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Post Trump's Recognition of Jerusalem was Not Right Thing to Do
Created by John Eipper on 12/26/17 6:18 AM

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Trump's Recognition of Jerusalem was Not Right Thing to Do (Edward Jajko, USA, 12/26/17 6:18 am)

With regret, I must disagree with my friend Istvan Simon's posting (24 December) about President Trump's recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. I don't agree that Trump's decision was the right move. I also disagree with Istvan's justifications for Trump's decision.

I appreciate Brian Blodgett's statement (25 December) on the legislative background of the US recognition of Jerusalem as capital of the State of Israel. This wouldn't be the first and only time that the US Congress has enacted wrong-headed legislation.

While I believe that the Arab-Israeli dispute and more specifically the status of the ever-diminishing Palestinian territories and the question of Jerusalem as the Palestinian national capital, are matters that the Arab and Muslim nations have used for decades to distract attention from their own internal and external problems, those matters remain a festering sore. Trump's announcement just adds fuel to the fire, to mix metaphors. Or pours salt on the wound. It satisfies Evangelicals but will not bring peace in the Near East.

It is in Jerusalem that the United States has had a consular presence since at least the 19th century. One consul during that period was a man of scholarly bent, Selah Merrill, who put together a collection of as many editions as he could find of edited texts and translations of the writings of Flavius Josephus. Yale University acquired that material, which as the Selah Merrill Josephus Collection forms part of the Yale Judaica Collection. The US consulate is located just to the north of the Old City, in East Jerusalem.

Istvan says that Jerusalem was founded by Jews 5,000 years ago and that Jews have continuously resided in Jerusalem for 5,000 years. He also says that not a single Muslim existed when Jerusalem was founded. The latter statement is manifestly true, since there were no Muslims until about 610 AD.

But there were no Jews 5,000 years ago. (The old canard that the Jews or Jewish slaves built the pyramids of Egypt is precisely that.) I tend to date Abraham the Patriarch earlier than do standard histories of the Jews, but however early one dates him (for me, 2400-2200 BCE, while the standard histories put him around 1800 BCE or even more recently), it doesn't matter. Abraham was, if anything, a Sumerian or Akkadian; an Aramaean, maybe. At best he can be described as a Hebrew, not a Jew. Descendants of his grandson were Israelites, or more literally Sons of Israel. It was only in later generations that these people became Yehudim, Judeans or Judah-ites.

Now, one might generously say that Abraham as progenitor of the Jews was a Jew. One might very generously round up the historical dating to 3000 BCE and, again, very generously, say that Jews have existed for 5000 years.

But this still does not make the Jews the founders of Jerusalem. That city was founded by the Canaanites. It was already in existence, in one form or other, when Abraham (or Abram) passed by. It became an Israelite possession only by conquest sometime late in the second century BCE.

Even the name of the city is not Hebrew, but rather probably from some form of early Canaanite. This is not a conclusive argument, of course. In California, I live in a city with a name, Cupertino, that is the Spanish form of an Italian original that probably derives from Latin. I was born in Pennsylvania in a city with a Greek name, Philadelphia, chosen by founder William Penn for its meaning but possibly familiar to him as a later name of the capital of the Ammonites, now the Jordanian capital Amman.

The continuous possession of Jerusalem by the Jews is doubtful, but I do not have precise information other than to say that after the Roman wars that quashed the Jewish revolts, Jerusalem became the Roman city Aelia Capitolina, with Jewish residence either forbidden or severely curbed.

Istvan refers to an Ottoman census from the 19th century. I'm assuming that he is aware that the Ottomans were among history's greatest record-keepers. There are imperial, regional, and local salnamelar--literally, yearbooks--that include statistical and other information. In addition, various archives of Istanbul are treasure houses of documents. Regrettably, all this is in Ottoman Turkish, a language that was put to death by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk and is a highly specialized field of study.

Regardless, I think Istvan's conclusions drawn from his reference to the census, that Jerusalem has been of little interest to Muslims, are incorrect. We have, for one thing, the instance of the wars against and final victory over the Crusaders. That ultimate victory restored Muslim control over the city that holds the site of the prophet's nighttime ascension to the seventh heaven, a site also related to Abraham. Muslims have from the earliest days of Islam been aware that Jerusalem was the first Qiblah, the earthly location toward which all the daily prayers were to be directed. The walls that surround the Old City today are further testimony to Muslim interest in and concern for the city. They were built on order of the ruler who had sovereignty over the Holy Land, Suleiman the Magnificent.

Further, Arabic, Turkish, and even European maps of the known world from the early Middle Ages on all place Jerusalem at the center of the earth. One might think that Muslim mapmakers might center the world on Mecca, but this is not so. It is Jerusalem that is at the center. I can also assure Istvan that a fairly copious reading of Muslim Arabic religious and historical sources in my student years showed not only interest in but high regard for and veneration of Jerusalem. This is reflected in the Arabic name for the city. There is an Arabic equivalent of the Hebrew "Yerushalayim," "Urshalim." But the forms generally used, rather than this linguistic equivalent, are "Bayt al-Maqdis" or the shorter "al-Quds." The former means "House of the Holy [One]" and the latter means "The Sacred."

Signs of disinterest?

JE comments:  Thank you for filling in these important historical gaps, Ed.  One other thing that bothers me:  Trump's recognition of Jerusalem may provide further justification for violent acts against the US.

We're back in frigid Michigan after facing a dead battery on Christmas and a long drive from Toronto.  Thank you for your patience during the occasional WAIS outages of the last twelve days.


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  • My Visits to Jerusalem (Richard Hancock, USA 12/27/17 7:57 AM)
    I have visited Jerusalem twice, once in 1997 on a tour led by our priest at St. Michael's Episcopal Church in Norman, Oklahoma. Nancy and I then conducted a second trip in 1999 for painters.

    I don't claim to be an expert on Israel, but I do wish to share some of my impressions gained during these two expeditions. Our guide for the first trip was a Jewish woman born in France. The second was an Arab Christian born in Israel. They were both competent, but I felt that the Arab guide gave us a more balanced view of Israel. The Jewish guide kept us on the normal tourist routes, while the Arab guide was willing to take us to places totally inhabited by Arabs.



    The impression that I have of these two trips is that it is a shame that Israel, one of the most advanced of the world's nations, exists side by side with very impoverished Arabs. When we arrived at the Tel Aviv airport we noted numerous Thais who had just arrived. We were told that they were to be employed in various activities in Israel. We thought that it was a great shame that these jobs could not be filled by the numerous poor Arabs that we had observed. However, I must admit that, as an employer, I would be hesitant to employ workers who might kill me. My solution for this would be that, hopefully, the Arabs and Israelis would find a way that these two groups could find a way to work together and all be citizens of the same country, with Jerusalem being the capital because of its importance to both Jews and Muslims.



    The world has a history of bitter enemies who have resolved their differences. The first step would be for the Palestinians to recognize that Israel is a valid country in which Jews and Muslims could live together in peace. Jews would need to recognize Palestinians as equals. Both sides would profit from these simple steps. If the UN had an effective army to enforce such a peaceful end, this would be a process that would likely succeed. This would be a difficult task but I think that it is worth a try.


    JE comments:  Mutual recognition, respect, equality.  These are tall orders, but is there any other way?  The only question then is a one-state or two-state resolution for Palestine/Israel.


    The Middle East remains one of the great unchecked boxes on my Bucket List.  Must do something about that, but we still have dirty clothes left over from Cuba.


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