Judaism, Christianity, Islam

Jerusalem–the Pilgrim City

Maya Stella

The President of the United States of America Mr Donald Trump declared on December 6, 2017 "Jerusalem is the eternal capital of Israel". This statement was taken by many as the fulfilment of religious prophecies.

Responding to the declaration, a 29-year-old person by name Mr Ibrahim Abu Thurayyah, who lost both his legs and kidney in a 2008 Israeli raid, said "This land is our land. We are not going to give it up. America has to withdraw the declaration it made". Trump's declaration is in violation of the decision of the United Nations General Assembly. On December 21, 2017, in the UN, 128 countries agreed with Thurayyah, 9 with the Trump and 35 abstentions. It is time to listen to the peace initiatives from Jerusalem City, by the people of the land, and to discern the shenanigans.

The theological justification for Jerusalem as 'eternal capital' for Israel is based on the religious texts which say 'promised land' to Israel. One cannot equate the contemporary political Israel with the people of Israel as mentioned in the Torah (Jewish religious book) as well as in the Holy Bible (Christian religious book). The 'eternal' dimension of the claim is attributed to God-given promised land, a promised land to Israel. Yet another justification is in the claim of 'land without people and people without land.' It means that the land of Palestine was a 'land without people' before the entry of Israelites. Israelites were 'people without land' before entering the land of Palestine. Therefore, occupation of an empty tend by the landless Israelites is said to be justified.

The roots of the Jewish claim on Palestine, specifically on Jerusalem, are traced by the scholars to the history of persecution of Jews living in the global West. According to Rashid Khalidi, different Aliyas (migration of Jews into the land of Palestine) took place over a period of time—the first Aliya in 1882-1903 followed by a second Aliya after 1903. Such a Jewish migration from the West was in the background of increasing atrocities on Jews in Germany, Russia, etc. The October 1905 atrocities on Jews causing mass migration out of the West brought the idea of 'conquest of labour' and 'conquest of soil', meaning replacement of Arab workers with the Jewish ones and to take arms in defence of newly acquired land, says Khalidi. The Holocaust or Shoah at the time of World War-II, a genocide committed by Adolf Hitler's Nazis, killed six million European Jews. It justified the demand for a Jewish land. The Eastern counties which were very sympathetic to the sufferings of European Jews, welcomed Jewish migration, especially into the land of Palestine. The Political question of a land for Jews promoted the ideology of Zionism. The Spiritual 'Zionism' of the Torah as well as of the Holy Bible is manipulated for the political Zionism. Such an unholy nexus between the political with the religious is the basis for the claim on Jerusalem.

The political Zionism was inaugurated by Theodore Herzl in 1897 at the time of first Aliya. It gave a framework for the 'Jewish Land' instead of 'land for Jews'. The migration of European Jews to Palestine continued over a period of time from 19th century onwards. After the declaration of Israel as a nation by the United Nations in 1968, the occupation of land by the European and American Jews began by driving away native habitantants. The Israeli government provided all the facilities and support to the occupiers—military protection, business protection, financial support etc. At one point of time walls were built around Palestinian cities and towns and these started restricting the movement of Palestinians.

In response to the ongoing occupation, Intifada (uprisings) by Palestinians took place in December 1987 to January 1988 and in 2000 AD. The first Intifada was a response to the Jewish occupation that denied mutual coexistence for the Palestinians. This opened a window of peace initiatives specially by both Israeli and Palestinian women.

"The fear of the cannons and rockets that threatened the existence of Israel in the 1960's and 1970's was replaced by a fear of the fecundity of Palestinian women, which threatened to become a greater threat to the Jewish state or more precisely to the Jewishness of the state". That was Shlomo Sand.

The peace initiatives emerged out of the first Intifada are numerous. The Jewish occupation has marginalised the Palestinian women, denied their basic human rghts to live. In response, the Jewish women rose against the communal politics of 1980's to stand in solidarity with the suffering Palestinian women. The women's movement by name 'Women in Black' is important to remember. The Jewish women stand in black clothes in the city squares holding placard which says 'stop occupation'. Such a silent demonstration is once a week. This 'Women in Black' movement had examined the nature of patriarchy, resisted violence on Jewish women and children, by their respected men at home. They further resisted the Israel State law on compulsory military services by both male and female Jewish youth. The 'New Profile' movement addresses the needs of education among the Israeli youth discouraging them from taking military training. The women's movement in the land of Palestine had further moved towards addressing the concerns of the desolate women and men in Israeli Prisons in the name of 'Women for Political Prisoners'. In order to bring coalition of women at large to cross every obstructive boundary 'Women and Peace' movement was started.

The second Intifada brought up new approaches towards peace initiatives and resistance to communal politics, in the background of Israel government forcing the military into the Temple mount. At this juncture women's movements were responsible for building public opinion over the forced occupation of the Temple mount by the Israeli army. It required women to move to the grass- roots in order to bring out public opinion. Even though some say that the women's initiative to bring public opinion was not fruitful, civil uprising demanding not to work with the Israel government and communalised civil society bodies of Israel is significant. The issue of two states is revisited by raising the questions on the right of the Palestinians to return from refugee camps. Women moved over to Israeli check points to take note of atrocities committed by the Israeli army and to help the helpless Palestinian women at the check points. This movement further took up the issue of Palestinian youth between the age of 14 and 19 who got arrested by the Israeli army from their homes along with their parents. Before the peace initiatives could reach their objectives, the decision of Mr Donald Trump on Jerusalem would pave the way for yet another Intifada causing further burdens on the women of Palestinians as well as Israelis. The way forward is to stand in solidarity with the Palestinian women and men along with the Israeli women and men, who are committed to the peace initiatives in the region.

Peace initiatives from the category of theology and religion that includes Judaism, Christianity and Islam present Jerusalem as a Pilgrim city and not as a Capital city. There are Palestinian Jews, Palestinian Christens, Palestinian Muslims living in this city. It is important to observe that Palestinians do not mean Muslims alone and Israelis do not mean Jews alone. Various religious communities live in Jerusalem, which is a pilgrim City. The Pilgrim nature is instructive for the Jerusalem communities to live with one another in amity. Equally important is that they receive Pilgrims from different parts of the wortd. The 'Arab Orthodox Society' placed in the old city of Jerusalem works towards the above said objectives of keeping the city as a Pilgrim city. They organise gatherings of Israeli and Palestinian women together along with women visiting the Pilgrim city for interactions, as a peace initiative. They do have a museum for the Pilgrims to visit and for younger generations to know the Pilgrim city. They do organise labour forces to make their goods saleable under the said banner.

The Pilgrim nature of Jerusalem can be drawn from the Biblical and post-Biblical periods in the use of the term 'Zion'. The Pilgrim city of Jerusalem is known as the mount Zion, which is of Biblical importance in terms of Pilgrimage. At the same time 'Zion' refers to a City that is not a Babylonian City—a differentiation needs to be observed Raymond Cohen reminds people the nature of Pilgrim City through his story of Church of the Holy Sepulchre in his book 'Saving the Holy Sepulchre : How Rival Christians Came Together To Rescue Their Holiest Shrine' in Jerusalem.

The Sabeel organisation in Jerusalem city works on orienting theologically and Bibically without communa-lising faith communities. They organise educational programmes, spiritual discourses and prayers along with producing literature. Similarly, there are organisations led by Palestinian Muslim scholars on theological questions as well as political questions.

The city is a Pilgrim City not only because of its holy cites—it is because of people who live and receive different communities from all over the world on a dally basis. The living space of the Inhabitants of the Pilgrim city is limited in order to make enough space for the Pilgrims. In contrast to the nature of Pilgrim city, a war is declared on the Pilgrim nature of the city and its inhabitants in the name of excavations. In such a context the Palestinian communities, belonging to different religious backgrounds, have been facing great difficulties. The military laws do not permit them to repair their broken windows and doors: do hot allow them to paint their homes and make their homes. In spite of such hindrances to the Pilgrim nature of people and the city, Palestinians welcome everybody to eat falafel and to drink Arab Coffee. But, the Pilgrims from different countries, who visit the Pilgrim city of Jerusalem hardly see the Pilgrim people and listen to them; they have hardly tasted Palestinian recipes. The inhabitants of the Pilgrim city invite every Pilgrim, who is visiting Jerusalem, to come, see, interact and cherish their hospitality, instead of being lost among the holy sites and stones. ooo

[Courtesy : People's Reporter, January 10-25, 2018, Mumbai]

Vol. 50, No.35, Mar 04 - 10, 2018