JERUSALEM: Five influences shaping a war
By Mike Burnard – Analytical Strategist at dia-LOGOS
Israel bombards Gaza in the most intense fighting since 2014
Israel bombarded Gaza with artillery and air strikes on Friday, 14 May 2021, following a new barrage of rocket fire from the Hamas-run enclave, intensifying a conflict that has now claimed 127 lives. The Israeli army said its overnight operation involved fighter jets and tanks hitting a Hamas tunnel network dug under civilian areas. The most intense fighting between Israel and Palestinian militants in Gaza since 2014 has been accompanied by an unprecedented outbreak of mob violence between Jews and Arabs inside Israel. The conflict has killed 127 Palestinians, including 31 children, and wounded more than 830, Gaza’s health minister said. An Israeli woman in her 80s died overnight from injuries sustained while seeking shelter from rocket fire, bringing the toll on the Israeli side to eight dead, including a six-year-old boy and a soldier.
In another potential escalation, at least three rockets were fired from southern Lebanon toward Israel, an attack that threatened to open a new front in the fighting.
Previous fighting between Israel and Gaza’s Hamas rulers, including a devastating 2014 war, was largely confined to the impoverished and blockaded Palestinian territory and Israeli communities on the frontier. But this round seems to be rippling farther and wider than at any time since the 2000 Palestinian intifada, or uprising.
The current eruption of violence began a month ago in Jerusalem, where heavy-handed Israeli police tactics during Ramadan and the threatened eviction of dozens of Palestinian families by Jewish settlers ignited protests and clashes with police. A focal point of clashes between Palestinians and Israeli police was Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque, built on a hilltop compound that is revered by Jews and Muslims.
Israel regards Jerusalem in its entirety as its capital, while the Palestinians want east Jerusalem to be the capital of their future state.
The recent fighting has also set off violent clashes between Arabs and Jews in Israel, in scenes unseen in more than two decades. Netanyahu warned that he was prepared to use an “iron fist if necessary” to calm the violence.
Here are five points to understand when unwrapping the layers of Jerusalem that so easily disguise the facts and promote the conflict.
Jerusalem: IN AN ISRAELI CONTEXT
Israel has a population of more than 9,2 million inhabitants and is culturally (not religiously) divided as follows:
- 74% are Jews (about 6,8 million),
- 21% are Arabs (about 1,89 million),
- 5% are defined as ‘others’ (about 434,000)
Jerusalem has a population of nearly 883,000 inhabitants, twice as many as the next biggest city in Israel, Tel Aviv, with a population of 439,000. In 2015, Jerusalem was culturally divided as follows:
- 200,000 secular Jewish Israelis,
- 350,000 Ultra-Orthodox Jews and
- 300,000 Palestinians
And religiously as follows:
- 62% Jews
- 35% Muslim
- 2% Christian
- 1% were not classified by religion.
Israelis and Palestinians both claim Jerusalem as their capital and even though Americas’ recognition of Jerusalem in 2017 was seen as quite controversial, factual evidence highlights the legitimacy of Israel’s’ claim.
- One of Israel’s Basic Laws, the 1980 Jerusalem Law, refers to Jerusalem as the country’s undivided capital. This should be enough reason for international governments to recognise this as well.
- All branches of the Israeli government are located in Jerusalem, including the Knesset (Israel’s parliament)
- The residences of the Prime Minister and President is based in Jerusalem
- The Supreme Court with its primary governmental institutions are all located in Jerusalem.
- Jerusalem is the largest city in Israel, best equipped and resourced to house international embassies.
Even though the Palestinians also claim Jerusalem to be their capital, it is ultimately more a vision than a factual entitlement.
Jerusalem: IN A HISTORIC CONTEXT
Jerusalem is one of the oldest cities in the world, and has long been considered a holy city of peace—a concept embodied in its name. Even though there is no agreement among scholars on the exact meaning of Jerusalem, the original name of Urusalima, has been interpreted by some to mean either the ‘City of Peace’ or the ‘City of (the god) Salem,’ but some scholars, considering the name as of Hebrew origin, interpret it as the ‘possession of peace’ or ‘foundation of peace” (International Standard Bible Encyclopedia)
With its many holy places and its association with the three world religions, Jerusalem always had the political ability to create international conflict and sadly never lived up to its name. There has been little peace throughout centuries of existence and the city has been the site of many conflicts. According to Eric H. Cline, the city has been “destroyed at least twice, besieged 23 times, attacked an additional 52 times, and captured and recaptured 44 times” (as quoted in “Do We Divide the Holiest Holy City?” Moment, March/April 2008).
Jewish Jerusalem was founded 3,000 years ago when King David took a hill town from the Jebusites. Solomon built his temple there atop Mount Moriah, on which the Bible says Abraham was instructed to offer Isaac up to God. In 70 AD, the Second Temple was sacked by the Romans, leaving only the platform known to Jews as the Temple Mount. Arabs revere it as Haram el-Sharif (Noble Sanctuary), home to the Al Aqsa Mosque: Muhammed is said to have ascended from there to heaven in the seventh century. A short walk away through narrow and unchanging stone passages stands the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, built by Emperor Constantine in the fourth century on the spot that his mother named as the site of Christ’s martyrdom.
In 1947 the United Nations voted to create separate Arab and Jewish states in Palestine. This set aside Jerusalem as a corpus separatum (separated body) to be governed by a UN administrator. After 10 years, the plan held, a referendum could determine the city’s future—an intention that became moot when UN members failed to intervene as Arab troops swept in; East Jerusalem and the Old City fell to Jordan. Holy sites in Jerusalem and the West Bank were immediately closed to Jews and, in some cases, Christians; synagogues and Jewish cemeteries were desecrated. When Israel won the Six-Day War of 1967, the city was again united—this time under Israeli rule. Jews surged to the Western Wall to pray at a spot revered since the first century. As a gesture of tolerance, Israel ceded control of the Temple Mount to the Muslim collective known as the Waqf, which continues to administer the site today.
Jerusalem: IN A CHRONOLOGICAL CONTEXT
Those who are closely connected to events in Israel and who connect the prophetic dots of Jewish history were waiting expectedly for something to happen in 2017, and they were not disappointed.
There have been significant events in the history of Jerusalem that happened in leaps of 50 years over the last two centuries. It started with the discovery of Jerusalem 150 years ago, the battle of Jerusalem 50 years later, the unification of Jerusalem 50 years later and the acknowledgement of Jerusalem by the USA yet another 50 years later. It happened as follows:
- 1867: The discovery of Jerusalem: In 1867 General Sir Charles Warren began a three year period of “undercover” excavation. The Ottoman government prohibited excavation around the Temple Mount, so Warren dug a series of vertical shafts adistance away from the Temple Mount walls and then turned and tunneled horizontally until he reached the wall. He discovered the huge blocks fallen from the Temple Mount, the gutter system and the foundation course of Herod’s Temple. Today 230 feet north of Robinson’s arch, one of Warren’s shafts that reaches the foundation of the Western Wall can still be seen.
- 1917 The battle of Jerusalem: This occurred during the British Empire’s “Jerusalem Operations” against the Ottoman Empire, when fighting for the city developed from 17 November, continuing after the surrender until 30 December 1917, to secure the final objective of the Southern Palestine Offensive during the Sinai and Palestine Campaign of World War I. As a result of these victories, British Empire forces captured Jerusalem and defeated the Ottoman Empire
- 1967 Reunification of Jerusalem– The Six-Day War. On June 7, 1967, IDF paratroopers advanced through the Old City toward the Temple Mount and the Western Wall, bringing Jerusalem’s holiest site under Jewish control for the first time in 2000 years.
- 2017 The acknowledgement of Jerusalem. On Wednesday 6 December 2017, President Donald Trump announced a radical departure in U.S. Middle East policy by declaring the United States’ recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
Jerusalem: IN A RELIGIOUS CONTEXT
Jerusalem is considered a holy city in the three major Abrahamic religions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. According to Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics the population of Israel is religiously divided as follows:
- 60% are Jews of any background.
- 37% are Muslim
- 2% are Christian
- 80% are Arab Christians
- 17% are immigrants from the former Soviet Union
- 2% are Maronites , Aramean Christians and Assyrians.
- <1% (approximately 300) coverts from Islam
- 1% is no religion at all
The Jews, currently representing about two-thirds of the residents of the modern city, claim longevity of possession even though they had been displaced from Jerusalem for hundreds of years and their temple was destroyed long ago. Many Jews still long for a temple to be rebuilt, and many conservative Jews would like to see animal sacrifices reinstated on the site of Solomon’s temple.
Their national conquest of Jerusalem during the Arab-Israeli wars of 1967 and 1973 gave hope to many religious Jews that worship on the Temple Mount might be restored. But there are major political, religious and physical obstacles.
Christians want to maintain the fragile peace in this holy city that contains many of their churches and shrines. After all, this is where Christianity began, and any conflict between the Muslims and Jews will upset the current balance of power and could threaten Christian holy sites and the safety of the 15,000 Christians who now live in and around Jerusalem. Christians represent about 2 percent of the residents.
Islam is a major religion in Israel. Muslims, who are mostly Arab citizens of Israel, constitute 17.7% of the Israelis, making them the largest minority group in Israel. About 82.6% of the Arab population in Israel is Sunni Muslim (with a very small minority of Shia), another 9% is Druze, and around 9% is Christian (mostly Eastern Orthodox and Catholic denominations).
Jerusalem is Islam’s third holiest city after Mecca and Medina in Saudi Arabia. The Haram al Sharif (Temple Mount) of Jerusalem is believed by Muslims to be the location from which Muhammad ascended to Jannah (paradise). This widely accepted Islamic belief raises the religious and spiritual importance to them of the Dome of the Rock and the adjacent al-Aqsa Mosque. Only Muslims are allowed to pray on the Temple Mount which is managed day to day by the Islamic Waqf, an administrative body taking responsibility for the conduct of Islamic affairs in the region of the Temple Mount.
Jerusalem: IN A MUSLIM CONTEXT
When observing the battle for Jerusalem, the question to ask is whether Jerusalem is important to Muslims from a political perspective or a prophetic perspective. Where does Jerusalem fit in Islamic theology and Muslim history? It is not the place to which they pray, is not once mentioned by name in prayers, and it is connected to no mundane events in Muhammad’s life. The city never served as capital of a sovereign Muslim state, and it never became a cultural or scholarly center.
One comparison makes this point most clearly:
- Jerusalem appears in the Jewish Bible 669 times and Zion (which usually means Jerusalem, sometimes the Land of Israel) 154 times, or 823 times in all.
- The Christian Bible mentions Jerusalem 154 times and Zion 7 times.
- In contrast, the columnist Moshe Kohn notes, Jerusalem and Zion appear as frequently in the Qur’an “as they do in the Hindu Bhagavad-Gita, the Taoist Tao-Te Ching, the Buddhist Dhamapada and the Zoroastrian Zend Avesta”—which is to say, not once.
The city being of such evidently minor religious importance, why does it now loom so large for Muslims, to the point that a Muslim Zionism seems to be in the making across the Muslim world? Why do Palestinian demonstrators take to the streets shouting “We will sacrifice our blood and souls for you, Jerusalem” and their brethren in Jordan yell “We sacrifice our blood and soul for Al-Aqsa”? Why does King Fahd of Saudi Arabia call on Muslim states to protect “the holy city [that] belongs to all Muslims across the world”? Why did two surveys of American Muslims find Jerusalem their most pressing foreign policy issue?
Because of prophecy.
A historical survey shows that the stature of the city, and the emotions surrounding it, inevitably rises for Muslims over Jerusalem that has prophetic significance. The Islamic connection to Jerusalem can be summarised in three categories: Power, Prophesy and Position
The relationship between prayers and success in the life of a Muslim is very closely linked together. The Islamic call to prayer (Adhan) is called out by a muezzin from the mosque five times a day, traditionally from the minaret, summoning Muslims for mandatory (fard) worship (salat) and closing with a call to “hasten to success, hasten to success. Success indicates answers to prayers and establishes confidence in the hearts of Muslims.
When ISIS established the Caliphate and conquered cities in Iraq and Syria, even those Muslims who disagreed with the theology of ISIS were encouraged by the success of their religion. Many joined ISIS because of this. Any indication of defeat is a shame upon the religion and should be opposed at all costs. It is a loss of power and a shame to every Muslim.
Among the Major Signs, the most anticipated and central sign that Muslims are awaiting, is the coming of a man known as, “The Mahdi.” In Arabic, al-Mahdi means, “The Guided One”. He is also sometimes referred to by Shi’a Muslims as the 12th Imam. The coming of the Mahdi is the central crowning element of all Islamic end-time prophesies.
The prophesy of the Mahdi’s return states that he will appear in Mecca for some time, and then go to Medina. Finally, Imam Mahdi will send troops to Jerusalem and together with (the prophet) Jesus will fight oppression and establish Islam as the only religion in the world.
Losing Jerusalem will in effect mean that the prophesy cannot be fulfilled and has to be opposed at all costs. This does not affect the current status of Jerusalem but to a large extent eternity.
Muslims still see Jerusalem as part of their property and will not relinquish this without a fight.
Muslims, approximately one-third of the population, will not give up their Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock on the Temple Mount. These holy sites are far too important to Islam to consider sharing the Temple Mount with the Jews who desire to have a temple there. They still control the Temple Mount even though the Jews control the city and the territory around the Muslim holy sites. Muslims and Jews have both said they cannot and will not share this important piece of real estate.
The current conflict in Israel once again confirms that we live in a volatile world, urgent times and a prophetic season where God is orchestrating events for His Kingdom purposes. Regardless of our eschatology and where we stand theologically relating to Israel and the end-times, we need to acknowledge that through our witness, through our prayers and through our communication we will either be ON God’s way or IN God’s way. Peacemakers cannot choose sides and as followers of the prince of Peace we need to pray for the peace of Jerusalem as instructed in Psalm 122:6 – not against any parties, not for any parties, but simply that the peace of Jerusalem will be the catalyst for peace in the Middle east, for all the people to acknowledge the sovereign God