Washington: David Shipler, who won the Pulitzer Prize in 1987 for Arab and Jew: Wounded spirits in a Promised Land, described occupied Jerusalem in his book thus: “Jerusalem is a festival and a lamentation. It’s song is a sigh across the ages, a delicate, robust, mournful carol at the great junction of spiritual cultures.”
From day one in July 637, when Muslim rule over Jerusalem began and then lasted one and a third millennia – with the exception of a short period of time in the 12th century – until 1917, when Britain’s General Edmond Allenby entered the city as a conqueror, Muslims did just that. They evinced respect for other faiths.
Trump, in an act that mirrors the infamy of Balfour’s declaration down to a tee, thought one city, occupied Jerusalem, could be subjected to a similarly awry fate.
The narrative is in the history books. And it is well known. After he entered the city in 637 – a mere five years after the death of Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) – Caliph Omar Bin Al Khattab declined an invitation by the Orthodox patriarch Sophronius to pray at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre because, he feared, were he to do that, his followers would turn it into a mosque. And when an outcropping of rock was pointed out to him as being associated with an ancient place of Jewish sacrifice, he ordered Muslims, in a further show of sensitivity to other faiths, to construct their own place of worship at a respectful remove.
All of which stands in contrast to the primeval negation of the ‘other’ that in our time defines Zionism at its core. The central argument that defines this movement effectively is this: Ancient Jewish tribes had ruled Jerusalem two thousand years ago, thus diaspora Jews today, hailing from Europe and elsewhere, should claim exclusive control of the city, and the devil with with those native Palestinians who had lived there since time immemorial, alternately known as Jebusites, Canaanites and Philistines.
So you ask, not altogether without disdain: In the name of mercy, how many countries, how many cities, would have to be shuffled and reshuffled in our time if a claim as old as these folks have in Palestine should be redeemed? Many indeed.
But we live in a world, as any Palestinian will tell you, where not your moral rectitude but the power profile you project that defines your rights – or lack thereof. Consider a case in point. A hundred years ago, Arthur Balfour, Britain’s Foreign Minister, the man behind the Balfour Declaration, thought one such country, Palestine, could be thus shuffled and reshuffled. And, in our time, America’s president, Donald Trump, in an act that mirrors the infamy of Balfour’s declaration down to a tee, thought one city, occupied Jerusalem, could be subjected to a similarly awry fate.
Five months after Trump announced he was recognising occupied Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, around 800 American and Israeli guests will gather under a marquee to applaud the official opening of the US embassy on Monday.
The sad fact is that the little people of Palestine are powerless. In their world of subjugation to the rule of the gun, those wielding power enjoy nearly an absolute lack of constraint over their actions. They do what they please (rob you of your ancient patrimony, your capital city, your cultivable land). Meanwhile, the greater constraints this power-holder imposes on you, the greater the powerlessness you feel. He calls the shots. You have no say. You’re expected to eat humble pie and take it on the chin.
Consider as another case in point the language of the putative “peace process” — replete with all manner of buzz words — that the US has launched over the years, over the decades, to resolve the dispute between the powerful Israelis and the powerless Palestinians. Look for terms in it like “decolonisation”, an “end to the occupation”, “national independence” and self-determination”, and you look in vain.
But you don’t, as African-American idiom has it, argue with ‘the man’. When he says all you get is a truncated state, and occupied Jerusalem – in whose bosom your cultural, spiritual and aesthetic history is anchored – is “off the [negotiating] table”, you pity yourself at realising how little control you have over the determination of your political destiny, or even your daily life. For a Palestinian living under occupation today, nothing is more imbued with hollow brutality and furtive sadism than that row of words that reads: Stop At This Checkpoint.
People are shaped by the cities they grow up in. They cherish these cities’ freedom, the contours of their communal experience. They even at times engagingly give these cities nicknames, such as The Windy City (Chicago), The Eternal City (Rome), The City of Lights (Paris), The Forbidden City (Beijing) and even, more whimsically, Sin City (Las Vegas), the latter presumably because it is a locus for the propagation of pleasure.
We call ours the Holy City because it is both earthly and heavenly, because the three Abrahamic religions played their roles in it, because its teleological spirit of history resounds, daily, around every corner of our being, whether we, its native sons, live in it or are exiled from it.
Never mind that the impetuous American president has seemingly given away our rights to it. He, surely, does not have the last word on the issue, not by a stretch. It is history, which is dialectical and which always favours the powerless over the powerful, that does...