The below story showed up in my news feed several days ago. It states that on Monday (that would be day before yesterday now) Trump was going to announce that the US embassy in Israel would be moving from Tel Aviv, the capitol of Israel to the ancient city of Jerusalem. This may sound like boring news and perhaps if some other embassy and some other city it would be. However, when we’re talking about Jerusalem the news suggests one of the most important foreign policy moves in my lifetime. The dynamic and history of the region is so complex that few people take the time to understand. I had a conversation about it a few weeks ago with an older fellow, someone who was alive when the UN created the modern state of Israel, and he still didn’t understand after about a half an hour just what it all meant and why.
I will only touch on the history below with enough detail to make my point. Suffice it to say that the region is of tactical importance to the US and of religious importance to Jews, Christians, and Muslims. All this swirls together with history to form what may be the most volatile plot of land on the planet.
Monday came and I heard no such announcement from Trump. I scanned the news feed and nothing. Nothing Tuesday either. So this morning I decided to find out if I had missed it. What I found were lots of stories about how it would be a bad move and asking the question, “Has Trump come to his senses on embassy move?” But yet, I still found no official announcement of an embassy move.
I finally found a story that had a quote from Trump’s press secretary, “We are at the very beginning stages of even discussing the subject,” White House press secretary Sean Spicer told ABC News on Sunday about the embassy’s location.” (ABC, 2017) At least I was able to confirm there are discussions on the subject.
I still found no official announcement from Trump that he was moving it, only the hint from the press secretary he was considering it, and in talks concerning it.
I think it was leaked on purpose.
But the important thing to understand and discuss is that just thinking about it – let alone seriously discussing it – is controversial, and to some incendiary.
What Happens If?
Of course I can only guess what would happen and my saying so is no prognostication. I’m not a global warming scientist after all, I can’t predict the future. But it is reasonable to think that at some point the US Embassy in Jerusalem would be attacked. Maybe by Palestinians, maybe by Arabs Muslims, or perhaps ISIS. In 2012 US facilities in Benghazi were attacked and Ambassador Stevens was tortured and killed.
In 1998 two US Embassies in Africa faced such a fate. “August 7, 1998 – Almost simultaneously, bombs explode at U.S. embassies in Nairobi, Kenya and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, killing 224 people. More than 5,000 are wounded. Twelve of those killed in Kenya are U.S. citizens.” (CNN, 2016)
This also happened in 1983 in Lebanon killing 63 people.
I point these out to show there is a precedent for it.
The city of Jerusalem has been a contested city for thousands of years. Readers of the bible know that long before our current conflict the city was “owned and operated” by or at least under the thumb of the Egyptians, Asyrians, Babylonians, Romans, Muslims, Christians, Ottomans (also Muslim), the Crusaders, and partly by the Jews.
During the 1948 Arab–Israeli War the western part of the city was captured and held to Israel. Depending on who you talk to this is just fine, completely horrible, or totally confusing. And that’s the problem. Those who think it’s just fine would applaud an embassy in the city, those who don’t would see it as a legitimizing of Israel being there when they don’t feel they should be and to those who are confused – they generally shrug and say, “I thought the Jews founded Jerusalem”.
It is often said that Jerusalem is the third most holy site in Islam right after Mecca and Medina. It is home to the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock (which is the big gold dome you see in all the pictures).
To the Jews the Temple Mount is the holiest site in Judaism. You can imagine how Jews feel having a giant gold dome dedicated to Muhammad built there. There is ample historical and archaeological evidence (including recent findings) to show that this is the location of the temple of Herod (also known as the second temple). It is thought to also have been the location of the temple of Solomon but there is no archaeological evidence for that (it seems likely). Though unproven, it is thought by Jews to be the location of Mount Moriah, the location where Abraham offered up his son to God but was stopped before he could complete the sacrifice since it was just a test. Some (though not all) Muslims agree with this. Those who don’t only disagree on who was being offered up some feel it was Ishmael rather than Isaiah.
The temple was destroyed by the Romans as a punishment after the Jews revolted and tried to shake off Roman rule in around 70 A.D.. At one point the Jews tried to rebuild it (around 360 A.D.) but were not successful. There was an earthquake which destroyed the attempt. The mount lay in ruins for a few hundred years until the Mulsims attacked and took the city. Their leader had it cleared and granted Jews the right to visit the mount. The Muslims believe that this is the spot where Mohamad left the earth on the creature named Buraq and flew to heaven making it a holy place to them.
To Christians it is also the site of the temple where, starting at the age of 12, Jesus taught the gospel. It’s the site where he over turned the tables of the money changers, where he healed people, and where he had some of his most entertaining verbal sparing with his detractors. He constantly used it as a reference and as a metaphor. For Christians there is a connection to anywhere that Jesus walked. Being manifest in the flesh is a vital part of Christianity and thinking of a bit of ground where his feet touched gives them a connection to him through that ground.
So who owns it already!? How far back do you really want to go?
That is a question that really only has one answer in my opinion.
Who owns any piece of land is always a matter of dispute. Take America for example. Many people like to say the Americans “stole” the land from the Indians. But make no mistake, that’s not true. We “stole” it from the British, who “stole” it from the Indians! Ha! But the use of the word “stole” is very subjective which is why the word “won” or “conquered” is often used instead. But in the end it’s all the same, someone who wasn’t there is now there. Anyone who has read 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus by Charles Mann knows that the Indians the British took the land from, took it from someone else.
The pre-Clovis and Clovis people were here 15,000 and 13,000 years ago and are NOT related to modern day native Americans. As human groups came here they took the land from other groups that came before. Who owns it? How far back do you really want to go?
Yes the Jews took the land from someone before it was taken from them and that group also took it from someone. Though much of the city of Jerusalem was built by the Jews the original settlement was not. As is often the case in the region, settlements were built near springs. In this case the Gihon Spring was the source and the settlers likely pre-Canaanites. The first actual city was built by the Canaanites and some linguists believe the name comes from one of their gods.
The Jews didn’t get the city until David sacked it around 1000 B.C. Though there has traditionally been sparse evidence that David ever existed this has recently changed. Be that as it may the city DID end up in the hands of the Jews at around this time, that much is historical fact.
Who owns Jerusalem? Just ask the Canaanite and Jebusites.
The oldest archaeological evidence that anyone lived there is from around 4500 B.C. and someone took it from them.
So what is my answer to who owns Jerusalem?
It’s the answer that has always existed since human kind began. It is the reason we band together in societies and cultures.
Who owns Jerusalem?
Whomever can keep it.
The White House will on Monday announce that the US embassy in Israel is to move from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, according to an unconfirmed report by an Israeli news outlet. Channel 2 cited an anonymous source as saying a member of the Trump administration would announce the highly controversial move on the President’s first full working day in office.