Alternative Insight


The Barrier to Mid-East Peace


Part I- Brief History

The first mention of the city of Jerusalem in any historical record occurs on vases that date from the reign of Pharaoh Sesostris III (1878-1842 B.C.). The vases include the names of nineteen Canaanite cities, one of which is Rushalimum, (Karen Armstrong, Jerusalem) also written as Urshamen, Rashlemum, Ershalem and Urusalim. The latter name is almost identical with the Hebrew Jerushalem which means either "foundation of the God Salem" or "Foundation of Peace." (Jerusalem, City of Mirrors, Amos Elon). Karen Armstrong translates "Rushalimum" to mean "Shalem has founded" and identifies Shalem as a Syrian God of the setting sun or evening star.

By the end of the second millennia, the Jebusites had gained control of Jerusalem. Being the only surrounding area that had not been occupied by the Hebrew tribes, the Jebusites believed the hilltop city to be impregnable.

According to biblical history, (Note: Middle East scholars and archaeologists don't support the biblical interpretation of history brefore the ninth century B.C.) in order to unite the Hebrew tribes that had separated into a Northern Israel and a Southern Judah, David, the newly anointed King of Judah, searched for a seat of government that had a geographical central location between the two kingdoms. In 1004 B.C. King David captured the hill below the present Temple Mount and constructed his capital, the City of David. The city comprised only 15 acres and contained a citadel, a palace and houses for the military and civil personnel. It could not have accommodated many more than two thousand people(Karen Armstrong, Jerusalem). Although not historically proven, it has been supposed that David transported the Hebrew's Ark of the Covenant to his city. The city did not expand until David's son Solomon became king in 970 B.C. The Bible reports that Solomon constructed the first Temple and extended the city to the north. The name, City of David, faded in history and Jerusalem became known as the capital of a united Hebrew nation that encompassed the area identified in later times as Palestine. But not for long. After the death of King Solomon, Rehoboam, his son, inherited an impoverished and dispirited kingdom. The northern part, Israel, had become drained by Solomon's overly ambitious construction programs and did not recognize Rehoboam as king. The nation split again between northern Israel and southern Judah. Although Jerusalem remained periodically as the capital of Judah, it never again functioned as a capital of a united biblical Jewish nation. Until modern times, and only according to the Bible, Jerusalem functioned as the capital of a united Jewish nation for only 60 years.

A more historical narrative of Jerusalem begins in the 5th century B.C. In 586 B.C., 418 years after David first established control of Jerusalem, the Babylonians invaded the city and destroyed the Temple that Solomon had built.

In 538 B.C., Babylonian King Cyrus allowed the Jews taken in exile to return to Jerusalem. Together with the children of the Judeans who had remained in the city, they expanded Jerusalem, rebuilt the walls and built a smaller 2nd Temple.

In 332 B.C. Alexander the Great conquered Jerusalem as he moved his armies through the entire Mid-East. After his death, only nine years later, his Greek generals and Syria and Egypt traded control of Jerusalem.

In 165 B.C. the Maccabees successfully revolted against the the Greek Selucids and restored the Temple. Although Jewish Hashomean kings controlled Jerusalem, peace did not come to its Jewish inhabitants. Rather than consolidation, the years brought division and charges of defiling the integrity of the Temple. Jerusalem created a battle ground of factions- the Saducees, a Hellenized priestly class that supported the Hashomeans; the Essenes ,who were so horrified by Hashomean actions that they retreated from Jerusalem and envisioned an apocalyptic awakening; and the Pharisees, the major class which remained committed to an exacting interpretation of the Hebrew Torah.

Both contestants for power in Jerusalem appealed to the Roman general Pompey to enter the city and depose their respective enemy. Pompey obliged and the Romans completely occupied the city in 63 B.C. The Romans ruled and installed Herod as King. Herod transformed Jerusalem into one of the most important metropolis of the east. The Western Wall, where pious Jews now pray in Jerusalem and which they consider their holiest site, is the supporting wall of the platform built by King Herod and which housed the Jewish Temple. (Karen Armstrong, Jerusalem).

The years 66 A.D. to 70 A.D. brought total devastation to Jewish influence in Jerusalem. While suppressing a Jewish rebellion, the Roman general Titus completely destroyed the temple that Herod had built (still called the 2nd temple) and killed thousands of Jewish Zealot defenders. Jerusalem, previously the spiritual center of a Jewish world, became a base for Roman soldiers.

In 130, the Roman emperor Hadrian arrived in Jerusalem and decided to rebuild it as a new city, to be called Aelia Capitolina. His proposals indicated he would completely replace all vestiges of Jewish holy landmarks. Repelled by this notion, the Jews under the leadership of Simon Bar Koseba, engaged the Romans in guerrilla warfare. Bar Koseba and his followers maintained the rebellion until he was driven out of Jerusalem and killed in his last citadel at Bethar in the year 135 . Although admired for their valiant struggle, the Roman emperor banned all Jews from Jerusalem. Jerusalem became only a memory for the Jewish people.

The Old Testament has King David providing the impetus for Jerusalem to become a major spiritual center and important city. The New Testament depictions of the wanderings of Jesus Christ and his attentions in Jerusalem bring the city to another spiritual level- a close identification with Christianity, the major western religion. After Constantine, in the year 300, proclaimed Christianity as the Roman state religion, Christians began to attach a significance to all places they believed that Christ had been, to all things they believe he had touched. The Christians created a New Jerusalem. Their constructions stopped when the Roman emperor Julian allowed the Jews to return to Jerusalem and rebuild synagogues and another Temple. Unfortunately for the Jews, an earthquake in 363 shook the entire city and destroyed much of the building materials. Soon afterwards Julian was killed in battle and Jovian, another Christian emperor, took the throne of Rome. His Byzantine Jerusalem transformed pagan Aelia into a holy Christian city. It remained that way until the arrival of the conquering Arabs.

The Moslems believe that until 638, Muhammad, who respected the earlier faiths, requested his followers to pray while facing Jerusalem. Signifying its importance, the Arabs, in 638, conquered Jerusalem in a bloodless conquest. They retained the Roman name Aelia until the tenth century when they changed the name to al-Quds (the Holy). In 691, they constructed the Dome of the Rock, the first Muslim shrine, the first major Islamic building and regarded by many to be the greatest monument in the Moslem world. For several centuries, the peoples of all three faiths were allowed entry into Jerusalem. In 1010 the Caliph al-Hakim, who had previously displayed sympathy for the Christians (his mother had been Christian), suddenly ordered the destruction of a Christian church and eventually most Christian property in Jerusalem. Considered to be demented, the Caliph destroyed much of Jerusalem.

The events eventually impelled Pope Urban II to request military assistance to liberate the tomb of Christ from Islam. In 1096 the first Crusades marched towards Jerusalem. In 1099 they succeeded in capturing the city and massacring its Moslem and Jewish inhabitants.

Saladin's recaptured Jerusalem in 1187. The Mongols sacked it in 1244. The Holy City finally came under control of the Ottoman empire in 1516. It generally remained in Ottoman control until the collapse of the Ottoman empire during the first world war. In 1917, the British took control and received a mandate over Palestine and Jerusalem. The rest is modern history and a repeat of past history; battles between peoples for control of the "city of peace."

Since 1967, Israel has expanded the limits of the city of Jerusalem. The Israel government has subsidized the settlement of Jews to east and west Jerusalem, removed Palestinians from ancestral homes, and made it difficult for Palestinians to build new homes. These actions make it difficult to evaluate who has rights and where their rights reside in Jerusalem.

Unofficial population figures for Jerusalem:

270,000 Jews in west Jerusalem
160,000 Jews in east Jerusalem
200,000 Arabs in east Jerusalem.

Total: 630,000
Source:USA Today, July 20, 2000

Unofficial population figures for the Old City (year 2000):

22,381 Muslims
4,932 Christians
2,288 Armenian
2,282 Jewish
(Not including 600-1,000 settlers occupying houses in the Muslim Quarter.)

Total: 31,883
Source: Palestinian Academic Society for the Studies of Int'l Affairs

The history of Jerusalem becomes clouded by the religious persuasions and their heritages.


august, 2000