During a crucial juncture in the 2000 Camp David negotiations, then Prime Minister Ehud Barak asked Yasser Arafat what he really wanted in Jerusalem. Arafat replied by describing his vision of traveling unimpeded to Jerusalem, the capital of the Palestinian state. Barak told him to skip the vision thing and to get down to practicalities.
Arafat, however, had the last word. "Anyone who does not understand what Jerusalem means to me is not a practical man," he told Barak.
At one level, there is something infinitely sad about a Moslem leader lecturing a Jewish prime minister – descendant of an unbroken chain of ancestors who directed their every prayer towards Jerusalem – on the importance of Jerusalem. Israel’s chief negotiator for Jerusalem issues would later write in Ha’aretz that the Zionist movement has from the start viewed the Temple Mount as a burden.
At another level, Barak can be forgiven for not having taken seriously Arafat’s protestations of undying love for Jerusalem. Jerusalem is mentioned by name 669 times in Tanach, and by its synonym Zion another 154 times.
By contrast, Jerusalem is not mentioned once in the Koran. And the Koran places such crucial events as the Akeidah, not on the Temple Mount, but in the Moslem holy city of Mecca, towards which Moslems pray five times a day.
For most of the period of nearly uninterrupted Moslem rule over Jerusalem from the late 7th century C.E. until 1967, Jerusalem was a cultural and political backwater. Under the Abbasid caliphs from 750-1016, the city fell into complete disrepair. In a famous Arabic geographical dictionary of the 12th century, Jerusalem is mentioned only once. By way of comparison, Basra is mentioned 170 times and Damascus 100 times.
Under Mamluk rule (1250-1516), Jerusalem’s walls were razed. By the end of that period, only 4,000 people still lived in Jerusalem. The first Ottoman ruler of Jerusalem, Suleiman the Magnificent, rebuilt the city’s walls, and lavished money on Jerusalem. But the city’s status soon declined rapidly to the point that it was viewed by the Ottoman rulers as a mere appendage of the Nablus or Gaza districts.
When the British were negotiating with Saudi Arabian tribes to rebel against Ottoman rule, during World War I, they did not even bother offering them Jerusalem, which was considered of little importance to Moslems. And the Moslem Turks abandoned the city without a fight, after having first given orders to destroy its Moslem holy places.
Most telling, during the period from 1948 to 1967, when the Temple Mount was under Jordanian sovereignty, not one non-Jordanian Moslem leader came to pray in Jerusalem. The Jordanians did not even broadcast Friday sermons from the mosques on the Temple Mount, but rather from Amman.
BUT AS DANIEL PIPES points out in "The Muslim Claim to Jerusalem" (Middle East Quarterly, September 2001), there is a second strand of Moslem thinking about Jerusalem – a strand upon which Arafat was drawing when he spoke to Barak at Camp David. Over the centuries, there have been occasions when various Moslem rulers found it in their political interests to build up the status of Jerusalem, and even invest it with theological significance. Most frequently, that has taken place in response to competing religions and empires expressing their own attachment to Jerusalem – e.g., during the Crusades or after the Israeli reunification of Jerusalem in 1967.
The Damascus-based Ummayad Dynasty found itself in competition for leadership of the Moslem word with followers of Mohammed from the Arabian peninsula, and therefore in its interests to build up the status of Jerusalem at the expense of Mecca. The Umayyad caliphs built the Dome of the Rock from 688-91 C.E. and the Al Aksa mosque in 715. More importantly, from our point of view, they identified Jerusalem as the locus of the furthest (al-aksa) mosque referred to a Koranic verse describing Mohammed having been transported in a vision from "the sacred mosque to the furthest mosque."
That identification was extremely flimsy. Elsewhere in the Koran, Eretz Yisrael is referred to as the nearest land. And the Koranic verse in question is not even one of those inscribed in the Dome of the Rock. Yet the identification of the Temple Mount with Mohammed’s "night vision" would remain a potent thread in Moslem thought, ever ready to be rekindled as the need arose.
The Crusades of the 12th and 13th centuries contributed, at a later stage, to yet another reappraisal of the significance of Jerusalem. From 1150 to the conquest of Jerusalem by Saladin in 1187 C.E., hadiths (sayings of Mohammed) begin to appear expressing the preciousness of Jerusalem, and the Dome of the Rock is described in Moslem writings for the first time as the point from which Mohammed ascended to Heaven. (Two generations later, however, Saladin’s grandsons would trade away Jerusalem for a promise from the Emperor Frederick II not to invade Egypt.)
Similarly, in the pre-state Zionist period, the Mufti of Jerusalem employed a cult of Jerusalem as an important tool to organize Arab opposition to the building activities of the Zionists. In response to the importance attached to the Western Wall by Jews, there appeared for the first time a Moslem claim that Mohammed had tied his horse to the Western side of the Temple Mount.
The Moslem cult of Jerusalem reached its apotheosis in response to the Israeli conquest of the Temple Mount in the Six Day War. Jerusalem has become the one thing upon which there is unanimity in the famously fractious Moslem world. The Ayatollah Khomeini declared the last Friday in Ramadan Jerusalem Day. The event draws up to 300,000 devotees to Teheran annually. Iranian troops during the Iraq-Iran War were given maps showing the way through Iraq towards Jerusalem.
More ominously, Moslem spokesmen now deny any Jewish connection to the Temple Mount or Jerusalem. Arafat shocked President Clinton at Camp David when he informed him that there had never been a Jewish Temple anywhere in Jerusalem. Clinton was incredulous, but that position is now commonplace among Palestinians and other Arabs.
DANIEL PIPES WAS IN JERUSALEM LAST WEEK to receive the Guardian of Jerusalem Award from Bar Ilan University, and his speech brought his 2001 article up to the present. He described how Islamic Zionism – despite its ersatz origins – is today a very real force, with numerous policy implications. The ferocity of the new Islamic attachment to Jerusalem, and the insistence that the Jews have no claim or right to the city, makes the issue of Jerusalem totally intractable and a deal-breaker in any future peace negotiations.
Even as Islamic "Zionism" has waxed, so has the Jewish attachment to Jerusalem waned. Pipes began by quoting national religious writer Yisrael Harel. Harel recalled the broadcast of General Motti Gur’s famous announcement, "The Temple Mount is in our hands," as one of the most joyous moments in Israel’s history. Yet today, writes Harel, Jerusalem Day has become almost exclusively a holiday celebrated by the national religious camp.
The overwhelming majority of those present at the Jerusalem Solidarity rally called by Natan Sharansky at the height of negotiations over the sovereignty of the Temple Mount were from the religious community. The rally may have been one of the largest in Israel’s history, but more significant, in the long run, was its lack of crossover appeal beyond the bounds of the national religious camp. That lack of concern of secular Israelis is hardly surprising when one considers a statistic Natan Sharansky cited frequently when he was Minister of Jerusalem Affairs: Less than half of Israeli high school students have ever been to Jerusalem. And traveling to Jerusalem for anywhere in Israel is a matter of 3-4 hours at the most, not like traveling from Bismarck, N.D. to Washington D.C.
Pipes’ shocking conclusion: Islamic Zionism is today a more potent, more intensely held cause, than Jewish Zionism. At Camp David, Arafat sought to cause the Jewish negotiators to abase themselves by admitting that the Temple Mount is more important to the Moslems than it is to Jews. For he knew that by doing so, he would sever one more tie between the Jews and their Land, and thereby weaken Jewish resolve.
And it appears that he has succeeded from the grave.