Jerusalem is now the capital of Israel. Yay! Echoed by some people around the world and boos! From some. Is Palestine a Muslim enclave? Only two per cent of Israelis are Christians about 172,000. And for some people who love to take side with the Palestinian cause on religious divide, they should know that about seven per cent of Palestinians are Christians, about 850,000 in number. And so there are more Christians in Palestine than there are in Israel.
When Joshua and the surviving Israelis entered Palestine after 40 years of wandering in the wilderness, they met a hostile reception from the inhabitants there. At that time – the city known today as Jerusalem was occupied by the Jebusites. When David ascended the throne after the death of King Saul, one of his first deeds was to attack Jerusalem after a fierce battle, and made her the capital of the new nation of Israel.
Solomon after David’s death built a magnificent temple there and it became the centre of worship for the Jews who kept the Ark of covenant there – the symbol of Judaism. In 605 BC, Nebuchadnezzar the King of Babylon defeated Pharaoh Necho at Carchemish thus occupying Israel and Syria. He destroyed the temple Solomon had built and took most of the Israelites (inhabitants) into exile.
Later Babylon herself was defeated by King Cyrus who ruled over Persia and he permitted the Jews to go back to their country and rebuild the temple. In 63 BC, Rome conquered Palestine. The Jews instantly revolted against the foreign invaders and this culminated in the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD. The temple was totally razed down by the victorious Romans and the people once again were forcefully taken away into exile.
The Romans ruled Palestine till 395AD. The Byzantines took over till 636 AD when the Arabs supplanted them. In 1072 AD, the Seljuks threw the Arabs out. In 1099 Christian Crusaders defeated the Seljuks only to be chased out by the Mameluks in 1291 AD. In 1516, the Ottoman Turks overthrew the Mameluks and ruled till 1917 when the British defeated them during the First World War.
All this is to show us that Jerusalem has always been important to the Muslims, Christians and Jews. Between 688-691 AD, the Ummayyad Dynasty that ruled Palestine built the Dome of the Rock on top of the ruins of the temple that Solomon had built. In 715 AD they built a second Mosque again on the temple mount and named it Al-Aqsa mosque. These two mosques are the third most sacred symbols of Islam after the Mosques in Mecca and Medina.
The Jews believe that the Ark of covenant is buried beneath the ruins of Solomon’s Temple and they had always harboured the dream of once again rebuilding the temple again. They also believe that their Messiah would come and rescue them from their enemies and he would rule them from Jerusalem. Christians believe that Jesus Christ would come again and that he would rule the world from Jerusalem. The tussle for the soul of Jerusalem by these three religions has made her the most contested city in the history of mankind that is why any action regarding Jerusalem is capable of setting the world aflame.
In 1916, the British had promised the Arabs access to Palestine as a reward for their revolt against the Ottoman Empire during the First World War. In 1917 due to Dr. Chaim Weizmann’s conversion of fertilizers into explosives which saved the allies from being defeated by the Germans he was asked what he wanted as compensation for his feat. He said he wanted recognition of his people’s right to a homeland in Palestine and this resulted in Lord Balfour’s declaration that the Jews should have a home in Palestine. This declaration was later incorporated into the league of Nation’s mandate for Palestine on July 24, 1922.
In January 1919 – King Hussein’s son Emir Faisal who was the chief Arab delegate to the Paris peace conference and Dr. Weizmann had concluded an agreement endorsing the Balfour declaration. Arab recognition and diplomatic relations had been pledged and conditioned by French consideration of Arab interests in other territories. This meant that even the Arab world had then recognised the Jews rights to a homeland in Palestine. In subsequent years, however, hostilities between the Arabs and Jews started because of the alarming fact that the Jews were beginning to migrate to Palestine in large numbers.
As we know during WWII about 70 percent of European Jews had perished during the Holocaust. In order to compensate the survivors who had the lost everything during that awful period the UN decided to put the 1922 resolution in the old league of Nation which had guaranteed a Jewish state to a referendum. Two thirds of the members voted for the Jews right to have a nation to the anger of the Arab states who were vehemently against such a country existing in their midst.
When on May 14, 1948 Israel declared her independence after the British had withdrawn from Palestine about 7 Arab Nations invaded Israel. After over one year of fierce fighting the nascent Jewish state was able to withstand the onslaught of her Arab opponents. A cease fire organized by the UN ensured a stalemate. Ironically the UN had granted Palestine the Eastern and Western parts of Jerusalem as the territories which the Jews had accepted. From 1949-1967 there was a phony war between the Israelis and the Arabs. Apart from 1956 when the Israelis joined efforts with Britain and France to invade the Sinai Peninsula in order to oust President Nasser who was then the ruler of Egypt.
In 1967 things changed, when Israel launched a preemptive strike at her Arab opponents and in six days defeated 4 Arab countries. The Israelis were able to capture Eastern Jerusalem from the Jordanian Army. Israel didn’t want to fight King Hussein of Jordan but pressure from Nasser and the other Arab Nations led him to make the fatal decision to throw in his lot with his Arab brothers. In October 1973 – the Arab armies almost overran Israel but in the end they failed as usual to subdue her.
– Simon Abah wrote from Abuja