The Modern History of Islamic Jerusalem: Academic Myths and Propaganda
By Ghada Hashem Talhami
No city can match the rich history and universalist values of
Jerusalem. Much of this universalism must be attributed to Muslim rule, a period
of over thirteen centuries in which the city never lost its reputation for
tolerance and religious co-existence. The city's unique religious pedigree
elevated its status beyond the limitations of economic and strategic
considerations. Indeed, one cannot contemplate Jerusalem's future without
dwelling on its uniquely monotheistic legacy. For, whereas other centers of
habitation claimed a divine connection, none can rival the complex and
overlapping rights of as many religious communities as Jerusalem. Destined to
experience the fragility of political security and power, Jerusalem has never
succeeded in excluding diverse religious communities from its space. The stamp
of religious universalism is indelibly marked on its history.
Jerusalem was also a place of human habitation, not a city of angels. Those who worshiped at its temples constantly struggled to define their rights through political power. Religion and politics were always two sides of the Jerusalem coin, testing the patience of rulers and clerics. Not surprisingly, the temptation to endow the city with the trappings of political power as the administrative center of this empire or that kingdom often influenced the religious sentiment of the faithful. This is particularly true in the age of modern nationalism, in which the lethal mix of religion and power politics threatens the harmony of the various communities. Additionally, archaeological and political polemics nowadays threaten Jerusalem's universalist heritage. Israeli claims for exclusive control over Jerusalem have benefited greatly from the debates of the archaeologists and historians. The cost has been greater to the city's religious communities, which are threatened with the loss of their traditional autonomy and even permanent exile from the city.
Students of history can only watch with amazement as Israel tries to wrest control of the Old City and make it an exclusively Jewish enclave. Whether or not this grand strategy succeeds will depend not only on the Palestinian population itself but also on those who uphold international law. The Israeli transformation of Jerusalem will also ultimately depend on the willingness of historians to resist the reconstruction of Jerusalem's Islamic past. Two of the major Israeli themes in this reconstructionist approach are the denial of the sanctity of Jerusalem to Muslims and the belittling of the status of Jerusalem, both temporal and spiritual, during the centuries of Islamic control. It is essential, therefore, that attempts by zealot Jewish groups to capture Jerusalem's holy sites be analyzed in the context of the latest eschatological transformation of their religio-political views. The Israeli government's efforts to convert Jerusalem into its eternal capital must also be analyzed in the context of the communal diversity of the city and the multiplicity of rights and religious domains.
Today Muslims, Christians and Jews hold irreconcilable positions on Jerusalem. The fact that direct Christian control of the city ended with the Crusades should not diminish scholarly interest in the Christian legacy of Jerusalem, nor in the potentially enormous influence wielded by some Christian powers over the fate of the city. The Christian picture is further complicated by the political allegiance of Palestinian Christians, and its divergence from the emotional and religious loyalties of Western Christians. But for the Muslims, the sanctity of Jerusalem derives from the Islamic definition of holiness, which prohibits the transfer of religious properties to non-believers.
Jerusalem became irrefutably holy to Muslims as the place from which it is believed Muhammad rose to heaven and received instructions regarding the Muslim prayers. Physical space associated with a divine revelation becomes a religious trust and the occupants its guardians. Muslims today regard Jerusalem as a waqf (a religious foundation), which cannot change ownership. And since Palestine is the final repose of Muslim clerics, learned sheikhs and those who devoted their lives to the service of the faith, then all of Palestine is a religious trust.1
The story of Muslim regard for Jerusalem begins with the Prophet Muhammad's nocturnal journey, as it is referred to in the Quran, and ascension to heaven. This event was of monumental significance to the development of the Muslim faith. Following news of the journey, Muslims were ordered to face Jerusalem during the act of prayer. Designating Jerusalem as the qiblah signified Muhammad's resolve to create a non-tribal religion based on the universalist concept of monotheism. For Muhammad, Jerusalem symbolized the continuity of the older religions. The sacred rock from which Muhammad rose to heaven was of particular significance to Islam since it was the spot at which Abraham offered to sacrifice his son Isaac to God. For Muslims, Abraham was not a Jewish prophet; he was the father of the monotheistic idea, the cornerstone of the Muslim faith, which based its theological revolution on the oneness of God. In the Quran, Abraham was presented as neither a Jew nor a Christian, but as the precursor of the one true religion. More important, Muhammad did not designate Makkah as the qiblah at first, because it was the center of the pagan religions of Arab tribes and was dominated by stone idols. Until its liberation from pagan rule and the purification of its temple in 630, Makkah was clearly unsuitable as the direction of prayers. To pray facing Makkah meant to pray to pagan idols.2
Most Israeli and Orientalist writers, however, minimize the Islamic centrality of Jerusalem to Muslims. A major theme in their argument is the brevity of the Quran's reference to Jerusalem and Muhammad's nocturnal journey. In a 1996 study, the Israeli writer Izhak Hasson claims that there was no direct reference to Jerusalem in the Quran by any of its known names (Aelia, Beit al-Maqdes, al-Quds, etc.). He did state that when the tafseer or exegesis of the Quran began, a century after the emergence of Islam, Arab scholars deduced that such names as al-zaytoun (Mount of Olives), mubawwa sidq (safe residence), rabwa that qarar (the eternal hill), and al-masjid al-aqsa (the furthest mosque), were explicitly identified with Jerusalem. It is unclear, however, why these identifications should surprise him, especially the latter reference, which occurs in the opening line of the chapter describing Muhammad's journey. The fact that the earliest Muslim scholars considered al-masjid al-aqsa to be Jerusalem "from time immemorial" did not impress him. He even makes the unsubstantiated claim that early Muslim authorities interpreted al-masjid al-aqsa to be similar to the Judaic concept of a heavenly Jerusalem or a heavenly temple. Hasson then mentions that later Quranic exegesis and various biographies of Muhammad rejected this interpretation. The fact that the heavenly-Jerusalem concept was only enshrined in Shii literature in order to make the ascription of holiness to Kufa more palatable should have persuaded Hasson against this theory.
Hasson then cites the work of S. D. Goitein in the Encyclopedia of Islam, in which the historian of the Geniza Records commented on the connection between the early verses of the Nocturnal Journey chapter and references to al-masjid al-aqsa in the seventh verse. According to Goitein, this linkage can only be explained by the manner in which the Quran itself was collected and recorded. It was during the period of the third caliph, Uthman ibn Affan (644-656), that the Quran, hitherto committed to memory by Muhammad's companions, was finally written down. Referring to this process as "editing," Goitein claimed that it was only then that the two aforementioned verses were placed within the same chapter or surah. Collecting the Quran, claims Hasson, involved placing Quranic verses in a special order and fixing titles to various untitled chapters. He further makes the claim that identifying Jerusalem as the site of the Nocturnal Journey was not mentioned in the early decades of Islam, even when the glorification of Jerusalem was a primary objective of the Umayyad dynasty. Hasson does not explain the apparent contradiction between this assertion and the Umayyad's success in establishing the sanctity of Jerusalem in the minds of the believers.3
It is clear from analyzing Muhammad's reasons for choosing Jerusalem as the site of his visit and ascension to heaven that he viewed the city in broader terms than a Jewish holy place. Indeed, modern Muslim scholars, who are angered by exclusive Jewish claims to Jerusalem, often remind us that the city was not built by David. The city boasts a long pre-Israelite history and the dominance and habitation of other non-Hebraic populations. Palestinian historian K. J. Asali, for instance, wrote that King David and his soldiers took over the city by entering it through a tunnel. According to the Old Testament, Jerusalem at the time of King David's takeover in 1,000 BCE was a populated city that had existed for 2,000 years. It had been inhabited at one time or another by Canaanites, Amorites, Jebusites and Hittites. The oldest known name of Jerusalem was actually Urusalem, which was of Amorite derivation based on the Canaanite-Amoritic god Salem or Shalem. The rest of that name, uru, meant "founded by." The well-known American Biblical archeologist, W. F. Albright, had already identified the names of the two earliest Jerusalem rulers as the Amorites Saz Anu and Yaqir Ammo. Asali also reminds us that the Bible states the origins of the Amorites as Canaanite; they may in fact have been the earliest people of the land of Canaan. In the year 2,000 BCE, these people were succeeded by the Jebusites, who were also identified as Canaanites.4
Muslims proceeded to build shrines to various religions, not only to Islam, as soon as they entrenched themselves around Jerusalem's sacred-rock area. By the ninth century CE, the Haram al-Sharif, where the Dome of the Rock and the Aqsa Mosque stood, was also dedicated to non-Islamic religions. Shrines were built to honor David, Solomon and Jesus. In addition, since Jews did not regard the Western Wall of the Temple with veneration until the sixteenth century, the Wall was dedicated as a Muslim shrine commemorating the area where Muhammad tethered his winged horse, al-Buraq, on the night of his celestial journey. Historians assume that a small Jewish synagogue probably stood near the wall during the Umayyad and Abbasid periods, but until the beginning of the Ottoman period, Jews worshiped mainly at the Mount of Olives. It was there that the prophet Ezekiel is believed to have witnessed the flight of the "divine presence" from Jerusalem and its disappearance behind that mountain. This occasion climaxed the destruction of the Temple in 586 BCE at the hands of Nebuchadnezzar, the Babylonian king. Major Jewish religious festivals were celebrated at the Mount of Olives, where the worshipers prayed for the return of "the holy presence." And although some European Jewish travelers who visited the city in the fifteenth century noted the impressive size of the stones of the wall, the structure did not inspire any religious feeling.5
Muslims, therefore, not only commemorated the pluralist religious traditions of Jerusalem, but at first they attempted to replicate the same modest places of worship they had erected at Madinah. But as the Muslims' building program to immortalize the Nocturnal Journey commenced, non-Muslim historians colored these events with their own political propaganda. Much controversy has surrounded both the initial modest Muslim efforts to mark the holy event and the later resplendent structures built under the Umayyads. Bishop Arculf, a Gallic cleric who visited Jerusalem in 670, during the early Umayyad period, was among the first Christian pilgrims to record his impressions of the city under Muslim rule. He wrote: "The Saracens now frequent a four-sided house of prayer, which they have built rudely, constructing it by raising boards and great beams upon some remains of ruins.6
The simplicity and modest proportions of this structure were later interpreted as evidence of the low esteem in which Muslims held Jerusalem. Since Jerusalem was the third direction for prayer, the first two being Makkah and Madinah, it was not considered a major center, according to Caliph Umar's first building in the Holy City. But Muslim authorities describe Muhammad's first mosque at Madinah as also extremely modest, constructed essentially of wood, with one stone to mark the direction of the qiblah. It was a model for the early mosques, expressing rejection of the splendor and opulence of the pagan Kaaba's structure at Makkah and Islam's self-image as the religion of austerity and simplicity.7 The earliest Muslim traditions added another explanation: Muhammad himself demanded that the Madinah mosque be kept simple since the Day of Judgment was at hand, heralded by the new faith.8
When Abd al-Malik ibn Marwan, the Umayyad caliph, constructed the magnificent structure known as the Dome of the Rock (begun in 688 and completed in 691), Jerusalem's status rose in Muslim eyes. Some Western and Israeli writers have interpreted this newly established grandeur in purely political terms. Since the Jerusalem construction program of the Umayyads began at the height of their war with Makkah's ruler, Abd Allah ibn al-Zubayr, who rebelled against the Umayyad caliph Yazid, in 683, it was assumed to be politically inspired. The rebellion lasted until 692, and it was during this period that the Umayyads catapulted Jerusalem to the status of a major Muslim religious center.
A close examination of Abd al-Malik's efforts, however, reveals an entirely different story. Abd al-Malik was clearly conscious of the Christian splendor of Jerusalem, expressed in several domed structures, and wanted to commission a monument equally expressive of the Muslim heavenly vision. Moreover, the inscriptions on the Dome of the Rock were not directed at the rebellious Makkans but at Jerusalem's Christians. The Dome was meant to be a structure affirming the monotheism of Islam and its relationship to the other Abrahamic faiths. What could be more appropriate than inscriptions saying that God regarded Jesus as his prophet and that the center of the faith was not the doctrine of the Trinity but the oneness of God?9
Muslim rulers, beginning with Caliph Muawiyah, the founder of the Umayyad dynasty, have always recognized the city's sanctity to Christians. Muawiyah and his successors also viewed the Muslim presence in the city as a confirmation of Islam's universal message. He not only received the oath of allegiance in Jerusalem, he also prayed at Golgotha and the Garden of Gesthemane, as well as other Christian holy sites. But to claim, as the Orientalist scholar I. Goldziher did, that Abd al-Malik commissioned the building of a magnificent shrine in Jerusalem in order to direct the pilgrimage away from Makkah, is tantamount to calling the Umayyad caliph a non-believer, since performing the pilgrimage to Makkah is one of the five pillars of Islam.10
Politically motivated writers have never accepted the Muslim reverence for Jerusalem in the context of the Muslim faith. Reports by the Shiite historian Yaqubi (ninth century) and the pro-Shiite geographer Al-Muhallabi (eleventh century) that the pilgrimage to Makkah was stopped altogether under Abd al-Malik's son, Al-Walid, were clearly in the nature of political propaganda. They both claimed that the Umayyads did not wish to enhance the Makkahn rebels' call for venerating the House of the Prophet. This drastic step was later reported by the Christian historian Eutychius (940) and made its way into the works of modern historians such as Goldziher and K.A.C. Creswell, despite the contrary testimony of Muslim historians of that period.11
Israeli writers, however, emphasize in particular the determination of the city's early Muslim rulers not to convert Jerusalem into a seat of government. They also emphasize that Jews were initially excluded from Jerusalem under the terms of Umar's covenant with Bishop Sophronius. The text of the covenant -- which, according to some modern Muslim authorities, is still housed at the Wadi al-Qilt monastry in Palestine -- granted special privileges and dispensations to the city in recognition of its holiness to Christians. According to the same Muslim historians who rely on al-Tabari's account, the covenant forbade Jews to live with Christians in the city because of the conditions of the peace imposed by the Christians of Jerusalem.12
The modern Iraqi historian Abdul Aziz al-Duri provides a careful provenance of Umar's covenant that refutes these claims. Duri asserts that details pertaining to prohibiting a certain population from living in a conquered city were unusual and never appear in the texts of similar sulh (covenant) in the Syrian region. Reference to Jews in the covenant was apparently absent from most Arab sources. It is believed today that this information first appeared in Michael the Syrian's Chronique. Another historian, Al-Himyari, attributed this condition to a specific demand by the Christians of Jerusalem. The author of a well-known work extolling the virtues of Jerusalem, Ibn al-Jawzi, does not even make reference to the Jews in regard to Umar's covenant in his Fadhail al-Quds.13 Indeed, the Geniza records indicate that 70 Jewish families from Tiberias relocated to Jerusalem with Umar's approval. It was also during this early Muslim period that Jerusalem was divided into different quarters for each religious community.14
When Israeli writers allude to the political status of Jerusalem under Muslim rule, there is never an adequate explanation. Moshe Gil has written that the Byzantine administrative structure of the new conquest was retained, with the coastal Palestinian area, along with Judaea and Samaria, constituting one division and the Jordan Valley and the Galilee region another. The two parts were called Jund (military unit) Filastin and Jund al-Urdun. Jerusalem, being within Jund Filastin, was not made a capital. Neither did the Muslims maintain their seat of government in Ceasaria, the former provincial capital of the Byzantines. Instead, the Muslims first based their administration in Lod (Lyddah), then transferred it to the city of Ramla, newly built by the Caliph Suleiman ibn Abd al-Malik. The Muslim judge of Jerusalem was also subordinated to the Ramla judge.15
But it is clear that the Muslims had two major reasons for basing their administration at Ramla. First, it should be remembered that Jerusalem remained a predominantly Christian city throughout the period. According to the testimony of Bishop Arculf, which dates to Muawiyah's rule, pilgrims and visitors of various nationalities continued to flood the city and attend its annual fair. The other reason was that military troops were normally based in administrative centers. Troops would have made excessive demands on the local population. But Jerusalem did receive a great deal of attention from its Muslim rulers, who assigned it a separate governor and judge. These governors were usually Umayyad princes, such as Abd al-Malik and Suleiman ibn Abd al-Malik. The first judge to be appointed for the city by Umar was Ubada ibn al-Samit, one of the Prophet's companions. Several other companions visited Jerusalem and were buried there. Also, Abu Ubayda ibn al-Jarrah, the head of the Muslim troops, was on his way to pray at Jerusalem when he died.16
The sanctity of Jerusalem was recognized by Muslims in several other ways. As a city dominated by various houses of worship and inhabited by religious figures, Jerusalem needed a steady source of income. Muslim rule witnessed the development of the oldest charitable endowments and trusts in the region. The third Muslim caliph, Uthman -- who succeeded Umar -- began this tradition by acquiring the Silwan spring as a waqf (religious endowment) for people of the city.17 Perhaps the richest endowment dedicated to the needs of Muslim Jerusalem and its poor was the Khasseki Waqf. This bequest benefited a large tekiyya (charitable establishment) that included a mosque, an inn, a religious school, a soup kitchen and a hospice. Khasseki Sultan established a vast and far-flung pious foundation to support these services, numbering many villages and farms located in Syria and Palestine.
The founder of this endowment was Roxelana (otherwise known as Khasseki Sultan or Khurrem Sultan) the wife of the Ottoman sultan, Suleiman the Magnificent, who built the present walls of Jerusalem. When she died, the sultan added four villages and farms near Sidon to the waqf. Both the Ayyubid and Mamluk dynasties preceded the Ottomans in establishing this particular brand of philanthropy in Jerusalem. The Ayyubid period, beginning with Saladin, witnessed a steady effort to re-Islamize the city following the violence of the Crusader period. Many awqaf were created in order to support the newly opened religious schools, the Sufi centers, the hospitals and the mosques. These institutions restored the city's Islamic culture and were later maintained and increased during the Ottoman centuries.18
The holiness of Jerusalem was related to the rise and expansion of a certain type of literary genre, known as al-Fadhail or history of cities. The Fadhail of Jerusalem preserved the traditions of the Prophet regarding Jerusalem, the statements of various holy personages, and the city's popular lore. All of these inspired Muslims to embellish the sanctity of the city beyond its status in the holy texts. The greatest source of information for al-Fadhail was the hadith, the Prophet's traditions, which were beginning to be quoted extensively in the last third of the first Muslim century (the seventh century of the Christian era). The traditions were used to enumerate the values of visiting the city and al-Aqsa Mosque. Circulating widely during the Umayyad period, these traditions were often a reflection of the Umayyad policy of enhancing the religious status of Jerusalem. The exegetic literature (tafsir) of the Quran, as well as the tales repeated by popular preachers, also emphasized the religious merit of Jerusalem. Some of these tales were drawn from a body of literature known as Israiliyyat, or the statements of newly converted Jews. Among the most famous authors of the Israiliyyat were Abu Kaab al-Ahbar (rumored to have accompanied Umar on his first visit to the Temple area) and Abu Rihana (said to be related to the Prophet by marriage). These two often delivered sermons at al-Aqsa Mosque elaborating on the merits of Jerusalem.
The literature of al-Fadhail reached its zenith during the eleventh century (the fifth century of the Hijira). Histories and descriptions of cities were first written during the ninth and tenth centuries and focused initially on prominent centers of administration such as Damascus, Madinah, Baghdad and Wasit. Soon the literature extended to Jerusalem, drawing on a history of the city since Muslim rule written by Ishak ibn Bishr. Another source circulating during the same period was al-Ramli's biographies of the Prophet's companions who had moved to Palestine. The descriptions of Jerusalem, known as Fadhail Bait al-Maqdis, developed specifically during the eleventh century. These include the earliest examples of this genre: Wasiti's Fadhail al-Bait al-Muqqadas and al-Maqdisi's Fadhail al-Quds wa al-Sham (The Merits of Jerusalem and Damascus).19
Al-Maqdisi, for instance, devotes a great deal of space in his book to the merits of the Aqsa Mosque and the holiness of Jerusalem and its saints. The author also explains the religious advantages of visiting the city. It is in this regard that al-Maqdisi and others after him began to make the claim that Jerusalem is the site of the resurrection, and that all the pious of the earth will gather there on Judgment Day. The rock from which Muhammad rose to heaven will serve as a refuge for those seeking to escape the anti-Christ, or al-Dajjal. Virtuous Muslims will then witness the appearance of al-Mahdi (the Messiah) and the beginning of the golden age. Al-Maqdisi, a Jerusalemite himself, makes the claim that Jerusalem combines the merits of this life and the hereafter and is definitely superior to Makkah and Madinah, which will be brought to Jerusalem on the Day of Judgment.20
The popular mind absorbed these ideas readily, and prominent government officials began to ask to be buried in Bait al-Maqdis. Muslims began to perform some of the rituals of the pilgrimage at Jerusalem, such as circling the sacred sanctuary (the Haram) and offering animal sacrifices on its grounds. Some commentators who witnessed the quasi-pilgrimage of Jerusalem reported that large throngs chanted the refrain Lubayka allahumma lubayk, usually chanted at Jabal Arafat in Makkah.21
The controversy surrounding al-fadhail literature extends beyond the authenticity of its prophetic traditions. According to Emmanual Sivan, an Israeli writer, the date of Jerusalem's al-Fadhail indicates that Muslims had very little veneration for the city during the early Muslim period.22 In his view, the merits of Jerusalem were only recognized beginning in the second Muslim century, the date of the earliest Fadhail Bait al-Maqdis. Muslims respond to this argument by saying that, had this been the case, Makkah's sanctity is also in doubt since Fadhail Makkah did not appear in print until the same period.23 Sivan's comments were directed specifically at al-Maqdisi's Fadhail Bait al-Maqdis wa al-Khalil wa Fadhail al-Sham, which was written during the eleventh century, and at the earliest of this genre, al-Wasiti's Fadhail al-Bait al-Muqqadas.
Sivan advances the claim that both were written after the persecutions directed at Christians and Jews by the Fatimid caliph, al-Hakim. It should be noted, however, that both al-Wasiti and al-Maqdisi mention in their books an earlier work by another Palestinian writer, al-Ramli, who wrote Fadhail Bait al-Maqdis. Al-Ramli, who was born in al-Ramla, was also mentioned in some fifteenth-century biographical dictionaries, the date of his death given as 912 CE. Thus, al-Fadhail of Jerusalem literature must now be dated two centuries earlier than has been the case. Apparently the literature of al-Fadhail was well developed and well known before the Crusader occupation of Jerusalem and could not have developed as a result of the Crusader assault on the Holy Land.24
Despite the confirmation of the eminence of Jerusalem under the Umayyads, the city remained open to Christians and Jews. This tradition of accommodation and tolerance continued under the Abbasids, even though the distance between Baghdad, the seat of the new empire, and Jerusalem limited the caliph's visits to the third qiblah. However, the additions the Abbasids made to Jerusalem's Islamic monuments were also notable, particularly after major earthquakes. Caliph al-Mahdi ordered the reconstruction of al-Aqsa Mosque, and al-Maamun commissioned the building of two gates to the east and north of the Haram area. The mother of Caliph al-Muqtadir undertook the major repair of the cupola of the Dome of the Rock.25 And yet, Moshe Gil and others continue to repeat that Jerusalem and Palestine did not receive much attention from the Abbasids.26
The expansion of Christian influence in Jerusalem under the Abbasids was not, it is now believed, the result of the exchange of embassies between Harun al-Rashid and Charlemagne. Instead, it should be apparent that Charlemagne's desire to enhance his Christian credentials as the head of the Latin Church in the year of his coronation as holy roman emperor drove him to seek relations with Jerusalem's rulers. This explains the construction of a hostel for Christian pilgrims and a library, as well as a number of monasteries.27
Some years after the mysterious death of al-Hakim, the Fatimids exhibited unusual tolerance towards the people of the book. Jewish historical records indicate that a Karaite Jew (the Karaites migrated from Khurasan in the ninth century) by the name of Abu Saad Isaac ben Aharon ben Ali became the governor of Jerusalem under Fatimid rule in 1060. A Christian governor by the name of Ibn Muammar succeeded him in that position.28 According to Islamic documents of the Haram, members of Jerusalem's small Jewish community enjoyed full commercial rights, such as the ownership of property and the freedom to transact business under both the Ayyubids and the Mamluks.29
We then learn that during the early Ottoman period, the Jewish community of Jerusalem often opted to seek justice in the Sharia courts even though their dhimmi status allowed them a great measure of legal autonomy. They often filed complaints against coreligionists at the Muslim courts. Jews and Christians were able to purchase houses in the midst of the Muslim area. Jews, Christians and Muslims were freely represented in the city's trade guilds.30 Jews were never subjected to Muslim proselytizing, but would sometimes convert to Islam voluntarily. Jewish oath-taking in the Sharia courts was usually accepted. The dayyan (rabbi) of a Jewish congregation often referred disputes between fellow Jews to the Muslim courts. An understanding existed between the Jewish and Muslim religious authorities, and each bolstered the authority of the other.31
The decline of the Ottomans, beginning in the eighteenth century, resulted in the rising power of European consuls throughout the empire, particularly in Jerusalem. Jewish minorities and some of the Christian communities became dependent on the power and protection of the consuls. This aroused the animosity of the Muslims, who lost their position as the community of dominance and influence. Increased Jewish immigration to Palestine also became noticeable. Jews began to settle increasingly outside of Jerusalem's walls. This development began to manifest itself after the Egyptian takeover of Syria during the second quarter of the nineteenth century, when Ibrahim Pasha, the Egyptian governor, began to overturn Ottoman restrictions on land sales and other transactions. Sir Moses Montefiore, the British Jewish philanthropist, financed the building of the first Jewish settlement outside Jerusalem's walls in 1860.
European Zionists, however, did not hold Jerusalem in high regard. Much of the Zionist settlement was concentrated in the coastal area and in the kibbutzim outside of the cities. It is also known that Theodore Herzl, the founder of the Zionist movement, did not wish to make Jerusalem the center of his plan. After visiting the city, Herzl described it in disparaging remarks, alluding to its lack of cleanliness and meager tolerant spirit. Jerusalem was saturated, in his words, with a 2000-year legacy of unpleasant history. Indeed, Herzl suggested that the capital of the Jewish state be built on Mount Carmel in Haifa. Chaim Weizeman, Israel's first president and the architect of the Balfour Declaration, was not anxious to include the old walled city of Jerusalem within the first partition plan offered by the British government. The early Zionists, who were mostly socialists, gloried in acquiring and redeeming the land and did not see fit to concentrate their land purchasing around Jerusalem. The Old City was a place of settlement for a trickle of religious Jews. Safad was settled by followers of a Jewish mystical movement, and Tiberias was always an important religious center.32
Thus, while the Ashkenazi (European) Jews championed the Zionist ideology and looked to settling the land of Palestine, the Sephardic (Eastern) Jews settled in the Old City of Jerusalem. The latter group firmly believed in the imminent appearance of the Messiah. Descended from the house of David, the Messiah was believed capable of returning Jerusalem to the Jews, uniting Jewish exiles in the land of Israel, and also restoring the Temple. Although scandalized by the secularism of the European Zionists, the religious Jews soon realized that their spiritual aspirations could best be served by the nationalist policies of the Zionists. It did not take long before the religious Jews understood that building a Jewish homeland in Palestine also led to the fulfillment of Jewish prophecy. The secularists, for their part, were unable to separate nationalism from Judaism. Religious acquiescence in the Zionist plan led eventually to the founding of the Mizrahi party in 1902, which later became the National Religious party. When all of Palestine fell to the Israelis following the June 1967 war, the haredim, or religious Jews, began to feel that their spiritual vision of restoring a divine people to their original land was finally being realized.33
In 1947, a year before the declaration of the Israeli state, Jewish policy on Jerusalem was much more cautious than today. The Jewish Agency for Palestine, the quasi-government of the Yishuv (Jewish settlement), voted to accept the U.N. resolution calling for the creation of a corpus separatum in Palestine. Jerusalem and Bethlehem were to be under neither Arab nor Jewish control. This was a pragmatic decision based on the Israelis' fear of antagonizing the Catholic states in the United Nations and their commitment to the Vatican solution. The Israelis were determined to see the passage of the U.N. Partition Resolution through, even with its clause on the internationalization of Jerusalem.
The Jewish Agency did not unveil its plans for Jerusalem even after the adoption of the Partition Plan on November 29, 1947. Recognizing that the United States was wavering in its commitment to the partition of Palestine, the Jewish Agency decided to locate the future capital of Israel just outside of Tel Aviv. Another explanation for the exclusion of Jerusalem from the Agency's plans was the need to maintain good relations with Transjordan and keep it out of the war. Transjordan had already made plans for acquiring control over eastern Palestine (the West Bank) and Jerusalem and revealed them in its secret talks with the Agency. These plans were in defiance of the U.N. commitment to allow a Palestinian government in the Arab part of Palestine.34
After the Jewish government conquered West Jerusalem in 1948 and the Jordanians seized East Jerusalem, the diplomatic battle lines changed. The Israelis declared West Jerusalem to be their capital, in defiance of U.N. Resolution 181, and the Jordanians annexed East Jerusalem (along with the Old City), but without relocating their capital to it. The Israelis, recognizing that they faced the condemnation of the majority of U.N. members, shifted their strategy to a call for the internationalization of the holy sites of Jerusalem, Bethlehem and Nazareth instead of the whole city of Jerusalem. This policy appeared to be very attractive to the Israelis since most of the holy sites to be internationalized were within Jordanian-held territory. The call for internationalizing the holy sites rather than the city of Jerusalem, therefore, did not entail any territorial sacrifices on the part of the Israelis. The new Israeli policy not only blocked international censure of the new state, it also succeeded in neutralizing U.N. animus over the inflammatory issue of Jerusalem. The call for the internationalization of the Jordanian-held sites was aimed at gaining unrestricted Jewish access to the Wailing Wall.35
But not all of this campaign translated into a benign Israeli policy towards their own Islamic and other religious foundations. Unfortunately, the Israelis considered these awqaf to be enemy property and placed them under the jurisdiction of the non-Islamic Israeli Ministry of Religious Affairs. Fully 15-20 percent of cultivable land in the new Israeli state belonged to the waqf, as did up to 70 percent of businesses and shops in major Palestinian cities under Israeli control. By placing these properties under the Ministry of Religious Affairs, the Israeli authorities were able to use the Absentee Property Law to confiscate most of the waqf lands and properties. Because the waqf situation in the West Bank and Gaza was radically different in 1967, the Israelis were prevented from duplicating their earlier tactics. The West Bank and Gaza were not annexed to Israel and could not be made subject to Israel's laws. Instead, Israeli military laws were brought into play, and land would often be closed for military reasons, to be lost to the waqf forever. The military governors were given collective control. Jordanian control of the waqf in Gaza was deliberately promoted in order to limit the independence of this institution in the previously Egyptian-held area.36
The Israeli military takeover of the West Bank and Gaza in 1967 radically altered Israel's previous call for the functional internationalization of Jerusalem and the placing of its holy sites under U.N. control. The annexation of Jerusalem quickly created a new reality and became an insurmountable obstacle to peace. Immediate measures were taken to bring East Jerusalem and all of its holy sites within the Old City under Israeli control. On June 25, 1967, the Israeli authorities extended Israeli law to Arab Jerusalem. By June 27, a significant step was taken by which the Knesset added Article 11B to the Authority and Judicial System Regulations of 1948. This amendment had the effect of extending state law, the Israeli judicial system and Israeli administration to every area in "the land of Israel." A day later, an appendix to these regulations was published that included the municipality of Arab Jerusalem. Thus, the Israeli minister of the interior was now empowered to override the municipal laws of Arab Jerusalem by applying the Israeli municipalities law. This step-by-step legislation, the Israelis claimed, did not amount to annexation.
The Israeli government continued to present all these measures as simply an effort to integrate the administration and judicial system of Arab Jerusalem with the rest of Israel. But by July 30, 1980, political annexation finally became a reality, when the government approved the so-called Jerusalem Law as part of a number of other Basic Laws. It is well known that Israel has no written constitution and considers its Basic Laws its constitution. The first article of the Jerusalem law reads, "the whole and unified Jerusalem is the capital of Israel."37 Reversing the "administrative integration" of Arab Jerusalem, thus, would now require an act of the Knesset.
Although initially the Israeli military authorities who invaded Arab Jerusalem were prevented from annexing the administration of the shrines of the Haram area to the Israeli Ministry of Religious Affairs, the Israelis succeeded in annexing a major waqf property.38 It should be recalled that zealous Jewish groups have made several attempts to take control of the Wailing Wall and its environs since the nineteenth century. Jewish groups first offered to buy the Wall when Jerusalem was under the Egyptian administration of Ibrahim Pasha. But the Muslim families of the city reminded the Egyptian ruler that the Wall, consecrated as a waqf because it was the place where Muhammad tethered his horse, cannot be sold. The wall was always known as the al-Buraq Wall.
Under the British administration, riots broke out between the city's Arabs and the followers of Vladimir Jabotinsky, the Revisionist Zionist leader, in 1922, when he tried to expand Jewish rights of worship around the Wall. The Mandate government concluded, following the recommendations of a committee of inquiry, that the Wall indeed was a Muslim property but that Jewish rights of worship should also be protected.39 Thus, international law, as well as the status quo law dating back to the 1852 firman of Sultan Abd al-Majid, which regulated the rights of the various religious communities in the city, were reinstated.40 Clearly, as we are reminded today by a Palestinian scholar, the international community has always recognized that International Law is, by its very nature, secular law. Religious claims, unless regulated by treaty or state edicts, as in the case of the status quo law, have no legal basis.41
Ever since the Israeli adoption in the spring of 1949 of the policy of the functional internationalization of Jerusalem by limiting international control to the holy places only, Israeli propaganda has focused on lack of access to the Wailing Wall. The Israelis were hoping to see the implementation of Article 8 of the Israeli-Jordanian Armistice Agreement, signed at Rhodes on April 3, 1949, which called for a Special Commission to deal with the issues left over at the end of the fighting. The Special Commission included two representatives from each country and was expected to deal with the issue of free access to the holy sites, as well as guaranteeing freedom of movement on major roadways. But complications ensued, and the commission ceased to exist as of November, 1950.
The desire to placate Western opinion about Christian rights led to an informal agreement between Israel and Jordan to permit the passage of Israel's Arab Christians to Jerusalem for purposes of pilgrimage. The Muslim Arab citizens of Israel, however, were not granted that privilege. Israel attempted to address the issue of Jewish access to the Wall through secret negotiations with the Jordanians. But these talks were terminated by March 1950. The Jordanians, hoping to reach a permanent peace with the Israelis, proposed several solutions. The most serious suggestion involved free access to the wall in exchange for Jordan's control over the Arab sections of West Jerusalem. The Israelis adamantly refused.42
The Israelis continued to call West Jerusalem Israel's capital and proceeded to forcibly alter the status of the Wall following the 1967 War. The entire area surrounding the Wall -- the Maghribi Quarter, heavily populated by Muslim families and once a hostel for North African pilgrims -- was demolished. This operation involved not only the forced removal of 135 Arab families but also the destruction of two Muslim shrines, al-Buraq Mosque and the Tomb of the Sheikh (the latter being the head of a religious school, al-Afdhaliyyah, named after its builder, al-Afdhal, Saladin's son). The reason for this gross disregard for human rights and the status quo law was to create a wide plaza facing the wall in order to accommodate 200,000 Jewish worshipers.43
The Wailing Wall was included in the status quo law later in the nineteenth century through regulations expanding the list of four shrines mentioned initially in the Ottoman firman. The original 1852 law regulated the rights of various Christian denominations in major holy sites such as the Church of the Holy Sepulcher and the Church of the Nativity. The expanded list regulated rights to Muslim and Jewish shrines as well. What gave the 1852 firman international status was its inclusion in the Paris Peace Convention Treaty (1856), the Treaty of Berlin (1878), the Versailles Peace Treaty (1919) and the 1922 Palestine Order in Council of the British Mandate Government.44
The onslaught on the Muslim heritage of Jerusalem continues today with the full knowledge of the Israeli government. Jerusalem is fast becoming the Jewish capital of Israel through the activities of zealot Jewish groups, as well as through the efforts of liberal, nationalist Israeli politicians. As soon as East Jerusalem was conquered in June 1967, Israeli officials of the ruling Labor party were also converted to the idea that Jerusalem was holy and should never be given up. More important, talk of rebuilding the Temple on the grounds of Haram al-Sharif became more acceptable than ever before. It should be recalled that the idea of rebuilding the Temple was discouraged strongly by the rabbis. This attitude had been adopted following Bar Kochba's revolt in 135 CE, which cost the Jewish people an enormous number of lives. Only the Messiah, it was believed, was capable of rebuilding the Temple.
In the 1970s, however, the ideas of Rabbi Kook and his son, Rabbi Zvi Yehuda Kook, came into vogue. Emphasis on rebuilding the Temple was now reinforced by the teachings of Rabbi Kook's Gush Emunim Movement (Block of the Faithful), which called for the building of settlements within the West Bank and Gaza, commonly referred to as Eretz Yisrael. Redeeming the land of historic Israel was considered a prerequisite for the return of the Messiah. Some members of this movement were accused in 1984 of planning to dynamite the Dome of the Rock in order to facilitate the rebuilding of the Temple. Another group, the Temple Mount Faithful, headed by Gershon Salomon, openly calls for Jewish control of the Haram area and the rebuilding of the Temple on the site of the Dome of the Rock.
Not only is Salomon's movement popular with more than 30 percent of Israeli voters, his views are also embraced by former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Furthermore, the idea of rebuilding the Temple on Muslim grounds was quickly accepted by the Israeli government. A group calling itself the Temple Institute, located in the Jewish quarter, has mounted a permanent exhibit of vessels, religious vestments and musical instruments that will be used in the rebuilt Temple. The Institute receives funding from the Israeli Ministry of Tourism, the Ministry of Religious Affairs, the Ministry of Education and the Municipality of Jerusalem.45
Today, religious Israelis are actively settling not only the Old City but also the suburbs of Jerusalem, which are considered holy, as well. Religious Jews believe that the Messianic era is at hand, since more Jews are gathered in Jerusalem. The Messiah will appear riding a white horse only when Arabs have departed the holy city and its surroundings. To these groups, the June 1967 War was divinely inspired, a war that should have been used to seize the Temple area right then and there. The municipality of Jerusalem, through bureaucratic cleansing and the confiscation of the Arab Jerusalemites' residency cards, contributes to the dream of an Arab-free Jerusalem. This goal is also furthered through the denial of housing permits to the Arabs and the demolition of their houses.
The Arabs face ingenious types of confiscations and expulsions. The municipal government frequently declares certain areas "green" zones in order to prevent the overurbanization of the city and its surroundings. These green belts are supposed to be closed to all people. But in a recent episode related by Arnon Yekutieli, a city council member belonging to the leftist Ratz party, liberal Jerusalem mayor Teddy Kollek appeared to be willing to engage in any scheme in order to thin out the Arab population of the city. When the mayor revealed plans in the late 1980s to construct 4,500 housing units in conjunction with expanding the city limits to Har Homa (Jebel Abu Ghaneem), the same council member pointed out that these units would be built in a "green" zone. The mayor quickly answered "green for the Arabs" only. When Yekutieli inquired further, Kollek explained that in certain areas planting forests was intended to close the land to the Arabs. Apparently, the Jewish National Fund engages in this scheme knowingly by contributing to the forestation of Jerusalem. The fund considers the trees stand-ins for Jews who have not arrived in Israel yet. The trees will hold the land for future immigrants.46
This official and popular collusion to cleanse Jerusalem of its Arabs and establish it as the capital of Israel is shared across party lines. The current mayor, Ehud Olmert of the Likud party, states openly that "our preference" is that Jerusalem not even be mentioned in conjunction with the final-status talks of the Oslo agreements. He is only willing to discuss the administration of the holy sites, not the official status of Jerusalem. The political question "was resolved long ago," he claims.47
Thus, the Islamic legacy in Jerusalem is being dismantled piece by piece. The Israeli government and Jerusalem's municipal government are changing the status of the city without respect for traditional rights or international public opinion. Unlike the Muslims, who mostly practiced a policy of tolerance towards the other communities, the Israelis are practicing a policy of exclusion and extreme nationalism. What is also disturbing is the revision of the city's history with a view to minimizing its Islamic heritage and centrality to the Muslim faith. Coupled with the efforts of religious groups to settle the Old City in preparation for the imminent return of the Messiah, this poses great danger to the ecumenical heritage of Jerusalem.
1 Abdul Rahman Abbad, "The Theology of the Land: An Islamic Viewpoint,"
Al-Liqa Journal, Vol. 9, No. 10, June-December, 197, pp. 77-8.
2 Karen Armstrong, Jerusalem: One City, Three Faiths (New York: Ballantine Books, 1996), pp. 220-5.
3 Izhak Hasson, "The Muslim View of Jerusalem: The Quran and Hadith," in Joshua Prawer and Haggai Ben-Shammai, eds., The History of Jerusalem: The Early Muslim Period, 638-1099 (New York and Jerusalem: New York University Press and Yad Izhak Ben-Zvi, 1996), pp. 352-3, 352, N11, pp. 354-7.
4 Kamil J. Asali, "Jerusalem in History: Notes on the Origins of the City and Its Tradition of Tolerance," Arab Studies Quarterly, Vol. 16, No. 4, Fall, 1994, pp. 37-8.
5 Karen Armstrong, "The Holiness of Jerusalem: Asset or Burden," The Journal of Palestine Studies, Vol. XXVII, No. 3, Spring, 1998, pp. 15-6.
6 Quoted in: Armstrong, Jerusalem, p. 231.
7 Ibid., p. 225.
8 Moshe Gil, "The Political History of Jerusalem during the early Muslim Period," in Prawer and Ben-Shammai, eds., The History of Jerusalem, p. 13.
9 Armstrong, Jerusalem, pp. 236-9.
10 S. D. Goitein, "Al-Kuds," Encyclopedia of Islam, New Edition, Vol. V (Leiden: S. J. Brill, 1986), pp. 324-7.
11 Abdul Aziz Duri, "Jerusalem in the Early Islamic Period, 7th-11th Centuries AD," in Kamil J. Asali, Jerusalem in History (Brooklyn, NY: Olive Branch Press, 1990), pp. 110-1.
12 Sheikh Mohammed Najeeb al-Ja'bari, "The Covenant of Omar," Al-Liqa Journal, a special issue on Jerusalem, Vol. 7/8, June/December, 196, pp. 83-6.
13 Duri, p. 107.
14 Dan Bahat, "The Physical Infrastructure," in Prawer and Ben-Shammai, eds., The History of Jerusalem, p. 53.
15 Gil, pp. 9-10.
16 Duri, pp. 108-110.
17 Ibid., p. 108.
18 Kamil J. Asali, "Jerusalem under the Ottomans, 1516-1831 AD," in Asali, ed., Jerusalem in History, pp. 201-2.
19 Duri, pp. 113-5.
20 Ibid., p. 116.
21 Ibid., pp. 116-7.
22 Emmanuel Sivan, "The Beginning of the Fadhail in al-Quds Literature," Israel Oriental Studies, vol. I (Tel Aviv University, 1971), pp. 263-71, and M. Sharon, ed., "The Sanctity of Jerusalem in Islam, " Notes and Studies on the History of the Holy Land under Islamic Rule (Jerusalem: 1976), pp. 35-41.
23 Khalil Athamneh, "Al-wajh al-siyasi li-madinat al-Quds fi sadr al-Islam wa dawlat Bani Umayyah," (The political facets of the city of Jerusalem at the beginning of Islam and under the Umayyads) Al-Abhath, Vol. 45, 1997, p. 63.
24 Suleiman A. Mourad, "A Note on the Origin of Fadail Bayt al-Maqdis Compilations, Al-Abhath, Vol. 44, 1996, pp. 31-5, 4-1.
25 Duri, pp. 112-3.
26 Gil, p. 14.
27 Duri, p. 113; Gil, p. 14.
28 Gil, p. 32.
29 Donald P. Little, "Jerusalem under the Ayyubids and Mamluks," in Asali, ed., Jerusalem in History, p. 195.
30 Dror Zeevi, An Ottoman Century: The District of Jerusalem in the 1600s (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1996), pp. 4, 23, 33.
31 Amnon Cohen, Jewish Life under Islam: Jerusalem in the Sixteenth Century (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1984), pp. 74, 127.
32 Roger Friedland and Richard Hacked, To Rule Jerusalem (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), pp. 49-50, 53.
33 Ibid., pp. 59, 81.
34 Ibid., pp. 27-8.
35 Alisa Rubin Peled, "The Crystallization of an Israeli Policy towards Muslim and Christian Holy Places, 1948-1955," The Muslim World, special issue "Palestine and the Arab-Israeli Conflict," Vol. LXXXIV, Nos. 1-2, January-April, 1994, pp. 94-7, 104-5.
36 For a full treatment of Israel's takeover of the Awqaf administration in 1948 and the confiscation of the properties of pious foundations, see Michael Dumper, Islam and Israel: Muslim Religious Endowments and the Jewish State (London: I. B. Tauris, 1994).
37 Ibrahim Mohammad Shaban, "Arab Rights in Jerusalem," Al-Liqa Journal, a special issue on Jerusalem, Vol. 7/8, June/December, 1996, pp. 96-9.
38 For the full record of the Muslim-Israeli confrontation over the Haram al-Sharif in 1967, see Meron Benvenisti, Jerusalem, the Torn City (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1976).
39 A.L. Tibawi, "Special Report: The Destruction of an Islamic Heritage in Jerusalem," Arab Studies Quarterly, Vol. 2, No. 2, Spring, 1980, p. 182.
40 Chad F. Emmett, "The Status Quo Solution for Jerusalem," The Journal of Palestine Studies, Vol. XXVI, No. 2, Winter, 1997, p. 19.
41 Shaban, p. 103.
42 Gabriel Padon, "The Divided City: 1948-1967," in Msgr. John M. Osterreicher and Anne Sinai, eds., Jerusalem (New York, NY: The John Day Company, 1974), pp. 87, 91-2, 97. Free Israeli access was part of an agreement which also called for the repatriation of Arab refugees. When Israel consistently refused to abide by this, the Jordanians refused to implement the Wailing Wall agreement. See Tibawi, p. 183N13.
43 Ibid., pp. 181, 183, 183, N15, 186.
44 Emmett, p. 20.
45 Armstrong, "The Holiness of Jerusalem," pp. 8-9.
46 Friedland and Hecht, pp. 173, 211.
47 "Interview with the Honorable Ehud Olmert -- Fighting for the Status of Jerusalem," Middle East Insight, January-February, 1999, p. 29.