Jerusalem the contested city

    Jerusalem historical status as one of the world’s most conflicted cities looks to be a fate set in stone.

    It was a surreal and poignant moment, Ivanka Trump taking a selfie with the Netanyahu family before the plaque of the US Embassy in Jerusalem. This was juxtaposed against the bloodshed in Gaza as Israel was killing protestors. 

    While images and words from the Israeli side depicted a scene of euphoria as the US embassy was consecrated in Jerusalem, 60 Palestinians in Gaza were killed peacefully protesting by the Israeli army.

    Hamas has been blamed by Israel, as yet without proof, for inciting the violence and directing people to the fences that keeps Palestinians locked up inside Gaza. This is despite reports that the Gazan economy is on the brink of collapse which could have even more serious social implications for the people of Gaza. But at the very centre of Israeli violence and Palestinian protests sits Jerusalem.

    It is not the first time Jerusalem sits at the centre of a political contestation though. It has changed hands 44 times, been besieged 23 times and destroyed to the ground twice throughout its history. 

    The question of who rules Jerusalem has laid the ground for major wars and invasions like the Crusades, for example. Jerusalem’s trials with imperial designs is nothing new and most of the time these designs have been underpinned with theological references.

    The roots of the current crisis can be traced back to the end of the 19th century when the city  became the focus of the powers of the day. According to historians this was a period when the concept of the Holy Land was invented primarily by Protestant missionaries of the day and since then have worked on redesigning the land for the second coming of Jesus Christ. 

    Jerusalem was a central focus of Christian Zionists who preceded the Jewish Zionists. Jewish settlement to Palestine was first proposed by a British Pastor, Lord Shaftesbury in 1838 when there was no realistic Jewish Zionist project.

    The 20th century kicked off a great contest for Jerusalem which was colonised by the British Empire and taken from the Ottoman Caliphate. Since that time, German and Russian empires have established a strong presence in the city marking its landscape with monumental buildings. 

    When the British Empire promised a national home for Jews in Palestine in 1917, it marked the beginning of large scale European Jewish migration. By the time the British left in 1948 the Jewish population had markedly shifted upwards leaving in its wake a conflict between Jews and Arab Muslims. 

    The Jewish population of Palestine increased from 4 percent in 1861 to 33 percent in 1948. By the end of 1948, Jerusalem was divided between Jordan and Israel, both fought a war after the latter declared its independence. Back then Israel was settled only in the western part of the city.

    David Ben Gurion, the first prime minister of Israel declared Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. In 1949, most of the government offices were moved to Jerusalem and the Knesset reconvened its sessions in the city. 

    The Old City, however, which is historical Jerusalem carrying the most significance, remained under Jordanian control until 1967 – the year Israel occupied the eastern part of the city as well as the whole territory reaching out to the Jordan River. 

    The occupation of Jerusalem was extended even further. From then on, the Judaisation of the city was ramped up. Changing the demographic balance was essential in order to shift the urban geography of the city through the forceful seizure of Palestinian land. The overriding goal was the demographic and territorial unification of the city as not to allow a division in the future.

    In 1980, the Knesset passed a law titled the “Basic Law: Jerusalem, Capital of Israel” and unilaterally declared the annexation of Jerusalem by Israel. That act drew strong international condemnation and the UN declared the decision null.

    Israel on the other hand hoped this would attract diplomatic recognition for the self-declared capital of Israel. Even though the United States, in public, stood against the unilateral steps taken by Israel, in particular the land taken after the 1967 war, consecutive presidents from Bill Clinton to Barack Obama have reaffirmed Israeli supremacy over East Jerusalem and had promised to move the US embassy to Jerusalem. Donald Trump pulled the trigger.

    Bill Clinton was first to criticise George HW Bush during his presidential election campaign in 1992 for challenging Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem. This signalled a major shift in the American stance towards Jerusalem. 

    After Bill Clinton was elected as president he didn’t  move forward on his stance mostly due to the Oslo Accords between Israel and the Palestinian Authority in 1993. Nonetheless he had set a precedent which subsequent US Presidents have followed. 

    When in 1995, a law titled “Jerusalem Embassy Act” was passed by the US Congress it legislated that the US should recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and the American embassy should move there within five years. Clinton signed a waiver every six months postponing the move.

    Until Donald Trump, this became  common practise for US  presidents. George W Bush has been the second American president calling for the US embassy move to Jerusalem during his presidential campaign, and criticised Bill Clinton for not carrying out what he promised. 

    However upon coming to power he also signed the waivers delaying the move. The last time the waiver delaying the move was signed by Donald Trump was right after his declaration that he will move the embassy to Jerusalem. 

    On May 15, 2018 the inauguration ceremony of the American embassy in Jerusalem was held with the attendance of Jared Kushner, Ivanka Trump, right-wing religious figures from the US and a handful of America’s friends. 

    The actors and the names will change, but Jerusalem’s fate and relationship with empires remains unchanged.

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