Changing course on Jerusalem

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Christmas is about to arrive and President Trump has given us a special reason for looking toward Jerusalem. The decision of the United States of America to move its embassy for Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem is remarkably timed, and welcomed for many U.S.A. citizens who have strong Christian and Jewish beliefs.

His action gives us all an opportunity to look again at the events of the modern era of world history (when the U.S.A. became the world’s most powerful country) and the changing relationship between the citizens of the world whose religious faiths are based on a deity who is common to Abraham, Jesus of Nazareth and Muhammad.

Historically settled in the fourth millennium B.C.E., Jerusalem is one of the world’s oldest cities. Geographically first settled as a minor military garrison at the end of desert trade routes, its importance in terms of human history lies in its designation as a city of religious sacredness. It is largely because of this, that Jerusalem has been destroyed at least twice, besieged 23 times, attacked 52 times, and captured and recaptured 44 times.

Jerusalem’s importance for the Jewish people lies in its relationship to the Israelites’ exodus from Egypt. King David, the first monarch of all the Israeli tribes, placed his kingdom’s royal city on the eastern hill of Jerusalem. North of it, his son Solomon built the Temple of Jerusalem to house the Ark of the Covenant containing two stone tablets on which were written the Ten Commandments.

Christian pilgrimages to Jerusalem date to the fourth century, following in the footsteps of Empress Helena, mother of Constantine the Great. Emperor Constantine had established Christianity as the state religion of the Roman Empire. The principal focus of Jerusalem for Christianity is its role in the last weeks of Jesus of Nazareth’s life: the entry into Jerusalem, the Last Supper, arrest, death, resurrection and ascension. Jerusalem is also where Jesus’ disciples were taught the Lord’s Prayer.

Jerusalem is a sacred site in Islamic tradition, designated as the third holy city of Islam after Mecca and Medina. This is the site of the sacrifice of Abraham, venerated as the first Muslim. It is also the place of Muhammad’s ascension. The Dome of the Rock, built on the Temple Mount, is where Muhammad ascended into heaven and received from Allah the second pillar of Islam, to pray five times a day.

Politically, the most recent dilemma dates back to May 1947 when a United Nations Special Committee on Palestine recommended that “Palestine, within its present border, following a transition period of two years, shall be constituted into an independent Arab state, an independent Jewish state and the City of Jerusalem.” Neither side liked the proposition and the ‘transition period’ is still going on. The UN appears to be content to have the stalemate continue so long as the conflict remains within the borders of ‘Palestine.’ The UN declares that the Palestinians and Israelis should settle the matter through negotiations. They haven’t and they won’t.

And now the U.S.A. has changed course, officially and unilaterally abandoning the 70-year-old UN stalemated posture by supporting Israel’s determination to have Jerusalem as its capital city.

As Christmas arrives, one wonders what the U.S.A. will decide regarding Bethlehem, which is presently under Palestinian National Authority control.

Alan Murdock is a local pediatrician.

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Alan Murdock