For some months I have been reading Simon Sebag Montefiore’s book, Jerusalem The Biography. The cover says it’s “The number one bestseller.” Having nothing better to do in the very early hours of the morning as the bookshop was the only shop operating in Singapore airport, I bought my copy to pass the time while waiting Henry Kissinger (I didn’t know he was still alive) and Bill Clinton (I wonder how much he had to be paid for his 48 words) were among those who recommended the book. Its 720 pages are packed with historical data.
The Middle East is the birthplace of so much that has blessed and cursed the rest of the world. Jerusalem is the epicenter in which divine lightning seems to have repeatedly struck spontaneously birthing a new era of spirituality and claimed revelation. Judaism, Christianity and Islam all lay claim to Jerusalem’s real estate.
Muslims demand exclusive priority rights to the whole of Jerusalem and all the surrounding territory known as Israel. The foundational documents of HAMAS in Gaza and the PLO in the West Bank clearly state their claims and objective of expelling all Jews. To deviate from these claims in the slightest would cost the respective leaders their positions and power.
When Yassar Arafat was offered an exceedingly generous power and land sharing agreement by the Israelis some years ago, even though it contained most of what he had been negotiating about, he walked away. He had to. To have accepted would have cost him his position and probably his life. That was what President Sadat of Egypt paid for reaching an agreement with Israelis that saw them hand back all Egyptian territory they had captured in earlier wars.
In Jerusalem’s troubled history, from time to time depending on who held political control, Jews and Christians were expelled and excluded from its precincts. But as Montefiore’s research makes clear, it is a gross distortion of history to assume that after the Islamic invasion in the first half of the seventh century, all Jews suddenly disappeared. In fact the opposite is true.
Omar Amir al Mumin, Commander of the Believers, received the keys of Jerusalem from Patriarch Sophronius who declared the city would now undergo “the abomination of desolation”. Omar not only settled Muslim Arabs in the city he also welcomed more Jews to resettle within its precincts.
The cycle of struggle for recognition, possession and supremacy has been with us ever since. To understand a little more of the contemporary dimensions of this complex interplay get a copy of my latest publication, Islam Rising The Middle East and Us. It’s available at an introductory reduced price of only $5 plus postage till the end of September. Go to BOOKS and purchase it there.