So whose Jerusalem is it anyway?

July 03, 1996|By Si Frumkin

STUDIO CITY, Calif. -- When I was a kid growing up in Lithuania in the 1930s, most people there believed that all children born in America had their appendixes removed at birth. This was one of those things that ''everyone knew'' for it showed how advanced American medicine was.

In the former Soviet Union today many people are convinced that Israel has found a cure for cancer, but that it isn't willing to share it with other countries. This too is something that ''everyone knows.''

Myths have lives of their own, especially when so-called experts propagate them. A prime example is a contemporary myth that is presented as fact by our news media. It is unclear who first fabricated it, but by now it has become another case of ''everyone knows.'' It is the myth that Jerusalem is sacred to Islam and that it always was an important Arab population center.

Jerusalem is indeed central to Judaism and to Christianity. For Jews it is the site of the ancient Temple, the dwelling place of Kings and Judges, the object of the prayer that pledges. ''If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand wither and die!'' To Christians it is the place where Jesus Christ was crucified, where the Christian church was established and where Christ is to return.

Muslims have no such ties to Jerusalem. Their holy places are Mecca and Medina -- both in Saudi Arabia -- and there is no mention of Jerusalem anywhere in the Koran. No Islamic historical or religious event ever took place in Jerusalem.

Legend of al-Aqsa

There is a legend that Mohammed journeyed on his magical horse from Mecca to a place called al-Aqsa, but Muslim #i theologians, at different times, located al-Aqsa in many different places, including heaven. Jerusalem was mentioned as the site of al-Aqsa much later, when internal Arab politics mandated the creation of a counterweight to Mecca and Medina. The Koranic verses on the walls of the Dome of the Rock mosque in Jerusalem do not include Sura (verse) 17: 1 that tells the al-Aqsa legend.

Yakkut, a medieval Arab geographer, said that ''Mecca is sacred to the Muslims, and Jerusalem to the Christians and Jews.''' During the centuries of Muslim rule it was the small town of Ramle, not Jerusalem, that served as the administrative capital, while Damascus, Cairo and Fas were the religious centers in the region. Jerusalem was of no political, commercial or religious importance for any of the Muslim rulers.

Jerusalem's insignificance for Muslims was underscored between 1948 and 1967, under Jordanian rule. There was no attempt to make Jerusalem the capital of Jordan, nor did any of the Arab kings and rulers make pilgrimage to Jerusalem during that time.

The contrast of Jewish attitude toward Jerusalem couldn't be more dramatic. Jews did more than long for and dream about the Holy City -- they settled there. For the last 2,000 years, except for brief periods of destruction and exile, the majority of Jerusalem's inhabitants were Jews.

After the 70 C.E. revolt, and again in 130, Jews were expelled from the city by the Romans, but they settled outside, near the city walls. In 362 they were allowed once again to live in the city and their community grew in numbers and importance.

The community was devastated in 1100 and again in the 13th century, but more Jews settled there afterward, purchasing land that included most of the Mount of Olives. They were the largest segment of the population, with Christians running a close second and the Muslims not even in contention.

In the 1840s, 5,000 Jews lived there. This grew to 11,000 by 1870 -- an absolute majority. My 1903 Encyclopedia Britannica counts 20,600 Jews, 9,800 Christians and just 1,600 Muslims. By 1914 there were 45,000 Jews in Jerusalem -- about two-thirds of the population, and in 1946, 65 percent or 99,320 Jerusalemites were Jews.

And so, I wish we could lay to rest the myth that Jerusalem is and always was important to the Muslims, and that the Jews are recent Johnny-come-lately occupiers of an Arab city. I wish that I could, but alas, myths have no regard for facts or truth. The myth of an Arab Jerusalem will continue to be peddled by the media, parroted by ignoramuses, and adopted by peace-at-any-price Jewish defeatists. But in spite of them all Jerusalem was, is and will ever be a Jewish city in a Jewish land.

Si Frumkin is a writer and lecturer.

Pub Date: 7/03/96

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