The case for a unified Jerusalem

 photo above courtesy of

Throughout all the generations, during the two thousand years of their exile, the Jewish people had yearned for Jerusalem. It was the object of their pilgrimage, their dreams, their longings. In the previous two decades, this craving of the centuries had found …Jerusalem’s permanent place was in the heart. There are moments which bear within them solace for the sufferings of a nation, consolation for a private loss, reward for the fearless unremitting pursuit of a noble goal. This was one of them.

Moshe Dayan, defense Minister- his thoughts the first time he entered the city after the Jewish victory from Jordan  on the second day of the Six Day war in 1967.


famous picture of four paratroopers who participated in the fight staring at "the wall" (hakotel) the most revered spot in Judaism, probably for the first time in their lives.

famous picture of four paratroopers who participated in the fight staring at “the wall” (hakotel) the most revered spot in Judaism, probably for the first time in their lives.

Given the recent headlines that Israel is building 1000 homes in East Jerusalem, apparently lost on the rest of the world is that Israel is building in its own city, not disputed, not the West Bank, not Palestinian territory.

Even in the United States which is supposed to have historians in the State Department briefing officials to formulate proper and fair policies seems to be absent on the case for Jerusalem and Jewish people’s right to build there.

The Palestinian voice grows stronger for action, the U.S. and the world seems to be in concert.  Ignoring the reunification of Jerusalem back in 1967, is there anybody out there that will stand with the Jews in their struggle to keep Jerusalem sovereign.

Jerusalem has always been a Jewish city. Already ancient  when Rome bared Jews from entering  in the 2nd century C.E., within fifty years, they began to slowly make their way back. Steady Jewish immigration into Jerusalem has never stopped in 1900 years.

Over the centuries Palestine in general was the one place on Earth that Jews migrated to because they wanted to, not because they were forced out of somewhere else which has been a major part of the Jewish story for the last 1000 years. And, most of those Jews settled in Jerusalem.

The pull was so strong for Jews to “return” to Jerusalem that even during the worst times they attempted to reach their city. S.D. Gotein researching the Gheniza documents published a letter from a man stuck in Cairo in 1100, writing to his community in Spain, probably sent as a vanguard to pave the way for more to come. He couldn’t get to Jerusalem because “the Franks arrived and killed everyone in the city whether Ishmael or of Israel,” referring to the massacres that occurred as a result of the siege of Jerusalem in the first Crusade in 1099.

pictograph simulating the fall  of Jerusalem in 1099 to the European Crusaders.

pictograph simulating the fall of Jerusalem in 1099 to the European Crusaders.

A strong steady flow of Jews countering times of war, famine and disease diminishing the population,  would continue coming replenishing when Christians and Muslims wouldn’t.  In a world where Jews comprised a mere tiny fraction of the world’s population they were a perennial significant presence in Jerusalem, if not the outright majority at any given period during the previous 20 centuries.

Around 617, the Persians went to war against  Byzantium. The Jews helped the Persians remove the Byzantines  from the Levant, and with their blessing, became the rulers of Jerusalem and most of the surrounding area, which we know as ancient Judea.

Byzantines and Persians going at it around 617 ce

Byzantines and Persians going at it around 617 ce

A few years later the Byzantines countered and took it back.  Ibn Ishaq, the earliest known chronicler of Islamic history said that the Byzantine King Heracles thought seriously about driving out all the Jews in Palestine because he was not yet aware of Muhammad’s conquest which had taken place in 622 c.e. , and mistook a dream he had that warned him of a second Jewish uprising, because as Ibn Ishaq phrased it, “saw a kingdom of a circumcised man.” Ibn Ishaq wrote this 80 years after Mohammed’s death so more than likely the King stopped short of driving the Jews out of the realm because his court realized their importance to the trade routes that were long established and their major role in them all through the Levant.

When the Muslims took dominion over Jerusalem in 638, the problem of the Jews and Heraclus’s mistrust was not lost on Omar, the present Caliph following after Muhammad’s death. Seeing for themselves how numerous the Jews were throughout that land and especially in Jerusalem, and knowing how the Jews felt about Muhammad and his slaughter of the Jews of Yathrib and Khaybar, Omar felt he needed to do something to tamp down their strength. In 640 the Muslims established the Dhimmi restrictions which  took away many of the freedoms of Non Muslim peoples, and weakened the heretic Jews of Palestine and Jerusalem.

However, they flourished through the Golden age of Islam, rebuilding the city, and making it a hub for trade and industry. No proof of who during this period were in the majority, but Jews and Muslims were most of the population. It seems logical that Jerusalem remained a predominantly Jewish city during the 8th, 9th and 10th centuries. Even with Dhimmi restrictions they were pretty much free to carry on their own lives. When the Dhimmi Laws were strictly enforced it was harder, when they were relaxed it was easier.

As mentioned Christian crusaders seized Jerusalem in  1099 and proceeded to slaughter indiscriminately Muslims, Jews and pagans. Those that could get out with their lives did and scattered in all directions.  Another letter from Gotein’s scholarship from a woman  who had fled to Tripoli Lebanon, writing to her sister about the escape of her and her baby sometime after 1100 says “I witnessed much bloodshed and experienced everything terrible.”

Within  a couple of decades however, and Christian dominance in place, the Jews began to trickle back in as they had during several other perilous times in the last 1000 years. Described as “Dangerous” to do so by Thomas Wright editing the “Early Travels in Palestine” published in 1848 but, the lure, connection, and history to the Jews would not keep them away.

Within a few decades they were once again thriving in the city, running businesses and coping with the Christian cruelty which had become a way of life there.  There is no record of pagans or Muslims coming back in before the Jews, and only did so much later in small numbers understanding that Jews were surviving under Christian persecution. Pilgrims from Eastern Europe, Spain, North Africa and all points east where Jews dwelled continued coming and settling with those that had been there for generations, building a sizeable Jewish population.

It is reasonable to assume therefore, that Jews were once again a significant population in Jerusalem, even during the very treacherous Crusader times.

Dye factories and making soap were two of the major industries employing hundreds of Jews in the city  and continued so for several centuries. The traveler Benjamin of Tudela wrote in 1163 “the exclusive privilege of dyeing is purchased from the king by the Jews of Jerusalem 200 of whom dwell in one corner of the city.” With that many Jews employed into one industry means that including their families Jews by that time were at least 600-700 strong in that one business, alone.

With the rise of the Ottomans, and the reign of Suleiman the Magnificent, Jews once again flourished in Palestine and Jerusalem. An Ottoman renewal project in the 16th century financed by the Ottoman court showed that they were confident enough in the Jewish success in the city that they invested in it for the future and the wealth it would bring their empire. The Jewish population again rose during the first two centuries of Ottoman rule.

We have written confirmation that by the 1842 Ottoman population census Jews were a majority over Christians and Muslims and remain so right to the present day. And, this is at a time when anti-Semitism was on the rise in the Empire. But, with strength in numbers the Jews of Jerusalem were pretty much spared that kind of humiliation and worse.  A Jewish majority has dominated the city for the last 173 years.

There is no reason to believe that even before 1842 going back at least 40 or 50 years that the population would have changed any, and, possible much before that time. Even with Muslims vastly outnumbering Jews in population, there has always been a sizeable Jewish community in Jerusalem.

When the United Nations passed Resolution 181 in 1947, the partition of Palestine did not include Jerusalem as its capital. The Jews were upset about it but they accepted partition. After the War of Independence and the Jews held West Jerusalem and the Jordanians held the east,  Israel’s leaders said they would work toward a future which would unify the capital of the Jewish people with their country.

That time came in 1967. Within two weeks of ending the war, the Jews annexed east Jerusalem, declaring it the capital. There is no way Jerusalem will be negotiated for in any settlement. It will stay unified, and under Jewish sovereignty.

Palestinians will have to build a capital somewhere else.

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