Tuesday, February 28, 2012

A moment to think about Jerusalem


A moment to think about Jerusalem


In the centuries-long conflict between the Jewish people and the Arabs, few issues capture the differences between us so well as the matter of Jerusalem. 

Palace of King Hussein, as seen from a suburb
of northern Jerusalem. It's the flat topped structure
on the crest of the hill in the distance.
Half of this city was captured by the army of the Jordanian king during Israel's desperate war of survival in 1948. Jordanian forces then set about destroying and desecrating anything Jewish on which they could lay their hands. The United Nations and other international agencies (to their eternal shame) did nothing to prevent or condemn this or the fact that the Jordanians prohibited access by Jews to all of the holy sites under their control. Then, in an unconscionable act of self-tribute, the Jordanian king built himself a large mansion on a Jerusalem hill-top that we can see as we type these words. Ostensibly a tribute to his dominion over a city holy to three religions, it serves as an indictment of his hypocrisy and that of the nations of the world who were evidently content with what was done by and in the name of the Hashemite regime to eastern Jerusalem and its historical and religious uniqueness during those nineteen miserable years.


The war of 1967 that was explicitly intended to drive the Israeli Jews into the sea (a euphemism for mass killing) resulted in the east and west parts of Jerusalem being reunited under Israeli rule. The city began to flourish in ways that it had not for two thousand years. Its splendour today is greater than at any time in the past. The freedoms it offers its residents and visitors in 2012 are the polar opposite of how things were when the Jordanians ruled. 

The same palace from a closer vantage point.
Construction was interrupted (permanently)
by the astonishing events of June 1967
The palace that King Hussein ordered built in his own honour on one of the highest points in Jerusalem still stands today. But it was never completed and remains an empty, dilapidated shell. Empty shell also happens to be an accurate way to characterize the undertakings Jordan gave in the framework of the 1949 Armistice Agreement to allow "free access to the holy sites and cultural institutions and use of the cemeteries on the Mount of Olives." Throughout those dark years of Jordanian control, tourists entering East Jerusalem had to present baptismal certificates or other proof they were not Jewish [source]. Under the Jordanians, the ancient Jewish Quarter and its ancient synagogues were systematically destroyed, and gravestones from the Jewish Cemetery on the Mount of Olives were used to build latrines for Jordanian army barracks. These were among the blackest years of one of the world's oldest and most important cities.

The Jordanians eventually abandoned their territorial claims to Jerusalem in a formal act on July 31, 1988, ceding their claims to the West Bank to the Palestine Liberation Organization. Mahmoud Abbas stands at the head of the PLO today. Carefully ignoring the infamy of those 19 years of Arab rule in half of Jerusalem - the only Arab rule the city has ever known - he has propounded an invented heritage and a bill of complaints, both of them fashioned from ideological claims, both of them bearing only the slightest connection to the reality of then or now.

This brings us to a conference being held in Doha, the Qatari capital, this weekend. It's called the "International Conference on Jerusalem" but Commander J. E. Dyer of The Optimistic Conservative Blogreminds us that its full and official name is  “International Conference for the Defense of Occupied Jerusalem” with the implication of "a sense of momentum behind, and mainstreaming of, anti-Zionist themes".


We want to defer to the excellent Elder of Ziyon blog which has some sharp observations to make about this major event. Elder quotes from the conference keynote speech delivered this morning Mahmoud Abbas which is notable for its distortions, inaccuracies and air of incitement. Elder quotes Abbas saying this:
"The Israeli occupation authorities, using the ugliest and most dangerous methods, are accelerating in an unprecedented way the implementation of plans ...to erase and remove the Arab-Islamic and the Christian character of East Jerusalem. The occupying power is attempting to change the parameters and the structure of the Maqdisi scene the smallest details, believing they can wipe from the memory of the world and consciousness that are immediately evoked by the name of Jerusalem the image of the shimmering golden Dome of the Rock, the remarkable image of the juxtaposition of the brotherhood of the minarets of mosques and the domes of the churches, in the shadow of the city walls that are witness to the history and memories and facts, and the illusion that they are able to replace them, and bring a different scene serving illusions of superstition and arrogance of power, and they are by virtue of brute force that are able to invent history and install their allegations, and the abolition of facts, religious and historical."
Elder notes that:
"Abbas here is not claiming that the Jews are trying to destroy the Dome of the Rock. He is referring to the building of synagogues in the Old City, specifically the Hurva. When the Hurva was rebuilt and dedicated, on the exact spot that it had been destroyed by Jordanian troops along with some fifty other Jerusalem synagogues in 1948, the major objection by Palestinian Arabs was that - given that the Jewish Quarter is on a hill - the Hurva's dome is taller than that of the Dome of the Rock. (Islamic law says that the tallest structure in a city must be a mosque.) So now photos of the skyline of the Old City prominently show a synagogue, just as they did before 1948. This is what Abbas is objecting to, as he hypocritically is claiming that Israel is fabricating history of the city. And he himself is now claiming that Jerusalem historically only had churches and mosques - but no synagogues. In other words, the liar Abbas is trying to destroy the Jewish character of Jerusalem, today, while he falsely claims that Israel is destroying its Christian and Muslim character... Israel demolished the area in front of the Kotel in 1967 in order for Jews to be able to worship there, as the Arab homes there would have made that impossible..."
Elder continues:
"Abbas is stating as fact that Israel plans to destroy the Al Aqsa Mosque, a lie designed to incite Muslims to rise up against Jews. He is also lying in saying that Israeli archaeological work has not found any evidence of Jewish history in Jerusalem. In fact, the most important findings in recent years came not from Israeli digs - but from sifting the discarded remains of the disgusting wanton destruction of priceless artifacts by the Waqf on the Temple Mount, in the news again today. Beyond that there have been exciting findings nearly every week that prove beyond all doubt the ancient Jewish character of the city - as if that is even in dispute by anyone... Of course, Jews have formed the majority of Jerusalem's population since the mid-1800s. And there is no "ethnic cleansing" - there are more Arabs in Jerusalem now than at any time in history."
Elder quotes Abbas telling a disgraceful whopper:  
"The occupation authorities [he means the Government of the State of Israel] work through the impoverishment of the holy city and the destruction of its infrastructure and hit its economy, which has always been in all ages the booming center and head of economic activity and tourism, medical, educational, and an incubator for cultural, intellectual and artistic endeavors in Palestine."
The reality, as Elder says correctly, includes the fact that in 1967, the part of Jerusalem controlled by Jordan was a slum. An UNRWA refugee camp, called Mascar, located in what had been (and is again) the Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem's Old City, was shut down by UNRWA itself in 1965 because conditions there were so horrendous and unsanitary. Elder reminds us that
"Between 1948 and 1967, Jerusalem was a neglected backwater of the Arab world. There were essentially no Muslim pilgrims going there. And while thousands of Christians would indeed visit Jerusalem every Easter, that number increased dramatically after Israel regained possession of the holy city." 
Yesterday
But pause now and note that throughout those nineteen years, not a single rock-throwing protest or suicide bombing was directed against the Jordanian occupation regime. This cannot be because international law supported the Jordanians. The opposite is true: Jordan’s annexation of Jerusalem - the so-called Greater Syria Plan - was treated as illegal and void by almost everyone including the Arab states. Great Britain, Iraq and Pakistan formally recognized it, but no one else did. More importantly, Jerusalem's Arab residents who are so careful to term themselves Palestinians today accepted it, if their actions are a guide. The total number of emergency sessions of the UN Security Council called to deal with the Jordanian Arab occupation of the Holy City throughout all the years of its occupation was of course zero. 

The spinning of a myth about a glorious Jerusalem under Arab (and even Palestinian Arab) control and its endangerment and diminution under the Israelis has become the malicious basis for an increasingly intense and deliberate campaign of dangerous incitement. 

The people behind the campaign saw some early results yesterday when rioting young Arabs took to the streets with rocks (see image above). As we know from the sad history of this noble, troubled, sacred city, rocks become grenades become bombs, and wanton killing of innocents is too often the outcome. Jerusalem's future, and especially the future of its Arab and Islamic heritage, deserves far better custodians than those people gathered today in Qatar.