Jerusalem, O Jerusalem

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FRANCISCO S. TATAD

FRANCISCO S. TATAD

“And as they drew near and saw the city, he wept over it, saying, ‘Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. For the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up a barricade around you and surround you and hem you in on every side and tear you down to the ground, you and your children within you. And they will not leave one stone upon another in you, because you did not know the time of your visitation.”
—Luke 19:41-44

THIS is how the Bible records Jesus weeping over Jerusalem even as the crowds greet him with ‘Hosannas’ upon his triumphal entry into the city, a few days before his fateful crucifixion. Luke does not explain why Jesus weeps, but Matthew seems to richly suggest it when he calls Jerusalem “the city that kills the prophets and stone those who are sent to it!” (Mat 23:37-39). Biblical scholars have since suggested that Jesus wept upon seeing the future where the city was destroyed under Emperor Titus and his legions.

Jerusalem has been destroyed twice, besieged 23 times, attacked 52 times, captured and recaptured 44 times, as reckoned by historians. Did Jesus, being omniscient and eternal, not weep for everything that has happened since? Did he not, in fact, also weep for what might happen to Jerusalem after the US President recognized it as the capital of Israel?

Was Trump a factor?
This is what a much younger person asked me after Donald Trump shocked the world with his unprecedented announcement. I did not have the competence to answer the question. But I saw some people shed a few tears, and I tended to share their grief and fear of the unknown. No one knows the precise consequences of that decision. It could be either peace or war.


Jerusalem is the holiest of all cities, sacred to the Jews, Christians and Muslims since biblical times. Within the Old City, defined by walls built in 1538 under Suleiman the Magnificent, stand famous religious sites sacred to the three major Abrahamic religions—the Western Wall, sacred to Judaism; the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, a Christian pilgrimage site; the al Ashqa Mosque and Dome of the Rock, a 7th century Islamic shrine with a dome of gold, revered by Muslims.

The Ottoman Turks ruled Jerusalem from 1517, but when the British seized control of the empire 100 years ago, Gen. Edmund Allenby entered the Old City, through Jaffa Gate, on foot, after dismounting his horse out of respect for its holy status.

The partition plan
In 1947, towards the end of British rule, the United Nations approved a partition plan that provided for two separate states, one Jewish and one Arab, with Jerusalem governed by a “special international regime,” owing to its unique religious status. The Arabs rejected the plan, and a day after Israel proclaimed its independence in 1948, of which the Philippines became the lone Asian supporter in the United Nations, Arab states attacked the new state, but were defeated.

Jerusalem was divided into two halves—-the western half formed the new state of Israel, while the eastern half, including the Old City, was occupied by Jordan. Israel developed its coastal areas—Haifa, Tel Aviv and Ashkalon—-into a commercial zone while King Abdullah I focused on the development of Amman, Jordan’s capital. Little attention was paid to Jerusalem as such.

In 1967, the next Arab-Israeli war broke out, and Israel quickly overran the Arab forces. It seized control of Gaza Strip and the Sinai Peninsula from Egypt; the West Bank and Eastern Jerusalem from Jordan; and the Golan Heights from Syria. In 1987, the Palestinian intifada began as an uprising against the Israeli military occupation of Gaza Strip and the West Bank after the Palestine Liberation Organization, founded in 1964, failed to achieve a meaningful solution to the Palestinian question.

The Oslo accords
In 1993, the PLO under Yassir Arafat and Israel under Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin sat down for direct negotiations in Oslo, Norway, pursuant to the UN Security Council resolutions 242 and 338 on the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination. This resulted in the PLO recognizing the state of Israel and Israel recognizing the PLO as the true representative of the Palestinian people.

The accords, which were intended to end the territorial conflict, were signed between Israel and PLO in Washington, D.C. in 1993, and in Taba, Egypt in 1995. But it did not create a Palestinian state. The Palestinian Liberation Authority itself was created only in 1994, under the Gaza Jericho Agreement, to govern the West Bank and Gaza Strip without resolving borders, refugees and Jerusalem’s final status.

This status was and remains to be decided by direct negotiations between Israel and the future Palestinian state.

This was how the world understood it until Trump’s unexpected recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital without reference to what happens to the future Palestinian state. Since Israel was established in 1948, both the UN and the US have refused to recognize any country’s sovereignty over Jerusalem. Trump’s announcement totally reversed that policy and practice, without regard of possible consequences.

Everyone on edge
Trump said it was a bold move toward peace.

But all Arab leaders and US allies who have since spoken have rejected it. These include King Salman of Saudi Arabia, Egyptian President Abdel Fatah el-Sisi, PLA’s Mahmoud Abbas, King Abdullah 2nd of Jordan, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, Iran Supreme Leader Ayatollah Al Khamanei, Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamil bin Hamad al-Thani, French President Emmanuel Macron, Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni, and even British Prime Minister Theresa May.

Pope Francis said he could not hide his “deep concern” for the situation created by the unexpected developments. “Jerusalem is a unique city, which is sacred for Jews, Christians and Muslims, who venerate the holy sites of their respective religions and has a special vocation for peace,” the Holy Father said. Francis visited the Holy Land in 2014, following a tradition begun by his last two predecessors—Saint Pope John Paul II and Benedict XVI.

In 2012, the Vatican called for “an internally guaranteed special statute” for Jerusalem, with the goal of safeguarding the freedom of religion and conscience, the identity and sacred character of Jerusalem as a holy city, (and) respect for, and freedom of access to its holy places.”

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said Jerusalem “is a final-status issue that must be resolved through direct negotiations between the two parties on the basis of the relevant Security Council and General Assembly resolutions, taking into account the legitimate concerns of the Palestinian and Israeli sides. In this moment of great anxiety, I want to make it clear there is no alternative to the two-state solution. There is no Plan B. I will do everything in my power to support the Israeli and Palestinian leaders to return to meaningful negotiations.”

Bolivia, Britain, Egypt, France, Italy, Senegal, Sweden and Uruguay have asked the UN Security Council to meet on Trump’s Jerusalem decision.

Majority disagrees
Within the US, Trump’s decision is not without support from the evangelicals and pro-Israel lobby within the Republican party, but The New York Times and nearly everybody else said it had the dire effect of putting the entire Middle East on edge. All but two of 11 former US ambassadors to Israel, contacted by the NYTimes, found Trump’s decision “wrongheaded, dangerous and deeply flawed.”

Under the two-state solution, which the Philippines supports, Israel and the future Palestine should be able to live peacefully together, side by side. Israel could establish its capital in West Jerusalem while the future Palestinian state could have its own capital in East Jerusalem. However, in his announcement, Trump failed to indicate the territorial limits of Jerusalem as the Israeli capital.

The natural assumption is that he meant the entire Jerusalem, which is unacceptable to the Palestinians and the rest of the world, including various sectors and institutions in the US.

Naturally this has caused general anxiety everywhere.

It is gratifying to note that despite widespread fears, no violent Arab-Israeli encounters have occurred until now. And millions are praying peace would be preserved forever. But even here a heavy pall of gloom has descended upon Catholic Christians who look to visiting the Holy Land, at least once before they die. I have a group of friends who were hoping to make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem this Easter; this includes that young person who wanted to know if Trump’s decision was part of the reason Jesus shed tears over Jerusalem.

I myself have been thinking of visiting the Holy Land once again, after visiting it at least three times. But I can’t say whether I should put my plans on hold indefinitely, or simply prepare myself for some possible martyrdom. The first time my family and I went on pilgrimage there, my Jewish guide refused to take me to Bethlehem because of a minor stoning incident. My daughter who decided to go on her own, just took a bus and got there safely without any incident. This was before 9/11, the IS, and the rash of suicide bombers. The risks may have risen significantly since then.

fstatad@gmail.com

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