My Comments: Writing about politics and religion is outside my professional capacity to serve my clients, friends and family, not to mention those whom I hope to meet in the coming years. It’s much easier to try and ignore this stuff than to admit it has important implications. And then attempt to define just where we are mentally with respect to the issue at hand.
For many years I’ve been a fan of Israel. I’m not far removed from the horrors inflicted on Jews by the German state and the conflict we call World War II. However, I’m less of a fan than I used to be as Israel increasingly allows itself to be defined as just another tribe, whose people happen to live in a part of the world where tribal conflicts have raged for centuries.
For me it’s analogous to my refusal to be defined by any church or religious group. In historical terms the worst atrocities man has ever inflicted on his fellow man resulted from a belief that his God was “better than your God”, therefore “you must die”. For me that demeans the spirit behind all interpretations of God; that we are simply observers of the universe and subject to rules over which we have zero control.
I suspect I’ll not live to see this Jerusalem question resolved. But the following comments by someone with a significant history behind his name are worth a read. It has implications for what we are seeing here in this country today; the conflict between blacks and whites, and the growing discrepancy between the have’s and the have nots. We either accept the need to find remedies and struggle for solutions or it will sooner or later bite us in the ass. And it won’t be painless.
December 1, 2014 / Ghanem Nuseibeh / The Financial Times
The city has seen worse, but today’s problems could spark global conflict, says Ghanem Nuseibeh
Jerusalem, the city at the heart of all three Abrahamic faiths, is undergoing one of the most disturbing episodes in its long history. As the scion of its oldest Arab family, I find the developments of the past few weeks – the bloodshed, yes, but more fundamentally the wave of intolerance – deeply troubling, breaking longstanding pacts between the faiths to share the city and its religious treasures.
My family arrived in Jerusalem in the 7th century with the Arab Muslim army led by caliph Omar bin al-Khattab, companion of the Prophet Mohammed. At that time the city was ruled by the Roman empire, which for centuries had barred Jews from entering. The covenant of Omar – the truce between Omar and Sophronius, patriarch of Jerusalem – included a promise by the city’s new Muslim rulers to protect the Christian inhabitants. There was only one clause that the Christians insisted the Muslims not implement: the condition that Jews would not be allowed back into Jerusalem.
Instead, the Muslim conquest opened the city up to Jewish residents once more. One of my forefathers was a signatory to the covenant of Omar. I am proud to say the Muslim decision to allow Jews to resettle in Jerusalem was a moment of significance in the city’s history. Exclusion and discrimination gave way to tolerance and respect.
My family was entrusted with the custodianship and the key to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Christendom’s holiest site, more than 1,400 years ago. Since then, and to this day, we have performed this role – with the only interruption occurring during the crusades in the 11th century. The Christian and Muslim leaders of the day, Richard the Lionheart and Saladin, agreed to restore the Nuseibeh custodianship of the church to keep the peace between the Christian denominations after intra-Christian fighting and bloodshed, often within the holy building itself.
What we are seeing today is not the worst Jerusalem has seen. But it threatens to turn into a global conflict. When the city is caught up in religious strife, the suffering is reflected elsewhere in the region and beyond. Rhetoric and mutual intolerance is spreading, with every incident ratcheting up the sense of gloom and mistrust. A vicious cycle of incitement is creating an unholy race back towards the Dark Ages.
The murders in the past month at the Jerusalem synagogue were a most condemnable act of savagery. So too was the barbaric killing in July of the Arab youth, Mohammed Abu Khdeir – as well as the murders of the Jewish youths for which this was widely seen as revenge – and the dozens of deaths, including those of Arabs, that followed. For many, the city is becoming a place of exclusion, each group attempting to assert control at the expense of the other. This not only goes against our Abrahamic culture, the root of western civilisation, but also the notion of one God and the equal status of His children – Jews, Christians and Muslims.
The great kabbalist, Yehuda Ashlag, taught that the means for correcting the problems in the world are mercy, truth, righteousness and peace. None of these qualities are evident in today’s disputes over possession of Jerusalem’s holiest sites.
The way forward is lit by the heroes of the past. The willingness of Muslim leaders almost 1,400 years ago to allow Jews to live in Jerusalem was matched by Israel’s acceptance in 1967 of control by the Islamic Waqf – the Jordanian religious trust that administers the site – of the city’s al-Aqsa mosque. That spirit needs to be rekindled for our times.
Jerusalem desperately needs a new covenant for its inhabitants, and indeed for the world. Political and religious leaders must reflect the wisdom of the past and express a renewed commitment of respect for each other and for our respective places of worship. We dare not allow our fears and mistrusts to fester and lead to more senseless bloodshed.
The writer is a senior visiting fellow at King’s College London