Robert Azzi: Speak tenderly to Jerusalem – cry to her

  • Palestinian protesters burn tires and clash with Israeli troops in the West Bank city of Ramallah on Friday following protests against President Donald Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. AP

For the Monitor
Sunday, December 10, 2017

In 2002 I attended a conference in Washington called to discuss the Middle East “After 9/11.”

At one panel an American diplomat suggested that the seemingly intractable Palestinian-Israeli conflict could be set aside because there were more issues – some, he suggested, more important – upon which Americans and Arabs could cooperate.

A friend of mine – whose own journey led him from barefoot Bedouin to Stanford Ph.D. – rose in the audience and, with trembling voice, said: “Every Muslim I know, his first thought, from morning prayers to his last thought before he sleeps, holds Jerusalem sacred. There is no more important issue.”

For years I have been arguing that the road to peace in the Middle East goes through Jerusalem. It passes through scripture and spaces sacred to Jews, Christians and Muslims.

There is no more important issue.

Today, we are called to speak tenderly to Jerusalem.

The road passes through lands that are repositories of truth, truth embraced by Isaiah 2,500 years ago when he prophesied, “Zion will be redeemed by justice and its inhabitants by righteousness.”

And today its rightful inhabitants, Jews, Christians, Muslims, must be redeemed by justice.

Last week President Donald Trump recognized, against all historical and international conventions, to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital – and got nothing back for it. No end to colonization, no end to the oppression of Palestinians under occupation.

Last week Trump poured gasoline on that road, lit a match, and torched what remaining hope there was in the minds of some people for a just solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, particularly for a two-state solution.

A road ever more difficult to traverse after decades of occupation, oppression and colonization of Palestinian East Jerusalem, West Bank and Gaza.

The road is closed; barricades, walls are rising.

Proving that the Age of Imperialism is alive and well, Trump launched his crusader attack upon the Holy Land. Receiving nothing in return for his concession to Israel, Trump’s pronouncement further destabilized a volatile region essential to American economic and security interests.

Trump cares little about Jerusalem. Trump, who has outsourced Middle East policy from the State Department to his equally-ignorant and inexperienced son-in-law, Jared Kushner (whose family has financially supported illegal colonization on Palestine’s West Bank), views the conflict in purely transactional terms: Defend the base. Defend colonization. Defend occupation.

This week we must reject Trump’s crusade and defend Palestine.

This week we must listen to E.U. foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini: “We believe the only realistic solution to the conflict between Israel and Palestine is based on two states and with Jerusalem as the capital of both.”

This week listen to Pope Francis: “I make a heartfelt appeal so that all commit themselves to respecting the status quo of the city, in conformity with the pertinent resolutions of the United Nations.”

This week listen to Aaron David Miller, who served six secretaries of state as an advisor on Arab-Israeli negotiations: “Trump’s Jerusalem gambit . . . ill-timed, ill-conceived, ill-considered and unmoored from any real strategy (other than domestic politics) that would advance U.S. national interests, peace or security.”

This week listen to 21-year-old supermodel Bella Hadid, who shared her response with her 16 million Instagram followers: “Jerusalem is home of all religions. . . . The TREATMENT of the Palestinian people is unfair, one-sided and should not be tolerated. I stand with Palestine. . . . Jerusalem is and always has been the capital of occupied Palestine.”

This week listen, then speak tenderly to Jerusalem.

Speak to counter those who support the continuation of colonial and imperial crusaders suppressing the national aspirations of the Palestinian peoples.

Vice President Mike Pence is Trump’s lifeline to the evangelical community, and it’s believed that he advocated strongly for Trump’s Jerusalem gambit, an announcement that many evangelicals believe is a fulfillment of biblical prophecy, moving them closer to the Rapture, the Judgment, the End.

Pentecostal Christian televangelist Paula White, who delivered an invocation at Trump’s inauguration, told Charisma News “Evangelicals are ecstatic, for Israel is to us a sacred place and the Jewish people are our dearest friends.”

What Trump clearly doesn’t understand is that while Jerusalem is central to the identity of Jews, it’s also central to the identity of Palestinian Christians and Muslims.

It is central to the entire Palestine question.

Not one country recognizes Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital reverses decades of international and American policy and runs counter to Israeli and American interests. His failure to mention the 1967 borders, relevant U.N. resolutions, colonies, Palestinian refugees, human rights or any of the other issues that divide Palestinians and Israelis diminished all Americans.

Trump’s diktat ignores the fact that, along with the historic presence of Jews in the Holy City, Christians have been present there for more than 2,000 years, Muslims for 1,380, a Holy City where the same site – Haram al-Sharif to Muslims, Temple Mount to Jews – is sacred to both.

Indeed, perhaps someone can tell him it was Muslims who, after Hadrian expelled all Jews from Jerusalem, invited Isaac’s children back to al-Quds.

Stones, scripture, spaces, sacred to all.

For all concerned with Israel’s survival Trump’s action is not only is the death knell for two states but it may force Israelis, as the occupying authority in Palestine, to choose between living in an authoritarian theocracy where some people have more rights than others, or in a democracy where demographics may someday determine Jews a minority in a single state.

This is the choice Trump, in his arrogance, may be forcing upon a people long challenged and victimized by the imperial ambitions of others.

Trump, by legitimizing Israel’s seizure and military occupation of Arab East Jerusalem and its unequal treatment of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians under its authority and its destruction of thousands of Palestinian residences, has made America complicit in the marginalization of an entire people for whom the same stones are sacred.

Trump asserted his right to support Israel’s claim over all Jerusalem – I believe it’s never right to legitimize claims to stolen land, an act Mark Twain warned Americans against in 1894 in Tom Sawyer Abroad:

(Tom:) “A crusade is a war to recover the Holy Land from the paynim (a non-Christian, especially a Muslim).”

(Huck:) “Which Holy Land?”

“Why, the Holy Land – there ain’t but one.”

“What do we want of it?”

“Why, can’t you understand? It’s in the hands of the paynim, and it’s our duty to take it away from them.”

“How did we come to let them git hold of it?”

“We didn’t come to let them git hold of it. They always had it.”

“Why, Tom, then it must belong to them, don’t it?”

“Why of course it does. Who said it didn’t?”

Trump – Donald Trump says it didn’t.

(Robert Azzi is a photographer and writer who lives in Exeter. He can be reached at theother.azzi@gmail.com. His columns are archived at theotherazzi.wordpress.com.)