Jerusalem is considered the oldest city that existed in the fourth millennium BCE. Its first known mention is said to be in 2000 BCE, wherein it was referred to as Rusalimun. The city’s Israelite history dates back to 1,000 BCE after it was captured by King David. It has been attacked 52 times, captured 44 times, besieged 23 times and destroyed twice. According to the Bible, the Jewish Temple or the First Temple stood on the mount built by King Solomon in 957 BCE.
The Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar II destroyed the city and the First Temple in 587 BCE after laying siege to it. The Jews were deported and taken as prisoners to Babylon. Eleven of the Jewish nation’s tribes are accounted for during their bondage in Babylon, whereas the 12th one is unaccounted for; its whereabouts are a matter of conjecture.
Persian king Cyrus II defeated the Babylonians and allowed the Jews to return to Judah. The city was then seized from the Persians by Alexander the Great, and after his death Jerusalem fell to Ptolemy I. In 378 BCE, the city was captured by Herod the Great.
In the first century of the Christian era, Jerusalem became the birthplace of early Christianity as it is the place of Jesus’ crucifixion, resurrection and ascension. Emperor Constantine built the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in 335 AD and Jews were banned from the city except for a brief period of Persian rule from 614 to 619 AD.
Muslims initially used to pray in the direction of Jerusalem; the practice was later changed after it was revealed to Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) to pray in the direction of Makkah. During Meraj, the Holy Prophet (pbuh) made his first stop at the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem before ascending to heaven – and it is the third holy site for Muslims. The city was wrested from the Christians during Caliph Omar’s reign.
The Temple Mount, known to Muslims as Haram esh-Sharif and equally venerated by Jews and Christians, is a hill located in the old city of Jerusalem. The Al Aqsa Mosque or the Dome of the Rock built on the mount was constructed by the Umayyads. In 1033, an earthquake severely damaged the mosque. It was rebuilt and completely renovated by the Fatimid Caliph between 1034 and 1036.
The city was under the control of the Fatimid of Egypt when it was captured by the Crusaders in July 1099. The capture was followed by a massacre of Muslims and Jews and Muslim shrines and the Al-Aqsa Mosque were taken over by Christians. Jerusalem was recaptured by Salahuddin Ayubi in 1187.
In 1517, the Ottomans took over Jerusalem and lost it in December 1917 when the Allied Powers in the First World War defeated the Central Powers It was declared a British Protectorate and the rest is modern history.
The takeaway from recounting this historical account is that Jerusalem may be revered by followers of three Abrahamic religions, but like everything else on earth it is also subject to currents and forces of history and nature. Muslims today can roil over Trump’s decision but that won’t change a thing. The US-Israel nexus is stronger today than the combined power of all the Muslim states.
Why did Trump take the decision to shift the US embassy to Jerusalem? Not because it was his campaign promise, although American presidents before him have made similar promises. Trump was prompted by the fact that the Middle East lies in ruins, and he felt zero danger in taking such a decision. Denouncing the decision is not good enough. Will Egypt, Jordan and Turkey break their diplomatic ties with Israel? If the decision is so emotive for Muslims, will all Muslim countries break their ties with the US? That won’t happen because most of them are client states. Some would say that the Saudis would rather support Israel against Iran than ally with Iran against Israel.
There are around 30 UN resolutions against Israel over the Palestinian issue, 7 of them are Jerusalem specific. UN resolutions are like changing-room gossip because the UN does not have the power to enforce its decisions, unless the five permanent Security Council members agree – which they seldom do.
Whatever is happening in Palestine is neither the first nor the last page of its book. It has been taken over, reclaimed, destroyed and rebuilt many a times. The page will surely turn. The question is: when?
The writer is a former civil servant and a former minister.