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Jerusalem: a city that ‘belongs’ to no one

Jerusalem has been marked with turbulence since it was first settled some three millennia ago.

The controversy that hangs over its skyline today merely reflects its living history. This 11th oldest city in the world, according to The Telegraph newspaper in the UK, commands more clout than Jericho, the oldest city of all, or even 16th placed Athens, the cradle of Western civilisation and the birthplace of democracy.

This city of little over 48 square miles is the home to three of the world’s religions: Judaism, which has considered it home since the biblical King David moved Israel’s capital here; Christianity, since Jesus Christ was crucified and the cross on which he was killed discovered; and Islam that has considered it a focal point of prayer for hundreds of years.

It’s a city dotted with key religious sites: the Temple Mount; the Western Wall, the only surviving piece of the temple going back to 19 BCE; the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, believed to have been built right on Golgotha where Jesus Christ is, also, believed to have been crucified; the Dome of the Rock, a venerated Islamic site believed to be built right on the Temple Mount; and al-Aqsa Mosque, where Muslims believe Muhammad was transported on his night journey from Mecca.

Different scholarly studies have aggregated 23 times the city has been besieged, 52 times it has been attacked, and 44 times it has been captured. In its history, Jerusalem has been completely destroyed and rebuilt twice, the first time between 607 and 587 BCE while the second is generally agreed to have happened in AD 70.

Until the last destruction, to whom Jerusalem belonged was never in doubt. But a number of conquests, takeovers and possessions over time meant that the city changed ownership every time a new conqueror rode into town.

Disputed ownership

Today, the city’s ownership is disputed on religious and political lines although these crisscross each other sometimes. The Jews, whose state Israel was re-established in 1948, claim it as their own, citing their history. They, in fact, consider it their capital despite international reservations.

The Arabs, particularly those inclined to Islam and who make the majority of the Arab world, consider it their own, citing it as the third most sacred place after Mecca and Medina.

As matter of fact, from about the 7th century until World War I, with exception of a century of crusades, the city was under Muslim control.

The Vatican, seat of the Roman Catholic Church, one of the most influential organisations in the world, has claimed the city for all Christians. Their claim is founded on the connections Christianity has with the city: its prominence in the Old and New Testament texts, the death and resurrection of the Christ and Church of the Holy Sepulchre among others.

Then there’s the United Nations which has claimed the city for the whole world. Its claims, however, aren’t far removed from those of the Papacy. Because the world’s greatest monotheistic religions revere the city, the UN reasons, it’s a critical spot with a high potential of endangering world peace.

Its preferred solution is to “internationalise” it so no one religious or ethnic group can have full control over it.

Some religious scholars have referred to Jerusalem as the burdensome stone, quoting Zechariah 12: 2-3:

“I am going to make Jerusalem a cup that sends all the surrounding peoples reeling...[W]hen all the nations of the earth are gathered against her, I will make Jerusalem an immovable rock for all the nations. All who try to move it will injure themselves.”

With files from the Internet
gaaki@observer.ug

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