Thursday, January 10, 2008


Cede Not, Want Not: Jerusalem must not be severed from Israel by Aron U. Raskas (NRO)

President Bush arrived in Jerusalem today to discuss plans for a peace settlement between Israelis and Palestinians. According to news reports, this settlement may involve dividing Jerusalem — placing large segments of the city, including Christian holy sites, under the control of the Palestinian Authority. It is important that the president, and other current or aspiring leaders, consider the dangers that would arise from any such plan.

After centuries of strife, destruction, and oppression sown in Jerusalem by a cavalcade of conquering empires, the State of Israel alone has been able to preserve the peace and freedom of Jerusalem.

Within days of its liberation of Jerusalem in June 1967, Israel’s government enacted the Protection of Holy Places law, protecting all religions’ holy sites “from desecration and any other violation and from anything likely to violate the freedom of access of the members of the different religions to the places sacred to them or their feelings with regard to those places.” Israel’s government promptly handed over custodianship of the mosques on the Temple Mount to the Islamic Waqf, which is maintained to this day; the administration of Christian holy sites continues to rest in the hands of representative churches. Thus, in the 40 years since Israel’s reunification of Jerusalem, all people of all religions have been able — for the first time in centuries — to freely access all of Jerusalem’s holy sites.

It is therefore ironic that negotiators, mindless or careless of Jerusalem’s turbulent history and Islamic fundamentalists’ record of degrading and destroying other religions’ practices and holy sites, would seek to wrest control of Jerusalem from the one government that has preserved those freedoms. World leaders should know better than to turn Jerusalem’s important Christian and Jewish holy sites over to Muslim control; it would be a sorry day for any non-Muslim who aspires to visit those holy sites.

As President Bush travels to Jerusalem, he should use his visit to familiarize himself with the historic precedents and territorial infirmities that exist in the city and to contemplate up close the dangers to millennia-old Christian and Jewish holy sites that would arise from a division of the city.

Furthermore, in stark contrast to Israel’s conscientious actions to preserve the holy sites, the Arab forces that stormed Jerusalem in 1948 wantonly blew up 58 synagogues, rabbinical schools, and other buildings in the Jewish Quarter. Remaining synagogues and other holy sites were used as stables and garbage dumps.

Despite a 1949 armistice agreement guaranteeing the Jewish population “free access to the Holy Places and cultural institutions and use of the cemetery on the Mount of Olives,” Arab soldiers prevented Jews from accessing those sites until June 1967.

During the period that it controlled Jerusalem, Jordan also sought to reduce the Christian presence in the Christian quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City by passing laws forbidding Christians to buy property. The Jordanians ordered all schools closed on Muslim holidays and authorized mosques to be built near churches to restrict further Christian growth.

Palestinian efforts to eradicate signs of the Jewish legacy of Jerusalem continue unabated to this day. Fascinating archeological excavations that bring to life remnants of the First and Second Temple edifices have generated Palestinian riots to prevent Israel from opening such sites for the world to see. Excavations below the Dome of the Rock by the Islamic Waqf seek to eradicate other valuable Jewish archeological treasures.

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