Myths & Facts Online
is an Arab City.
“Jerusalem is an Arab City.”
Jews have been living in Jerusalem continuously for three millennia. They have constituted the largest single group of inhabitants there since the 1840’s. Jerusalem contains the Western Wall of the Temple Mount, the holiest site in Judaism.
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 center. 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 or Medina. The latter are holy places containing holy sites.” Besides the Dome of the Rock, he noted, Jerusalem has no major Islamic significance.1
“The Temple Mount has always been a Muslim holy place and Judaism has no connection to the site.”
During the 2000 Camp David Summit, Yasser Arafat said that no Jewish Temple ever existed on the Temple Mount.3 A year later, the Palestinian Authority-appointed Mufti of Jerusalem, Ikrima Sabri, told the German publication Die Welt, “There is not [even] the smallest indication of the existence of a Jewish temple on this place in the past. In the whole city, there is not even a single stone indicating Jewish history.”
These views are contradicted by a book entitled A Brief Guide to al-Haram al-Sharif, published by the Supreme Moslem Council in 1930. The Council, the principal Muslim authority in Jerusalem during the British Mandate, said in the guide that the Temple Mount site “is one of the oldest in the world. Its sanctity dates from the earliest times. Its identity with the site of Solomon’’s Temple is beyond dispute. This, too, is the spot, according to universal belief, on which David built there an altar unto the Lord, and offered burnt offerings and peace offerings.”
In a description of the area of Solomon’s Stables, which Islamic Waqf officials converted into a new mosque in 1996, the guide states: “...little is known for certain about the early history of the chamber itself. It dates probably as far back as the construction of Solomon’s Temple... According to Josephus, it was in existence and was used as a place of refuge by the Jews at the time of the conquest of Jerusalem by Titus in the year 70 A.D.”4
The Jewish connection to the Temple Mount dates back more than 3,000 years and is rooted in tradition and history. When Abraham bound his son Isaac upon an altar as a sacrifice to God, he is believed to have done so atop Mount Moriah, today’s Temple Mount. The First Temple’s Holy of Holies contained the original Ark of the Covenant, and both the First and Second Temples were the centers of Jewish religious and social life until the Second Temple’s destruction by the Romans. After the destruction of the Second Temple, control of the Temple Mount passed through several conquering powers. It was during the early period of Muslim control that the Dome of the Rock was built on the site of the ancient temples.
Strictly observant Jews do not visit the Temple Mount for fear of accidentally treading upon the Holy of Holies, since its exact location on the Mount is unknown. Other Jews and non-Muslims are permitted to visit.
“Jerusalem need not be the capital of Israel.”
Ever since King David made Jerusalem the capital of Israel more than 3,000 years ago, the city has played a central role in Jewish existence. The Western Wall in the Old City 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.”
Jerusalem “has known only two periods of true greatness, and these have been separated by 2,000 years. Greatness has only happened under Jewish rule,” Leon and Jill Uris wrote in Jerusalem. “This is so because the Jews have loved her the most, and have remained constant in that love throughout the centuries of their dispersion....It is the longest, deepest love affair in history.”6
“Unlike the Jews, the Arabs were willing to accept the internationalization of Jerusalem.”
When the United Nations took up the Palestine question in 1947, it recommended that all of Jerusalem be internationalized. 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 by denying Abdullah control of the city.
The Jewish Agency, after much soul-searching, agreed to accept internationalization 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 internationalization of Jerusalem as they were to the rest of the partition plan.
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. The UN partition plan, including its proposal that Jerusalem be internationalized, was overtaken by events.
“Internationalization is the best solution to resolve the conflicting claims over Jerusalem.”
The seeming intractability of resolving the conflicting claims to Jerusalem has led some people to resurrect the idea of internationalizing the city. Curiously, the idea had little support during the 19 years Jordan controlled the Old City and barred Jews and Israeli Muslims from their holy sites.
The fact that Jerusalem is disputed, or that it is of importance to people other than Israeli Jews, does not mean the city belongs to others or should be ruled by some international regime. There is no precedent for such a setup. The closest thing to an international city was post-war Berlin when the four powers shared control of the city and that experiment proved to be a disaster.
Even if Israel were amenable to such an idea, what conceivable international group could be entrusted to protect the freedoms Israel already guarantees? Surely not the United Nations, which has shown no understanding of Israeli concerns since partition. Israel can count only on the support of the United States, and it is only in the UN Security Council that an American veto can protect Israel from political mischief by other nations.
“From 1948 through 1967, Jordan ensured freedom of worship for all religions in Jerusalem.”
From 1948-67, Jerusalem was divided between Israel and Jordan. Israel made western Jerusalem its capital; Jordan occupied the eastern section. Because Jordan 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.
Under paragraph eight of the1949 Armistice Agreement, Jordan and Israel were to establish committees to arrange the resumption of the normal functioning of cultural and humanitarian institutions on Mt. Scopus, use of the cemetery on the Mount of Olives, and free access to holy places and cultural institutions. Jordan violated the agreement, however, and denied Israelis access to the Western Wall and to the cemetery on the Mount of Olives, where Jews have buried their dead for more than 2,500 years.
Under Jordanian rule, “Israeli Christians were subjected to various restrictions during their seasonal pilgrimages to their holy places” in Jerusalem, noted Teddy Kollek. “Only limited numbers were grudgingly permitted to briefly visit the Old City and Bethlehem at Christmas and Easter.”9
In 1955 and 1964, Jordan passed laws imposing strict government control on Christian schools, including restrictions on the opening of new schools, state control over school finances and appointment of teachers and the requirements that the Koran be taught. In 1953 and 1965, Jordan adopted laws abrogating the right of Christian religious and charitable institutions to acquire real estate in Jerusalem.
In 1958, police seized the Armenian Patriarch-elect and deported him from Jordan, paving the way for the election of a patriarch supported by King Hussein’s government. Because of these repressive policies, many Christians emigrated from Jerusalem. Their numbers declined from 25,000 in 1949 to fewer than 13,000 in June 1967.10
These discriminatory laws were abolished by Israel after the city was reunited in 1967.
“Jordan safeguarded Jewish holy places.”
Jordan 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, honoring 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 — some centuries old — were destroyed or ruined, others were turned into stables and chicken coops. Slum dwellings were built abutting the Western Wall.11
“Under Israeli rule, religious freedom has been curbed in Jerusalem.”
After the 1967 war, Israel abolished all the discriminatory laws promulgated by Jordan and adopted its own tough standard for safeguarding access to religious shrines. “Whoever does anything that is likely to violate the freedom of access of the members of the various religions to the places sacred to them,” Israeli law stipulates, is “liable to imprisonment for a term of five years.” Israel also entrusted administration of the holy places to their respective religious authorities. Thus, for example, the Muslim Waqf has responsibility for the mosques on the Temple Mount.
Les Filles de la Charite de l’Hospice Saint Vincent de Paul of Jerusalem repudiated attacks on Israel’s conduct in Jerusalem a few months after Israel took control of the city:
Our work here has been made especially happy and its path smoother by the goodwill of Israeli authorities...smoother not only for ourselves, but (more importantly) for the Arabs in our care.12
Former President Jimmy Carter acknowledged that religious freedom has been enhanced under Israeli rule. There is “no doubt” that Israel did a better job safeguarding access to the city’s holy places than did Jordan. “There is unimpeded access today,” Carter noted. “There wasn’t from 1948-67.”13
The State Department notes that Israeli law provides for freedom of worship, and the Government respects this right.14
“Israel denies Muslims and Christians free access to their holy sites.”
According to Islam, the prophet Muhammad was miraculously transported from Mecca to Jerusalem, and it was from there that he made his ascent to heaven. The Dome of the Rock and the al-Aksa Mosque, both built in the seventh century, made definitive the identification of Jerusalem as the “Remote Place” that is mentioned in the Koran, and thus a holy place after Mecca and Medina.
After reuniting Jerusalem during the Six-Day War,Defense Minister Moshe Dayan permitted the Islamic authority, the Waqf, to continue its civil authority on the Temple Mount even though it part of the holiest site in Judaism. The Waqf oversees all day-to-day activity there. An Israeli presence is in place at the entrance to the Temple Mount to ensure access for people of all religions.
Arab leaders are free to visit Jerusalem to pray if they wish to, just as Egyptian President Anwar Sadat did at the al-Aksa mosque. For security reasons, restrictions are sometimes imposed on the Temple Mount temporarily, but the right to worship is not abridged and other mosques remain accessible even in times of high tension. In October 2004, for example, despite high alerts for terrorism and the ongoing Palestinian war, an estimated 140,000 Muslim worshipers attended Ramadan prayers on the Temple Mount.16
According to Islam, the prophet Muhammad was miraculously transported from Mecca to Jerusalem, and it was from there that he made his ascent to heaven. The Dome of the Rock and the al-Aksa Mosque, both built in the seventh century, made definitive the identification of Jerusalem as the “Remote Place” that is mentioned in the Koran, and thus a holy place after Mecca and Medina. Muslim rights on the Temple Mount, the site of the two shrines, have not been infringed. Although it is the holiest site in Judaism, Israel has left the Temple Mount under the control of Muslim religious authorities.
For Christians, Jerusalem is the place where Jesus lived, preached, died and was resurrected. While it is the heavenly rather than the earthly Jerusalem that is emphasized by the Church, places mentioned in the New Testament as the sites of Jesus’ ministry have drawn pilgrims and devoted worshipers for centuries. Among these sites are the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, the Garden of Gethsemane, the site of the Last Supper, and the Via Dolorosa with the fourteen Stations of the Cross.
The rights of the various Christian churches to custody of the Christian holy places in Jerusalem were defined in the course of the nineteenth century, when Jerusalem was part of the Ottoman Empire. Known as the “status quo arrangement for the Christian holy places in Jerusalem,” these rights remained in force during the period of the British Mandate and are still upheld today in Israel.
“Israeli policy encourages attacks by Jewish fanatics against Muslim and Christian residents and their holy sites.”
Israeli authorities have consistently attempted to stop fanatics — of all faiths — from desecrating religious sites or committing acts of violence near them. When it has been unable to stop such acts from occurring, Israel has severely punished the perpetrators. Allen Goodman, a deranged Israeli who in 1982 went on a shooting rampage on the Temple Mount, for example, was sentenced to life imprisonment.
In 1984, Israeli authorities infiltrated a Jewish group that planned acts of violence against non-Jewish sites and civilians. The terrorists were tried and imprisoned.
In 1990, the Temple Mount Faithful, a Jewish extremist group, sought to march to the Temple Mount on Sukkot to lay the cornerstone for the Third Temple. The police, worried that such a march would anger Muslims and exacerbate an already tense situation created by the intifada and events in the Persian Gulf, denied them the right to march. That decision was upheld by the Israeli Supreme Court, a fact communicated immediately to Muslim religious leaders and the Arab press. Despite Israel’s preemptive action, “Muslim leaders and intifada activists persisted in inciting their faithful to confrontation.”18 As a result, a tragic riot ensued in which 17 Arabs were killed.
Since that time, Israel has been especially vigilant, and done everything possible to prevent any provocation by groups or individuals that might threaten the sanctity of the holy places of any faith. In 2005, for example, Israel banned non-Muslims from the Temple Mount to forestall a planned rally by Jewish ultra-nationalists.
“Israel has not acknowledged Palestinian claims to Jerusalem.“
Jerusalem was never the capital of any Arab entity. Palestinians have no special claim to the city; they simply demand it as their capital.
Israel has recognized that the city has a large Palestinian population, that the city is important to Muslims, and that making concessions on the sovereignty of the city might help minimize the conflict with the Palestinians. The problem has been that Palestinians have shown no reciprocal appreciation for the Jewish majority in the city, the significance of Jerusalem to the Jewish people or the fact that it is already the nation’’s capital.
The Israeli-Palestinian Declaration of Principles (DoP) signed in 1993 left open the status of Jerusalem. Article V said only that Jerusalem is one of the issues to be discussed in the permanent status negotiations. The agreed minutes also mention Jerusalem, stipulating that the Palestinian Council’s jurisdiction does not extend to the city. Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin said that Jerusalem will “not be included in any sphere of the prerogatives of whatever body will conduct Palestinian affairs in the territories. Jerusalem will remain under Israeli sovereignty.”
The overwhelming majority of Israelis oppose any division of Jerusalem. Still, efforts have been made to find some compromise that could satisfy Palestinian interests. For example, while the Labor Party was in power under Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres, Knesset Member Yossi Beilin reportedly reached a tentative agreement that would allow the Palestinians to claim the city as their capital without Israel sacrificing sovereignty over its capital. Beilin’s idea was to allow the Palestinians to set up their capital in a West Bank suburb of Jerusalem —Abu Dis. The PA subsequently constructed a building for its parliament in the city.
Prime Minister Ehud Barak offered dramatic concessions that would have allowed the Arab neighborhoods of East Jerusalem to become the capital of a Palestinian state, and given the Palestinians control over the Muslim holy places on the Temple Mount. These ideas were discussed at the White House Summit in December 2000, but rejected by Yasser Arafat.
Barak’s proposals were controversial. Giving up sovereignty over the Temple Mount would place potentially hostile Arabs literally over the heads of Jews praying at their holiest site. Other suggested compromises involving a division of sovereignty over the Old City run into practical complications created by the labyrinthine nature of the city, and the intertwining of the Muslim, Christian, Jewish and Armenian quarters.
In February 2001, Ariel Sharon ran for Prime Minister against Barak — and was overwhelmingly elected — on a platform specifically repudiating the concessions Barak offered on Jerusalem. The prospect for a compromise now depends in large measure on whether the Palestinians will recognize Jewish claims to Jerusalem and offer their own concessions.
“Israel has restricted the political rights of Palestinian Arabs in Jerusalem.”
Along with religious freedom, Palestinian Arabs in Jerusalem have unprecedented political rights. Arab residents were given the choice of whether to become Israeli citizens. Most chose to retain their Jordanian citizenship. Moreover, regardless of whether they are citizens, Jerusalem Arabs are permitted to vote in municipal elections and play a role in the administration of the city.
“Under UN Resolution 242, East Jerusalem is considered ‘occupied territory.’ Israel’s annexation of Jerusalem therefore violates the UN resolution.”
One drafter of the UN Resolution was then-U.S. Ambassador to the UN Arthur Goldberg. According to Goldberg, “Resolution 242 in no way refers to Jerusalem, and this omission was deliberate....Jerusalem was a discrete matter, not linked to the West Bank.” In several speeches at the UN in 1967, Goldberg said: “I repeatedly stated that the armistice lines of 1948 were intended to be temporary. This, of course, was particularly true of Jerusalem. At no time in these many speeches did I refer to East Jerusalem as occupied territory.”21
Because Israel was defending itself from aggression in the 1948 and 1967 wars, former President of the International Court of Justice Steven Schwebel wrote, it has a better claim to sovereignty over Jerusalem than its Arab neighbors.22
“East Jerusalem should be part of a Palestinian state because all its residents are Palestinian Arabs and no Jews have ever lived there.”
Before 1865, the entire population of Jerusalem lived behind the Old City walls (what today would be considered part of the eastern part of the city). Later, the city started to expand beyond the walls because of population growth, and both Jews and Arabs began to build in new areas of the city.
By the time of partition, a thriving Jewish community was living in the eastern part of Jerusalem, an area that included the Jewish Quarter of the Old City. This area of the city also contains many sites of importance to the Jewish religion, including the City of David, the Temple Mount and the Western Wall. In addition, major institutions such as Hebrew University and the original Hadassah Hospital are on Mount Scopus — in eastern Jerusalem.
In March 2010, during a visit to Israel by Vice President Joseph Biden, the Israeli government announced the construction of 1,600 apartments in the Jerusalem suburb of Ramat Shlomo. The United States strongly condemned the announcement and the continued Israeli construction in East Jerusalem. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu apologized for the timing of the announcement. Israel’s detractors have claimed Israel’s expansion in East Jerusalem represents a violation of the Road Map and prevents peace, despite the fact that Israel is adhering to its unprecedented moratorium on West Bank settlement, previous peace talks were not impeded by construction and every Israeli government since 1967 has supported the development of the Nation’s capital.
Moreover, the subject of the controversy, Ramat Shlomo, is located north of Jerusalem and not in East Jerusalem. It is a community of 16,000 Orthodox Jews. It is not a fledgling settlement, rather an established community that is considered a consensus settlement – a municipality that is expected to remain part of Israel’s capital in any peace agreement. While the timing of the announcement was unfortunate, the project has been in the planning stage for three years – and actual construction is not expected to begin for another three years. The construction will not disrupt the lives of Palestinians, as the community is entirely Jewish and the chosen location is an empty valley.23a
“The United States does not recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.”
Of the 184 nations with which America has diplomatic relations, Israel is the only one whose capital is not recognized by the U.S. government. The U.S. embassy, like most others, is in Tel Aviv, 40 miles from Jerusalem. The United States does maintain a consulate in East Jerusalem, however, that deals with Palestinians in the territories and works independently of the embassy, reporting directly to Washington. Today, then, we have the anomaly that American diplomats refuse to meet with Israelis in their capital because Jerusalem’s status is negotiable, but make their contacts with Palestinians in the city.
In 1990, Congress passed a resolution declaring that “Jerusalem is and should remain the capital of the State of Israel” and “must remain an undivided city in which the rights of every ethnic and religious group are protected.” During the 1992 Presidential campaign, Bill Clinton said: “I recognize Jerusalem as an undivided city, the eternal capital of Israel, and I believe in the principle of moving our embassy to Jerusalem.” He never reiterated this view as President; consequently, official U.S. policy remained that the status of Jerusalem is a matter for negotiations.
In an effort to change this policy, Congress overwhelmingly passed The Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995. This landmark bill declared that, as a statement of official U.S. policy, Jerusalem should be recognized as the undivided, eternal capital of Israel and required that the U.S. embassy in Israel be established in Jerusalem no later than May 1999. The law also included a waiver that allowed the President to essentially ignore the legislation if he deemed doing so to be in the best interest of the United States. President Clinton exercised that option.
During the 2000 presidential campaign George W. Bush promised that as President he would immediately “begin the process of moving the United States ambassador to the city Israel has chosen as its capital.”25 As President, however, Bush has followed Clinton’s precedent and repeatedly used the presidential waiver to prevent the embassy from being moved.
While critics of Congressional efforts to force the administration to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital insist that such a move would harm the peace process, supporters of the legislation argue the opposite is true. By making clear the United States position that Jerusalem should remain unified under Israeli sovereignty, they say, unrealistic Palestinian expectations regarding the city can be moderated and thereby enhance the prospects for a final agreement.
“The Palestinians have been careful to preserve the archaeological relics of the Temple Mount.”
Though it has refused to recognize Israeli sovereignty over the Temple Mount, the Waqf cooperated with Israeli inspectors when conducting work on the holy site. After the 1993 Oslo accords, however, the Jordanian-controlled Waqf was replaced with representatives beholden to the Palestinian Authority. Following the riots that accompanied Israel’s decision to open an exit from the Western Wall tunnel, the Waqf ceased cooperating with Israel.
The Waqf has subsequently prevented Israeli inspectors from overseeing work done on the Mount that has caused irreparable damage to archaeological remains from the First and Second Temple periods. Israeli archaeologists found that during extensive construction work, thousands of tons of gravel –– which contained important relics –– was removed from the Mount and discarded in the trash. Experts say that even the artifacts that were not destroyed were rendered archaeologically useless because the Palestinian construction workers mixed finds from diverse periods when they scooped up earth with bulldozers.26
In August 2007, Israeli archaeologists discovered the Muslim authorities had begun fresh excavations on the Temple Mount to create a 500-foot trench for water pipes and electricity cables. By indiscriminately piling up earth and stones, Israeli officials say the Palestinians are once again harming a sensitive area. Archaeologists from the nonpartisan Committee Against the Destruction of Antiquities on the Temple Mount say the digging has damaged a wall that dates back to Second-Temple times and was likely part of the Temple courts.28
While an international protest was mounted when Israel began to renovate a bridge to the Temple Mount that caused no harm, the same people who expressed such great concern about the integrity of the site have remained silent while the Palestinians destroy priceless relics.
Given the sensitivity of the Temple Mount, and the tensions already existing between Israelis and Palestinians over Jerusalem, the Israeli government has not interfered in the Waqf’s activities. Meanwhile, the destruction of the past continues.
1Encounter, (February 1968).
Photo Credit: Jew at the wall courtesy of Jack Hazut, J.H.M. Photography
See also: Jerusalem
Ancient Jewish History
Modern Jewish History
Table of Contents
Index To order the paperback edition, click HERE.