Jerusalem: Holy City, Open City

Giovanni Sale, SJ

 Giovanni Sale, SJ / Editorial / 6 September 2018

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The year 2018 marks the 70th anniversary of the founding of the State of Israel on May 14, 1948. The United Nations resolution of November 29, 1947, had established that two independent and sovereign states would be created from the Palestinian territory, ex British Mandate: one Jewish and one Palestinian. This resolution created the so-called “partition plan” that met with opposition from Arab countries. It was never actually implemented. On this anniversary, U.S. President Donald Trump wanted the U.S. Embassy – as he had unilaterally declared on December 6, 2017[1] – to move from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Besides having strong symbolic significance, this decision is also politically relevant as it goes against the established practice followed by the majority of the international community in this delicate matter. Its members prefer to comply with the various resolutions of the U.N. that aim to maintain the status quo for East Jerusalem while waiting for an agreed decision.

It should also be acknowledged that the following day, May 15, the Arab world recalled the 70th anniversary of the so-called Nakba (The Catastrophe). This commemorates the memory of the expulsion – after the 1948-49 Arab-Israeli war – of around 500,000 (according to others, more than 700,000) Palestinians from their houses and their land, forcing them to seek asylum in neighboring countries.[2] This event was commemorated, as happens every year, in the Gaza Strip with several protests beginning March 30 at the Israeli border.[3] This provoked clashes between the two sides: on several occasions the Israeli military opened fire on demonstrators who were trying to cross the border fence, claiming the lives of 49 people, including two journalists, and wounding at least another 1,500.

These events come at a delicate moment for the Israeli government, committed as it is to keeping Syria from becoming “conquered territory” of the Iranian Pasdaran and Shiite Hezbollah, from where the security of Israel could be threatened. According to analysts, this explains the frequent shelling and bombing of Iranian military targets in Syria – usually unclaimed – conducted in recent months by Israeli artillery and air force.

In any case, the move of the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem certainly has historic relevance. Events of the last decade show how the problem of the Holy City and the solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are inexorably linked and interdependent, and this fact can be neither ignored nor underestimated.

Furthermore, Trump’s decision to move the embassy has had the unintended consequence of returning the focus of the international community and of public opinion on to the question of Jerusalem, following a number of years in which it had mostly fallen off the radar while concerns focused on ISIS and Islamist terrorism.[4] In fact, in their political propaganda the “new jihadists” – unlike al-Qaeda – had downgraded the Palestinian question (which for decades had agitated the Arab world), thinking that it was no longer fundamental for the unity of the Muslim world.

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