Gerald Honigman is a Florida educator who has done extensive doctoral work in Middle East studies, has lectured on numerous university and other platforms. He has debated many of the best Arab and pro-Arab academics in public debates and on television. Mr. Honigman is widely published in academic journals, magazines, newspapers and other publications.
Rethinking Jerusalem, Or…Staking A Claim To Medina As A Jewish City
by Gerald A. Honigman
A story in Jewish World Review on May 5th told of a pending confrontation between the United States Congress and the State Department when the Supreme Court takes up the case of a couple whose child was born in Jerusalem. This is set to occur after its next session begins in October 2011. The State Department refuses to add Israel, after Jerusalem, on such official birth documents, despite a law passed by Congress almost ten years ago directing it to do so.
Ah yes--evenhandedness and neutrality. You know...
How dare Jews declare a city, which they've inhabited constantly for over three millennia as their capital.All other peoples and nations may declare such things, but not Jews…it's that special treatment thingy again.
I mean, after all, no other lands have ever been contested between various peoples where national capitals were later proclaimed…
Right…and if you believe that, then you probably also believe that Libya's Qaddafi should have been targeted instead of the light years' worse butchers of Damascus.
Arabs claim Jerusalem as theirs--and theirs alone.
They do this because, as with numerous other non-Arab cities north, south, east, and west of the Arabian Peninsula, Jerusalem also was conquered and settled by Arabian invaders in the 7th century C.E. Afterwards, despite the presence of scores of millions of non-Arab peoples who predated the Arabs and their new religion by millennia, the entire region was proclaimed to be solely the domain of the Dar ul-Islam, and later, in the age of nationalism, purely Arab patrimony. Arabs had tried that latter routine much earlier too--but this backfired and led to the overthrow of the Arabist Umayyad Caliphate based in Damascus. The coup occurred largely because of the revolt of numerous disgruntled Iranian converts to Islam, moving the seat of power much further eastward with Baghdad as the new Abbasid capital.
With all the turmoil going on right now in Egypt, Libya, Syria, and the rest of the region, if you think those potatoes are hot, just wait…
Indeed, not long ago we got a glimpse of what to expect. The Obama Administration teamed with the State Department to take Israel to task for not making at least parts of Jerusalem off limits to Jews. That's what the building freeze issue was/is largely all about…the one that both the President and his Secretary of State continue to excoriate Prime Minister Netanyahu and other Israeli leaders who do not prostrate themselves low enough over.
So, while it kept getting shoved onto the back burner for fear of the intense heat that it will undoubtedly generate, Jerusalem will be one of the most difficult issues to resolve in any so-called "peace process."
Years ago I wrote an earlier version of this analysis, but given the attention the building freeze and settlement issues have been receiving, the time is ripe for an encore--despite the even friendly feathers that it might ruffle.
While it's true that Christians, Muslims, and Jews all have ties to Jerusalem, these ties are not "equal."
In religious Jewish sources, for instance, Jerusalem is mentioned over 600 times. It is never mentioned even once in the Qur'an. It is alluded to in the latter in passages about the Hebrew Kings, David and Solomon, and the destruction of the Temples of the Jews.
The Hamasniks, Arafatians, & Co. deny that a Jewish Temple ever existed there. They call the Temple Mount "Buraq's Mount," after Muhammad's supposedly winged horse which, after Muhammad was given refuge in the Jewish oasis town of Medina during his flight from enemies in Mecca, took him on a flight to the Temple of the Jews before his ascent to Heaven. But a mention of Jerusalem itself is nowhere to be found in the Muslim holy book...interesting, since it was recorded in many other places besides the writings of the Jews themselves for over 1,500 years before the rise of Islam.
The reality, of course, is that religious claims of both Christians and Muslims to Jerusalem exist first and foremost due to both of these religions' links to the Jews.
Political claims--based upon facts on the ground--are, admittedly, more complicated. Even so, throughout over three millennia, no other people--none, zilch, nada--except the Jews has ever made Jerusalem their capital, despite its conquest by many imperial powers, including that of the Arab caliphal successors to Muhammad. The latter ruled for a few centuries until they too were replaced by others, notably Turks during most of the centuries leading up to World War I. Damascus and Baghdad were the seats of Arab caliphal imperial power, and Mecca and Medina the holy cities.
While Jerusalem was not ignored by its Arab Muslim conquerors (the Umayyads built the Dome of the Rock and the Mosque of 'Umar on the Temple Mount, making it Islam's allegedly third holiest city), Jerusalem became in no way the focus for Islam that it is for Jews and Judaism.
Since David made Jerusalem his capital and it became the site of his son Solomon's Temple, Zion became the heart and soul of Jewish national and religious existence. Jews from all over the early diaspora made their pilgrimages and sent offerings to its Temple.
"By the Rivers of Babylon we wept..." and "If I forget thee O Jerusalem, may my right hand forget its cunning..." were just a few of the many ancient Biblical expressions of the Jews for Zion. Such yearning persisted throughout subsequent millennia in the Great Diaspora as well.
Next Year in Jerusalem sustained the Jew throughout countless degradations and humiliations ( in both the Muslim East as well as the Christian West) culminating in the Holocaust and is recited at the end of the Passover Seder each year. I wonder if President Obama got to hear this at the ones that he has attended…
There is no Arab Muslim parallel to these claims, despite efforts to portray Palestinian Arabs (many if not most of whom were new arrivals--settlers--in the land themselves), as the "new Jews."
Coming from a hundred different lands (including those native to Israel itself), Jews didn't have almost two dozen other states to potentially choose from and suffered dearly for this statelessness.
Most Arabs want sole political rights over Jerusalem for the same reason that they want sole rights over Tel Aviv. Once, again, in their eyes, only they have legitimate political rights anywhere in what they regard as simply purely Arab patrimony and the Dar ul-Islam.
Now, substitute Kirkuk in Kurdistan, the Atlas Mountains in the "Berber" lands of North Africa, Darfur in the west and the south of largely black African Sudan, and countless other examples, and you can see how the problems Arabs have with Jews are not so unique after all. The same subjugating Arab mindset victimizes any non-Arabs who dare to assert their own share of justice in the region. Half of Israel's Jews fled from "Arab" lands.
Moving into the realm of religion, regardless of whatever theology one clings to, Jesus' actual historical experiences in Roman-occupied Judea and Jerusalem were those of a Judean--Jew-- living under extremely precarious conditions. Thousands of his countrymen had already been hunted down, killed, crucified, and so forth in the subjugation/pacification process.
After Jerusalem fell, numerous Judea (not Palestina) Capta coins were minted in honor of the Roman victory. They can be found in museums and elsewhere all over the world, and a picture of one graces the cover of my own new book on the subject (http://q4j-middle-east.com). As I repeatedly like to remind readers, the contemporary Roman and Roman-sponsored historians themselves--such as Tacitus, Josephus, and Dio Cassius--had much to say about all of this. Consider, for example, just this one telling quote from Tacitus:
Vespasian succeeded to the throne...it infuriated his resentment that the Jews were the only nation who had not yet submitted.
These oppressive conditions led to both open revolts and guerilla warfare to rid the land of its mighty pagan conqueror…wars which would eventually lead the Roman Emperor, Hadrian, to rename the land itself from Judea to Syria Palaestina in 135 C.E. in an attempt to stamp out any remaining hopes for Jewish independence. Judea was thus renamed after the Jews' historic enemies, the Philistines--a non-Semitic (thus non-Arab) sea people from the Aegean region to drive home the point.
For a modern analogy, imagine Lithuania as it was engulfed by the Soviet Union in the latter's heyday of power. Or, a Hungarian freedom fighter or Greek partisan taking on the Soviets or the Nazis…or, even more recently, Tunisians, Libyans, Egyptians, Syrians, and others taking on their own home grown Arab tyrants.
Think of the sympathy, support, and admiration often given to such peoples and situations... and next consider the treatment Jews have received over the ages for longing for this same worldly freedom and dignity over the millennia themselves.
Whatever Jesus did or did not mean in his alleged and very debatable statement, "render unto Caesar...," this passage and others in the New Testament have been used to belittle this same desire for freedom among the Jews. Only they have been expected to think solely along higher, other worldly lines.
In addition to Judea Capta coins, the towering Arch of Titus was erected after the first major revolt in 70 C.E. and shows, among other things, the Romans carrying away the giant Menorah, Jewish captives, and other objects from the Jewish Temple that most Arabs and other Muslims claim never existed. As with the coins, it stands in Rome to this very day to commemorate Rome's victory over the Jews and Jewish Jerusalem.
When Muhammad, the Prophet of Islam, fled Mecca to Medina in 622 C.E. (the Hijrah), the inhabitants welcomed him. Medina had been developed centuries earlier as a thriving date palm oasis by Jews, with great agricultural knowledge, fleeing the Roman assault (the banu-Qurayzah and banu-al-Nadir tribes, etc.), and its mixed population of Jews and pagan Arabs who later joined them had thus become conditioned for a native prophet speaking the word of G_d.
There is no doubt among objective scholars that Muhammad learned much from the Jews, including ideas crucial to what later would be known as Islam.
In just one of numerous examples, while the actual timing of his decision on the direction of prayer (the qibla) may never be known, during his long sojourn with the Jews of Medina, his followers were instructed to copy the Jews and pray towards Jerusalem. Early prominent Arab historians such as Jalaluddin came right out and stated that this was done primarily as an attempt to win support among the influential Jewish tribes (the "People of the Book") for Muhammad's religio-politcal claims.
As we've already seen, it is from the Temple Mount in Jerusalem that Muslims believe Muhammad ascended to Heaven on his winged horse. A shrine, the Dome of the Rock, would later be erected on this Jewish holy site after the Arab imperial conquest of the land in the 7th century C.E.
There is no doubt that Jews had an enormous impact on both Muhammad and the religion that he founded.
The holy sites for Muslims in Jerusalem (i.e. the shrine and mosque erected on the Temple Mount of the Jews) are now deemed "holy" precisely because of the critical years Muhammad spent after the Hijrah with the Jews.
Simply put, the Temple Mount had no prior meaning to pagan Arabs.
While there was some early Christian influence as well, intense scholarship has shown that the Holy Law (Halakha) and Holy Scriptures of the Jews had a tremendous influence on the Qur'an, Islamic Holy Law (Shari'a), and so forth.
Muslim religious beliefs regarding such things as Muhammad's alleged conversations with the Angel Gabriel (introduced to the whole world via the Hebrew Bible) notwithstanding, events and ideas such as Muhammad's "Jerusalem connection" were most likely not established until after his extended stay with his Jewish hosts in Medina. This was no mere coincidence...
And when the Jews refused to recognize Muhammad as the "Seal of the Prophets," he turned on them with a vengeance. Before long, with the exception of Yemen, there were virtually no Jews left on the Arabian Peninsula. The men were all slaughtered (largely beheaded--sound familiar?), and the women and children were taken as slaves. The direction of prayer was next changed away from Jerusalem and towards the Kaaba in Mecca instead...
To state that Jerusalem has the same meaning for Muslims that it has for Jews is to simply tell a lie.
Indeed, if Arabs can stake a claim to Jerusalem, then why should Jews not have a claim to Medina--the place which solid scholarship has shown that they indeed founded?
In modern times, Jews constituted the majority of Jerusalem's population from 1840 onwards.
When Jordanian Arabs--whose nation itself was formed in 1922 from almost 80% of the original Mandate of Palestine issued to Britain on April 25, 1920--seized East Jerusalem after their invasion of reborn Israel in 1948, they destroyed dozens of synagogues and thousands of Jewish graves, using tombstones to pave roads, build latrines, and such.
When Jews were denied access to their holy sites for almost two decades, the whole world acted deaf, dumb, and blind. The United Nations, European Union, and American State Department--now so upset about the return of Jews to their former homes in East Jerusalem--simply stood by and watched.
After Israel was forced to fight a defensive war in 1967 due to its being blockaded by Egypt's Nasser at the Straits of Tiran (a casus belli) and other hostile acts, Jerusalem became reunited.
Access to all peoples and faiths subsequently became unhindered. It was at this moment that much of the world then chose to rediscover Jerusalem...demanding its re-division, internationalization, de-Judaization, and so forth.
Over numerous centuries, Jews have been forcibly converted and/or expelled, massacred, humiliated, demonized, inquisitioned, ghettoized, subjected to genocide, and so forth. They have been labeled the "deicide people," children of the devil, sons of apes and pigs, and kilab yahud (Jew dogs) throughout much of the world…constantly unwanted strangers in other peoples' lands.
Keep all of this in mind, when the next round of Israel-bashing occurs ( has it ever stopped? ) and understand that Jews will largely remain determined--despite the enormous opposition that they will face--that their rights in the sole capital of the sole, microscopic, resurrected state that they possess will not be sacrificed on behalf of any 22nd state created for Arabs...especially since the latter show, in poll after poll, that regardless of how much Jews will continue to bare their necks for peace, Arabs will not accept the legitimacy of a viable Jewish Israel anyway, regardless of its size.