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History in the Making: The Tearing Apart of Jerusalem

From the very first mention in the Scriptures Salem, the city of peace, was known for its hospitality under the leadership of the high priest and king, Melchizedek (Gen. 14:18-20). Salem is believed to be the historical precursor to the modern day Holy City of Jerusalem. Known in Hebrew as Yerushalayim and in Arabic as al-Quds, Jerusalem’s multi-religious landscape includes the sacred sites of the three major Abrahamic religions–Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Precious to the three Abrahamic traditions, Jerusalem is the site of the Western Wall, the most sacred site in all of Judaism; the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and other holy sites of Christianity; and Haram el Sharif (“the Noble Sanctuary”) on the Temple Mount, the third most holy site in all of Islam.

Jerusalem has never been more divided.

Yet in 2018, Jerusalem has never been more divided. On May 14, 2018, the Trump Administration recognized the city as the capital of the State of Israel and moved the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. This action marked a historic shift in U.S. policy and was in direct contradiction to international law. To understand why, we need a short history lesson.

Jerusalem is the city of two peoples. Home to more than half a million Jewish Israelis and more than three hundred thousand Palestinian Jerusalemites, the city’s residents today represent two peoples and the three Abrahamic faith traditions. Both Israelis and Palestinians rightfully regard Jerusalem as central to their national identities. For this reason, the 1947 United Nations partition plan designated Jerusalem as an international city.

To understand why, we need a short history lesson.

But since that time, Jerusalem's status has been passionately contested. However, following the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, the city was divided between Israel and Jordan. The historic Old City–home to the Temple Mount, the Noble Sanctuary, and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre–lay within Jordanian East Jerusalem. The 1967 War saw Israeli forces capture East Jerusalem along with the West Bank, Gaza Strip, Golan Heights, and Sinai Peninsula. In 1980, the government of Israel officially annexed East Jerusalem, a decision that the international community  has not recognized, until President Trump’s December 2017 announcement. During the Oslo Peace Process, Jerusalem was reaffirmed as a “final status issue,” owing to its particularly contentious nature. 

Both Israelis and Palestinians rightfully regard Jerusalem as central to their national identities.

The organization I lead, Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP) believes that the status of Jerusalem must be resolved as part of a comprehensive peace agreement between Israelis and Palestinians and would support the recognition of the Holy City as the capital of both Israeli and Palestinian states.  

Jerusalem is only one of several final status issues in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict including borders, settlements, water, and the “right of return” for Palestinian refugees. Yet in the past several months, the current U.S. Trump Administration has sought to take at least two of these final status issues off the negotiating table. After Trump’s historic December 6, 2017 announcement acknowledging Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, he clearly said “We took Jerusalem off the table…” during his remarks at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

The significance of this move was highlighted by the immediate series of diplomatic tit-for-tats that ensued.

The significance of this move was highlighted by the immediate series of diplomatic tit-for-tats that ensued. The Palestinian Authority rejected Trump’s Jerusalem announcement and responded by limiting meaningful connections with the U.S. Administration and asserting that the United States was no longer qualified to play any role in a Middle East peace process. The United States --  after President Trump tweeted his threat -- withheld significant funds from UNRWA, the U.N. agency responsible for responding to Palestinian refugees; and cut off additional humanitarian aid to Palestinians in an attempt to demand that they return to the negotiating table with the U.S. at the helm. The cutting of humanitarian aid was not effective in shifting the Palestinian response and has had devastating effects on programs in East Jerusalem, the West Bank, and Gaza, and may ultimately be counter-productive in minimizing escalations in violence and conflict.(Find more helpful analysis from the Foundation for Middle East Peace here.)

Most Americans are largely ill-informed about the current politics and the situation in Jerusalem and beyond.

As Christians seeking to both pray for peace and work toward justice in the Middle East, what role might we play?

  • Prayer is a powerful place to start on our journey toward peacemaking. CMEP and other organizations seek to provide resources to help Christians and other people of faith stay informed and pray for peace.
  • Commit to reading and becoming increasingly educated on issues related to Palestine, Israel, and the broader Middle East. Most Americans are largely ill-informed about the current politics and the situation in Jerusalem and beyond.
  • And finally, take action by supporting more holistic U.S. policies that do not favor one party over another in the conflict. Be an advocate for both Israelis and Palestinians.

If there will ever truly be peace in Jerusalem, it will come when there is an end to the violence, security for all peoples, an end to the Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands, the establishment of a viable peace agreement, and a settlement on Jerusalem that allows the city to be shared by the two peoples and three Abrahamic faiths that call it home. 

Lara Friedman, executive director of Foundation for Middle East Peace (FMEP), provides a helpful analysis of the actions of the Trump Administration in her Huffington Post piece “Taking Issues ‘Off the Table’ – First Jerusalem, Now Refugees.”


This is the first post in our 6-part series Israel-Palestine: The View From Here. Don't want to miss a post? Join in here (or at the button below) for weekly email updates


Editor's note: The Middle East Study Trip report concluded that the major contribution the CRC can make as agencies, institutions, and individuals is to raise awareness of the plight of Palestinians -- particularly our sisters and brothers in Christ -- among our members and friends. Its recommendations were accepted by the Board of Trustees (now the Council of Delegates) on behalf of Synod, and were subsequently implemented. To learn more about how the Christian Reformed Church thinks about injustice and the persecution of the Church, see the Belhar Confession and the Belgic Confession, respectively. 

The Reformed family is a diverse family with a diverse range of opinions. Not all perspectives expressed on the blog represent the official positions of the Christian Reformed Church. Learn more about this blog, Reformed doctrines, and our diversity policy on our About page.

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