Jerusalem – Holy to Three Religions
Whether anything will come of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, if and when they occur, is unknown. But what is known is that the most difficult issue will undoubtedly be that of Jerusalem. Since the 1967 Six-Day War between Israel and its Arab neighbors, Israel has maintained sovereignty in Jerusalem, not only in those areas of western Jerusalem where it ruled from 1948 to 1967, but also in those parts of eastern Jerusalem which were under Jordanian control until 1967. Of particular contention will be the Old City of Jerusalem.
Known in Hebrew as Yerushalayim and in Arabic as al-Quds, Jerusalem is one of the oldest cities in the world. It has been conquered, destroyed and rebuilt time and again, and every layer of its earth reveals a different piece of the past.
The city of Jerusalem is given special status in Jewish religious law. In particular, Jews anywhere in the world pray facing its direction, Jerusalem appears in the Tanach, the Hebrew Bible, 669 times The Tanach (Old Testament) laid the foundation for both Christianity and Islam.
It is in the Old City that the holy shrines of the three great monotheistic religions exist in close proximity to each other. The Temple Mount in the southeastern corner of the Old City was the site of both the First and Second Temples of Jerusalem – the center of Jewish ritual worship, including the Holy of Holies, where the the High Priest on Yom Kippur prayed for his people. Tradition tells us that the Mount was also where Abraham prepared to sacrifice his son Isaac.
Since its destruction of the Temple by the Romans in 70 CE, Jews have congregated, when they were allowed to do so, to pray at the Kotel, the Western Wall, which was a retaining wall for the Temple Mount. But it is only since 1967 that Jews (and for that matter anyone) can come freely to the Kotel and pray. The Western Wall and its adjacent tunnels are the closest places to the Holy of Holies where Jews and others can offer their prayers.
For Christians, Jerusalem is revered both because of its biblical history from the time of its capture by King David and later as the site of the Temples and because it is closely identified with the life and death of Jesus. The site of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is venerated as the place both of the tomb and the resurrection of Jesus. The church in the Old City’s Christian Quarter and has long been a major pilgrimage center for Christians from all around the world.
The church is managed jointly by representatives of different Christian denominations, mainly the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate, Franciscan friars from the Roman Catholic Church, and the Armenian Patriarchate, but also by the Ethiopian, Coptic and Syrian Orthodox churches.
Following the Muslim conquest of the Holy Land in the 7th century CE, Jerusalem and the Temple Mount acquired Muslim holy designation, although Jerusalem is not specifically mentioned in the Koran. According to Muslim tradition, it was from Jerusalem that Muhammad ascended to heaven on his steed Buraq in the year 610.
The Muslims built the Al-Aqsa Mosque on the Temple Mount and also the shrine of The Dome of the Rock, which is atop the former site of the Holy Temple itself. After the Six-Day War, Israel permitted the Muslims to continue to pray on the Temple Mount, while, ironically, Jews and those of other religions are only allowed to visit during certain hours and days, but are prohibited from praying there. The Temple Mount is known to Muslims as Haram al-Sharif, or the Noble Sanctuary.
The Al-Aqsa Mosque is the third holiest site in Islam and is under the administration of an Islamic trust called the Waqf. Muslims visit the holy site all year round, but on every Friday during the holy month of Ramadan, thousands of Muslims come to pray at the Mosque.