Whose Jerusalem ?
Whose Land ?
(February 16) One may wonder about the sobriety of the suggestion by Archbishop of Canterbury George Carey that Syria is a model of peaceful coexistence between faiths from which "the world could learn."
According to the French news agency AFP, at the end of a four-day visit in that country two weeks ago, Carey said he was greatly impressed by the coexistence of Moslems and Christians (whose several Eastern churches comprise about 10% of the population) there. He also praised the "constructive role" played by Syria's President Hafez Assad, who told him Syria seeks a "just and comprehensive peace, based on international law."
According to the Associated Press, which did not quote Carey directly, he said Assad seeks a lasting peace in the region that is based on justice.
According to the Syrian Arab Republic Radio Network (SARRN) in Damascus, Carey was even more effusive. SARRN said he praised "Syria's wise policy" and Assad's "principled character;" found Assad "an enlightened and extremely wise person;" and "realized" Assad's "deep eagerness to establish a just and comprehensive peace in the Middle East" (Israeli & Global [electronic] News, February 1).
If Carey has been quoted accurately, one wonders whether he is aware that in 1982 the "principled, enlightened, and extremely wise" Syrian dictator had his brother, Rifat Assad, lead the army in a three-week sweep - with bombers, artillery and flame-throwers - of the town of Hama, massacring its estimated 20,000 Sunni Moslem dissidents.
Is that what Assad means by "a comprehensive peace"?
Carey was quoted as saying that Jerusalem "belongs to us all. For Christians and Moslems and Jews it is a holy place, and we believe that all religions should be able to worship freely in Jerusalem."
What would have happened if Carey had confronted Assad with the fact that never have the people of the three monotheistic faiths been able to pray in Jerusalem as freely as they have been able to do since reunited Jerusalem came under Jewish sovereign governance in 1967? I say this even in awareness of certain occasional limitations on the movement into Jerusalem of Arabs from Judea and Samaria, on security grounds, and in awareness of the intra-Jewish, politically motivated limitations on certain activities of Jewish non-Orthodox congregations.
The only period in modern times when all religions were not able to pray freely in Jerusalem was 1948-1967, when Jordan, in violation of the Israel-Jordan Armistice Agreement of 1949, did not pemit Israeli Jews to go to the Western Wall. For that matter, Jews in general were forbidden to enter Jordan unless they produced fake baptismal certificates
As for the order in which Carey lists those to whom Jerusalem is holy - Jerusalem has been holy to the Jews for 3,000 years or more; holy to the Christians for some 2,000 years; and holy to the Moslems - well, as recently as 1225 the Arab geographer Yakut wrote that the city was holy to Jews and Christians, whereas Mecca is holy to Moslems (quoted in Whose Jerusalem? by Eliyahu Tal, Jerusalem, 1994). And a few decades after Yakut, "the most orthodox Islamic thinker, Taqi a-Din... in his effort to purify Islam from alien influences, came out openly... against the idea of the sanctity of Jerusalem in Islam..." (Prof. Hava Lazarus [Yafeh] in her Some Religious Aspects of Islam, Leiden, E.J. Brill, 1981).
And here is what a distinguished Christian prelate and theologian had to say: "For Christians and Moslems, the term 'Holy Sites' is an adequate expression of what matters. Here [in Jerusalem] are sacred places hallowed by most holy events... But Judaism... is not tied to sites, but to the land; not to what happened in Jerusalem, but to Jerusalem itself" (Bishop Prof. Krister Stendahl, Harvard Divinity Bulletin, Autumn 1967).
CAREY WAS invited to the region by the Middle East Council of Churches (MECC).
Last June, the MECC, joined by a body called "the Arab Working Group on Christian-Moslem Dialogue," staged a conference in Beirut. The MECC subsequently issued what it called "The Jerusalem Appeal." This said, inter alia:
"...Jerusalem is its people. Its people are Palestinians, who, ever since Jerusalem existed and for countless generations, have lived within it. They... know no other place as their capital..."
This goes on for about 1,000 words containing the usual farrago of invented "Palestinian" history and anti-Israeli, anti-Jewish innuendoes.©Jerusalem Post