem, dividing the city for the first time in its history, and driving thousands of Jews - whose families had lived in the city for centuries - into exile. For the next 19 years, the city was split, with Israel establishing its capital in western Jerusalem and Jordan occupying the eastern section, which included theOld City and most religious shrines...

After the Arab states' rejection of UN Resolution 181 and, on December 11, 1948, UN Resolution 194, establishing the UN Conciliation Commission for Palestine (effectively losing any legal right to claim Jewish land as their own) , Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion declared that Israel would no longer accept the internationalisation of Jerusalem. The UN passed one more resolution on the subject in 1949 and tried, but failed to adopt resolutions in 1950 and 1952, and then did not address Jerusalem again until it was captured by Israelin the 1967 War.

In 1950, Jordan annexed all the territory it occupied west of the Jordan River, including East Jerusalem . The other Arab countries denied formal recognition of the Jordanian move, and the Arab League considered expelling Jordan from membership...

From 1948-67, the city was divided between Israel and Jordan. Israel made westernJerusalem its capital; Jordan occupied the eastern section. Because Jordan - like all the Arab states at the time - maintained a state of war with Israel, the city became, in essence, two armed camps, replete with concrete walls and bunkers, barbed-wire fences, minefields and other military fortifications.

In violation of the 1949 Armistice Agreement, Jordan denied Israelis access to the TempleWall and to the cemetery on the Mount of Olives, where Jews have been burying their dead for 2,500 years. Jordan actually went further and desecrated Jewish holy places. King Hussein permitted the construction of a road to the Intercontinental Hotel across the Mount of Olives cemetery. Hundreds of Jewish graves were destroyed by a highway that could have easily been built elsewhere. The gravestones, honouring the memory of rabbis and sages, were used by the engineer corps of the Jordanian Arab Legion as pavement and latrines in army camps (inscriptions on the stones were still visible when Israel liberated the city). The ancient Jewish Quarter of the Old City was ravaged, 58 Jerusalem synagogues were destroyed or ruined, others were turned into stables and chicken coops. Slum dwellings were built abutting the Western Wall. (There was no international outcry then!)

Jews were not the only ones who found their freedom impeded. Under Jordanian rule, Israeli Christians were subjected to various restrictions, with only limited numbers allowed to visit the Old City and Bethlehem at Christmas and Easter. Jordan also passed laws imposing strict government control on Christian schools, including restrictions on the opening of new schools; state controls over school finances and appointment of teachers and requirements that the Koran be taught. Christian religious and charitable institutions were also barred from purchasing real estate in Jerusalem. Because of these repressive policies, many Christians emigrated from Jerusalem, leading their numbers to dwindle from 25,000 in 1949 to less than 13,000 in June 1967. (The Christian world was silent - but they are vocal about 'poor' Palestinians now!)

In 1967, Jordan ignored Israeli pleas to stay out of the Six-Day War and attacked the western part of the city. The Jordanians were routed by Israeli forces and driven out of East Jerusalem, allowing the city's unity to be restored&