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                             ISRAEL
                              FAXX

Publisher\Editor Don Canaan

                       Aug. 7, 1995, V3, #142
All the News the Big Guys Missed

For subscriptions or back issues, please contact POL management

"Perspectives" -- A Look at Religion, Ethics and Values.

By Adam Phillips

For billions of people the world over, Jerusalem is both city and symbol. As a city, its inhabitants include Jews, Muslims and Christians. Like any city, Jerusalem has its businesses, schools and bustling markets. But as a symbol, the name Jerusalem can evoke awe, mystery and reverence seemingly at odds with its modern edge. Clearly, it is Jerusalem's unique blend of spiritual reality and earthy life that make it unique among international cities.

The many subtle and sometimes incomprehensible ways that politics and religion have intertwined there over the past three millennia constitutes the major theme in Jerusalem's history. This was true in the time of the Israeli monarchy of Solomon, through the eras of Babylonian, Greek and Roman empires. It continued during the time of the Christian crusades in the 11th century CE, through the period of Turkish rule and now with the Jewish presence in the Holy Land.

Even though religion has long since ceased to be a primary motivation in the statecraft of Western nations, it is very much a factor in the world attention focused on Jerusalem. Even Arabs and Israelis have tended to de-emphasize the religious aspects of their claim to the land. But for fundamentalist Christians, Muslims and Jews, the city of Jerusalem retains all the holiness it had when God chose it as the site for his Temple, as recounted in the Jewish Bible.

The Arabic name for the mosque built on the site -- Al Aqsa -- means "the furthest edge." This reflects the Muslim belief that all the land Mohammed traversed on his journey between Mecca and the place of his heavenly ascent in Jerusalem became Islamic land by divine will. That is the scriptural basis for the Muslim claim to what they call "Palestine" and the reason why Jerusalem is the third holiest site in Islam, after Medina and Mecca. The Koran itself does not mention Jerusalem by name.

In the shadow of the Temple Mount, Jews pray facing the sunbaked ancient stones of the Western Wall. It is all that remains of the First and Second Temples. The first Temple was built by King Solomon in 950 BCE but was destroyed in 586 BCE by the Babylonians who carried the Jews into exile. A second Temple was built 50 years later by the Jews who returned. But the Romans destroyed that one in 70 CE.

Orthodox Jews believe that what really made them holy was the space inside the Temple called "the Holy of Holies," which in King Solomon's time contained the Tablets of the Law, or the Ten Commandments. For 2,500 years, the Jews have considered this spot the one inherently sacred place in all creation. It is the one place, they believe, that God can make tangible contact with humanity through the priestly function of the Jewish people.


For many Americans, raised as they have been in a culture of tolerance, the religious dimension to the Middle East conflict seems difficult to understand. Why can't both peoples just respect each other's differences and live and let live, they ask, even if they don't agree on the specific and ancient challenges they believe God has asked them to meet?

But according to Amos Oz, the Israeli novelist, intellectual and peacemaker, this fundamentally optimistic American attitude, however well-intentioned, is out of place in the Holy Land.

"Namely, if only Israelis and Palestinians spent more time together, drank coffee together, got to know each other, they'd like each other. They'd realize that no one is a monster. Too simple. There is no misunderstanding between Israelis and Palestinians. We want this land because we think it's ours. They want it because they think it's theirs.

"Rivers of coffee cannot settle this dispute. It's not a question of getting to know each other. It's like a couple that had been married unhappily, a couple that must break in divorce because they give each other hell and they have had enough of each other.

"Unfortunately they both live in same little flat, the same little apartment, and no one is willing or able to go away. Painful as it is, absurd as it is, very little had changed since the days of the Bible in human nature. Jealousy and fear, ambition and loneliness and death and competition are still there."

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