Tue | Jan 16, 2018

Gordon Robinson | What's the big deal over Jerusalem?

Published:Sunday | December 31, 2017 | 12:00 AM
A Palestinian protester tries to throw a gas canister shot by Israeli soldiers during a demonstration in the West Bank city of Bethlehem, recently.

Yet again, faced with threats from Big Bully from the North, Jamaica chickened out, choosing obsequiousness over principle.

On Thursday, December 21, the United Nations took a firm stand against USA's aggressive, discriminatory, and unnecessary "recognition" of Jerusalem as Israel's capital. By this arrogant announcement, which flies in the face of a consistent policy pursued by Presidents Barack Obama, George W. Bush, and Bill Clinton, President Dunceton has unilaterally inflamed middle east tensions and severely set back the objective of peace in the middle east.

Why? What's so important about this Jerusalem thingy? Isn't Jerusalem currently located in Israel? What's the big deal? Ok, we need to start with a geography-history combo. Modern Israel is entirely captured land although Jews will say it's restored to its original "owners". Today's Israel sits on lands formerly the ancient kingdoms of Israel and Judah (give or take). Although Zionism (Jewish Movement calling for the re-establishment of a Jewish homeland in Palestine) began before the turn of the 20th century, it wasn't until 1948, after a British mandate (from the Ottomans) to rule Palestine post-World War I in order to create a Jewish National Home had been thwarted by Arab Nationalist resistance, when massive migration after World War II by dispossessed Jews ended in the declaration of Israeli Independence. Since then, Jews have been defending their newly acquired territory from Palestinians and allied Arab forces intent on expelling them.

 

HOSTILE CONFLICT

 

Previously, after a period of Christian control, Palestine became predominantly Muslim from about the 7th to the 11th centuries when the Crusades made it the focus of Christian-Muslim hostilities. However, from around the turn of the 14th century, it was mainly Muslim, with Arabic as the dominant language until the Ottomans and then the British took over circa early 20th century.

Before Christian control, Palestine was the home of Jews for over 1,000 years until about the 3rd century AD. Almost 2,000 years later, in 1948, Jews reclaimed and resettled Palestine and have been fighting to keep it ever since. The key point about the history of Jerusalem is that after so much variegated occupation, conquer, destruction, and rebuilding, it has become a Holy City for many different religions. During its colourful history, Jerusalem has been destroyed at least twice, besieged 23 times, attacked 52 times, and captured and recaptured 44 times. Three main religions now look to Jerusalem as a sacred city, namely Christianity, Islam, and Judaism.

FOUR QUARTERS

Geographically, Jerusalem is divided into four quarters: Christian, Muslim, Jewish, and Armenian. At their core is the Old City, characterised by a maze of narrow alleyways and historic architecture. It's surrounded by a fortress-like stone wall and is home to some of the holiest sites in the world. Christians have two quarters because the Armenians are also Christian. The Armenian quarter, the smallest of the four, is one of the oldest Armenian centres in the world.

Inside the Christian Quarter is the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, a major pilgrimage destination for millions of Christians worldwide. It's located on a site, which is central to the story of Jesus, his death, crucifixion, and resurrection. According to most Christian traditions, Jesus was crucified there, on Golgotha, or the hill of Calvary; his tomb is located inside the sepulchre; and this was also the site of his resurrection.

The Muslim Quarter is the largest of the four and contains the shrine of the Dome of Rock and the al-Aqsa Mosque on a plateau known to Muslims as Haram al-Sharif, or the Noble Sanctuary. The mosque is Islam's third holiest site. Muslims believe that the Prophet Muhammad travelled here from Mecca during his night journey and prayed with the souls of all the prophets. Nearby, inside the shrine of the Dome of the Rock, is contained the foundation stone, where Muslims believe Muhammad then ascended to heaven. Muslims visit the holy site all year round, but every Friday during the holy month of Ramadan, hundreds of thousands of Muslims come to pray at the mosque.

 

HOLY OF HOLIES SITE

 

The Jewish Quarter is home to the Kotel, or the Western Wall, a remnant of the retaining wall of the mount on which the Holy Temple once stood. Inside the temple was the Holy of Holies, Judaism's most sacred site. Jews believe that this was the location of the foundation stone from which the world was created and where Abraham prepared to sacrifice his son, Isaac. Many Jews believe, the Dome of the Rock is the site of the Holy of Holies.

Today, the Western Wall is the closest place Jews can pray to the Holy of Holies. Every year, millions of Jewish visitors from all over the world visit the Wall to pray and connect to their heritage.

One last piece of historical fact is that West Jerusalem was captured in the 1948 Arab-Israeli war and annexed to Israel, while East Jerusalem remained in Jordan until it was captured by Israel and annexed during the 1967 six-day war. It's doesn't take a rocket scientist to see why the status of Jerusalem, in the context of recent history, is such a pivotal issue in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and why it's vital to world peace that this issue be resolved by negotiation not edict from Washington.

In 1980, the Knesset passed a Jerusalem Law referring to Jerusalem as Israel's undivided capital. All branches of the Israeli government are located in Jerusalem, including the Knesset (Israel's parliament), the residences of the Prime Minister and President, and the Supreme Court. The international community rejected the East Jerusalem annexation as illegal and treats East Jerusalem as Palestinian territory occupied by Israel. However, Israel's claim to sovereignty over West Jerusalem is on sounder footing. Until President Dingbat's recent outburst, only the Czech Republic and Vanuatu recognised Jerusalem as Israel's capital, and since the 1980s no foreign embassies have been located in Jerusalem.

 

UN RESOLUTION

 

So, how does the leader of a nation foreign to Israel or Palestine, but that is considered by many as the world's most powerful, rise up one day and designate Jerusalem as Israel's capital? In his anxiety to pander to the US Jewish vote, Dimwit has forgotten that the city is as holy to Muslims and Christians as it is to Jews and that Palestinians have at least an arguable claim to the city's Eastern half. Then, in the face of a UN revolt, Dumbo has the temerity to intervene extraordinarily in the business of that august body by threatening developing nations that vote for the UN Resolution in a most crass and vulgar way with the withholding of aid funds.

The Security Council's resolution simply demanded that all countries comply with pre-existing UN Security Council resolutions on Jerusalem, dating back to 1967, including requirements that the city's final status be decided in direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.

In that context, Jamaica had a simple choice. Support the resolution, which accords with settled international law and common sense, or support, out of fear, a most irresponsible undiplomatic and irrational attack on peace in the middle-east by President Dungbrain. In the end, Jamaica lapped its tail and abstained. But abstention is abdication of responsibility. Abstention stands for nothing so will fall for anything. Abstention is a cowardly response to Big Bully from the North's threatening bluster. Why have we become so weak in the knees? Don't we know that bullies are thinly disguised cowards who, when you stand up to them, shrivel up and disappear?

Local Tribalists abusing critics of Jamaica's cowardice because those critics might abstain from local elections are either obtuse or disingenuous. This isn't a JLP/PNP issue. This is an issue of Jamaica's foreign policy and ALL of our standing in the international community whether we support JLP, PNP, or neither.

Suddenly, from leading the world on the crucial issue of Apartheid despite USA and UK's reluctance to condemn, Jamaica finds itself, a mere forty years on, skulking in the shadows as Barbados, Belize, Cuba, Dominica, Guyana, Grenada, and St Vincent and the Grenadines boldly set a principled pace. Shame on us! Shame on Caricom/Latin American neighbours Antigua, Trinidad and Tobago, Bahamas, Colombia, Dominican Republic, Haiti, Mexico, and Panama who also weaseled out. Shame on Honduras and Guatemala who voted no!

But, is it mere cowardice? The JLP has always been aligned with USA's Republican Party to the extent that all my Labourite friends expressed extreme disappointment at Barack Obama's election as president and had nothing positive to say of his presidency throughout his eight years in office. They applauded Trump's election. So, question: Is this merely putrid pusillanimity? Or is it partisan politics? One thing it's definitely NOT, and that's plain principle!

In 2018, let's commit to putting principle before politics every time. Happy New Year to one and all!

Peace and Love.

- Gordon Robinson is an attorney-at-law. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.