The Surrender of Jerusalem?

Jerusalem has been at the heart of Abrahamic religions, since the dawn of history in holy scriptures. All divine Abrahamic books – the Torah, the Bible, and the Quran – have references concerning Jerusalem and the children of Israel (though the Quran never mentions the name ‘Jerusalem’, and only talks about it in reference to its surroundings and people). Numerous wars have been fought over Jerusalem. Countless people have died in pursuit of Jerusalem. And Jerusalem features in all apocalyptic prophecies of monotheistic faiths. The people of Moses (A.S.) were ‘promised’ Jerusalem. Jesus (A.S.) was crucified in Jerusalem. And our Prophet Muhammad (SAWW) was carried to Jerusalem on a night (described in Surah Bani Israel), and from there ascended to Heaven.

Consequently, for more than 4 billion people today – those who prescribe to some form of Abrahamic tradition – Jerusalem continues to occupy a central place in faith, history, and prophecy.

Islam’s transaction with Jerusalem started almost immediately after establishment of a Muslim State in Medina. As the Quran continued to refer to events that took place in and around Jerusalem (as well as those that will take place in Jerusalem), this city assumed tremendous importance for those at the helm of Muslim empires. In fact, as far back as 636 A.D., the Rashidun Caliphate, under the command of Hazrat Umar (R.A.) laid siege to the city of Jerusalem (which was under the command of Patriarch Sophronius of the Byzantine Empire). The following year, in 637 A.D., the Byzantine surrendered to the Muslims, establishing Islam’s control over the city of Jerusalem and the land of Palestine.

This Muslim control over Jerusalem, and the surrounding Palestinian territory, would not be challenged for almost 450 years – till the First Crusade in 1099, when Roman Catholic Crusaders from Europe conquered Jerusalem, killing (almost all) Muslim and Jewish residents of the Promised Land.

Christian controlled and ruled over Jerusalem for less than a hundred years; in 1187, the mythic Salah-ud-Din Ayyubi laid siege to Jerusalem, forcing Balian of Ibelin to surrender the city to Muslim conquerors. Importantly, no blood was shed during this conquest, as all Jewish and Christian residents were granted amnesty or safe passage by the Muslim ruler. And thus started Islam’s almost 800-year long control of this city, under different dynasties from time to time. And with it, the name of Salah-ud-Din (read: Saladin) was etched in the Judeo-Christian memory forever.

Fast-forward to the modern age; specifically, defeat of the Muslim Caliphate in WWI, and creation of State of Israel, after WWII, in 1948.

This modern arrangement, through which most of the present-day Middle-Eastern States were carved, was done so at the arbitrary whims of West Allied powers. Emaciated Muslim States with tainted rulers, grappled to come to terms with the new world order; feeble attempts were made to reclaim what had been taken away from them by the sword of the victors, but all in vain. And the people of this land were forced to flee their land, finding abode in foreign territories and refugee camps, while dreaming to return to the olive trees of Jerusalem. This apartheid gave way to Arab-Israeli wars, and repeated intifadas by Palestinian youth, best captured in images of young Palestinian children throwing stones at Israeli Armored Vehicles.

At the heart of this blood-soaked conflict was one small city: Jerusalem.

Throughout this agonizing period, despite pressure from successive US administrations, the international community has never recognized Israel’s claim on the entire city of Jerusalem. Israel took control of West Jerusalem almost immediately after creation of the State, in 1948. Later, Israel occupied East Jerusalem during the six-day war of 1967, and annexed the eastern portion of the city in 1980, in a move that remains unrecognized by the international community. During this time, Israel has built several Jewish-only settlements in and around key areas of East Jerusalem, in an effort to cement its control over the entire city. These settlements, till date, are deemed illegal under international law. Palestinians still demand that East Jerusalem will be the capital of a future Palestinian state. Some 330,000 Palestinians live in East Jerusalem, along with about 200,000 Jewish settlers. And in recognition of the volatile nature of this issue, and in deference to international law as well as repeated UN Resolutions endorsing the same, no country (of note) has recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

According to the 1993 Israel-Palestinian peace accords, the final status of Jerusalem is to be discussed at a later stage of the peace talks. The last round of talks between Israel and the Palestinians broke down in 2014, and with this new move on part of U.S. administration, Palestinian officials have said President Trump’s announcement has disqualified the U.S. from being a neutral arbiter for future negotiations.

In this background, the recent (astonishing) announcement by American President Trump – to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, and to move the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem – has taken the world by a storm. Something so asinine could only be expected from an individual like Trump, who has no sense of history, politics and the explosive nature of religious volatility associated with Jerusalem. If the American President wants to hasten the clock of history, and “induce” the Second Coming… he should know that he would be on the wrong side of it. If this is just a political move to court the Evangelical vote within the U.S., that is an even dumber reason to tempt this (final) war between civilizations.

Several countries have resoundingly condemned this unilateral move by the US to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. During an emergency meeting, UN Security Council members widely condemned Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel; a move that has already led to bloodshed across the occupied Palestinian territories. Matthew Rycroft, the UN ambassador representing the UK, said the British embassy is in Tel Aviv “and we have no plans to move it”. He said the UK sought to reaffirm its “strong support” for peace negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians and the two-state solution. 

While Israel has deemed Trump’s announcement has “a milestone for peace”, the U.N.’s official statement claims that President Trump’s decision ‘undermines’ peace efforts. Palestinian officials claim that this move equates to rewarding ‘Israel’s impunity’. Egypt has declared that this will have “No impact on Jerusalem’s legal status”. French government has asked the US to explain how decision aligns with law. Sweden has deemed it a violation of UN resolutions. Russia has declared that it views this US decision with ‘serious concern’. Japan has declared that Jerusalem’s status must be decided through talks.

However, the Muslim community – yes, the one with a 41-country military alliance – has remained largely impotent. And Pakistan – the “mujhe kiyo’n nikala” country – has been no different. Muslim States, especially in the Sunni belt, have been in bed with America (and Israel?) for long enough, and with such complete dependence on the U.S., that their token statements of condemnation have lost all meaning.

Away from politics, there is a strong religious argument to be made for Trump’s move. The Quran, declares, “Then we said to the Israelites, ‘Now you should settle down in the [Promised] land, and when the prescribed time of Resurrection comes about, We will gather all of you [there] together.’” – [Quran 17:104].

Are we living through such a time? Is this the “gathering” of the Isrealites in the Promised land? Will this culminate in a battle between good and evil; the final coming; the climactic drop-scene in the eternal conflict that rests at the heart of humankind’s redemption. Perhaps. But if that is the case, there will be no redemption for those who remain neutral. There will be no sympathy for the bystanders. And each of us, individually as well as collectively, must choose – here and now – which side are we on.

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