The historic Jewish east Jerusalem
By Mort Klein, Cutting Edge Commentator
The propaganda war by the Palestinian Arabs that began as soon as the Oslo agreements were signed has recently expanded to include an all-out assault on the idea that there has ever been any real Jewish connection to Jerusalem. Like the “revisionist” historians who claim that the Holocaust never happened, Palestinian Authority (PA) officials are attempting to falsify history in order to undermine the Jewish connection to the Holy City.
Consider this recent posting on the official web site of the PA, written by Walid M. Awad, director of foreign publications for the PA’s ministry of information:
The city [Jerusalem] took the bulk of its shape, its divine character and historical ambiance since the Muslim Caliph Omar Ibn Al Kattab took Jerusalem without bloodshed in 639 AD….Almost 30 years of Israeli excavations did not reveal anything Jewish, no tangible evidence of theirs was unearthed….Jerusalem is not a Jewish city, despite the biblical myth implanted in some minds.
In a similar vein, PA official Sari Nusseibeh has written that “the historical ties and attachments of Palestinians” to Jerusalem “precede any Jewish claim to it.” Nusseibeh has gone so far as to accuse King Solomon of “exploiting Canaanite labor” in order to build the Temple.
Many journalists have fallen for at least a portion of these Palestinian Arab propaganda lies. For example, media reports routinely refer to the parts of the city that Israel won in the 1967 war as “historically Arab East Jerusalem.” In fact, the accurate description would be “historically Jewish East Jerusalem.”
There has been a Jewish majority throughout Jerusalem since the 1800s. The Jewish majority in “eastern Jerusalem” was interrupted only by the 1948 Arab war against newborn Israel, when the Jewish residents of that part of the city were forced to flee for their lives. Indeed, many homes in what are today mostly-Arab sections of the city still have on their doorposts indentations where mezuzahs were once posted, before their Jewish residents were expelled. Other homes where Arabs now reside have, in the upper corners of the doorways, conspicuously new rock installed to replace the old rock that had the mezuzah-indentation.
Other notable Jewish sites in eastern Jerusalem, dating back to the 1930s, include the Jewish National Library, Hadassah Hospital, and Hebrew University.
During the Jordanian occupation of eastern Jerusalem (1948–1967), the Jordanian authorities destroyed 58 synagogues, tore up the ancient Jewish cemetery on the Mount of Olives, and used the tombstones (including the tombstone of Hadassah founder Henrietta Szold) to pave roads and to build latrines in Jordanian army barracks.
During the Jordanian occupation of the Old City, the Jordanians also mistreated local Christians. The Jordanian government severely restricted the number of Christians who were allowed to make pilgrimages to Jerusalem, restricted the opening of Christian schools in the city, required that the Koran be taught in Jerusalem’s Christian schools, and abrogated the right of Christian institutions to acquire real estate in Jerusalem. Because of this mistreatment by the Arab Muslim authorities, more than 60 percent of Jerusalem’s Christian population emigrated from the city during 1948–1967.
Recent Christian emigration from Jerusalem is also the result of pressure by Muslim extremists who want to “Islamicize” the area, according to Father Georges Abou-Khazen, a parish priest in Bethlehem, writing in the journal Terra Sancta in 1994. (And in Bethlehem, Muslims are offering Christians “astronomical” sums to sell their homes and property. Some of those who refuse to sell are subjected to assaults and harassment. As a result, large numbers of Christians have emigrated, and Bethlehem now has a Muslim majority.)
A powerful but little-known book, by the distinguished Israeli historian, Yehoshua Ben-Arieh, sheds important light on the crucial historical questions surrounding the Holy City. His Jerusalem in the Nineteenth Century (Tel Aviv: Mod Books) is truly must-reading.
Dr. Ben-Arieh notes that although at first glance Jerusalem seems to have a number of Muslim features, “these characteristics are, in fact, external ones.” The Dome of the Rock mosque, for example, is regarded as the third holiest place in Islam. But the holiness of the spot on which it is situated, the Temple Mount, “is connected to its earlier sanctity,” which was determined centuries earlier by the significance of the Temple Mount to Judaism. “Thus, the mosque is not in the center of the city, as in other cities, but in this place, which was determined for it in the pre-Muslim period,” Ben-Arieh writes.
Dr. Ben-Arieh’s research reveals the historical irrelevance of many of the phrases and clichés that are in vogue today. The label “Quarters,” for instance—referring to the Jewish Quarter, Muslim Quarter, Christian Quarter, and Armenian Quarter in the Old City—was imported to the Holy Land by European visitors during the 1800s. The boundaries of these quarters were often blurred. As Ben-Arieh shows, there were many Jews living in the Christian, Muslim, and Armenian “Quarters” throughout the 1800s, right up until they were driven out by Arab pogromists in the 1930s. “In the period of the First World War,” Ben-Arieh recalls, “there were more Jews living in Hebron Street, which was in the Muslim Quarter, than in the Street of the Jews, in the Jewish Quarter.” Ben-Arieh also mentions that some contemporary Arab neighborhoods in eastern Jerusalem, such as Silwan, were originally Jewish neighborhoods whose residents were murdered or expelled by Arab pogromists, who then occupied their homes and made these neighborhoods de facto Arab villages.
Ben-Arieh emphasizes that the transformation, in the early 1800s, of Jerusalem from a small town in a country district into a thriving metropolis, which became the most important city in the country by the mid-1800s, took place for one reason: “the intense Jewish yearning for the eternal city and the flow of [Jewish] immigrants into it.”
This Jewish yearning focused on the eastern part of Jerusalem because that part of the city includes the Western Wall and the Temple Mount (Judaism’s holiest site). It was the capital of the Biblical Jewish kingdoms during the eras of David and Solomon and has been the site of three thousand years of Jewish inhabitation—hence the “Jerusalem 3000” celebrations initiated by the government of Yitzhak Rabin.
Even when the Jews were forcibly exiled from the Land of Israel, Jerusalem—historic Jerusalem—remained uppermost in their hearts and minds. Jews face Jerusalem when they pray, and Jerusalem features prominently in the three daily Jewish prayer services. At every Jewish wedding, a glass is broken to symbolize the Jewish people’s mourning over the destruction of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. Napoleon is said to have walked past a synagogue on the ninth day of the Hebrew month of Av (the fast day of Tisha B’Av) and heard the sound of weeping and wailing from inside. The emperor’s aides explained to him that the Jews were mourning the destruction of their ancient temple. Napoleon is said to have remarked, “A people that remembers to mourn so long the loss of a city and a homeland is sure to regain both.”
Mort Klein is president of the Zionist Organization of America.