A brief history of Jerusalem

jeruIt’s been a year since Trump moved the US embassy in Israel to the disputed city. Here’s a primer on a land that has many claimants

It’s been a year since U.S. President Donald Trump announced his administration’s decision to move the American embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv, the country’s commercial capital, to Jerusalem, the contested city that’s the Jewish nation’s seat of power. Trump had promised to move the embassy during the campaign days. In his words, Jerusalem is Israel’s eternal capital, and by deciding to move the embassy to the city, Washington has agreed to Israel’s claims over the city, the eastern part of which is under the occupation which the Palestinians see as the capital of their future state.

The dispute over Jerusalem goes backs to millennia. According to Jewish belief, King David conquered the city and made it the capital of the Jewish Kingdom in 1000 BC. Solomon built the first temple 40 years later. Many empires captured the city and established their rules, from the Babylonians and the Persians to Alexander the Great and the Romans. Jesus was believed to have been crucified in the city. In 632 A.D., the Prophet Muhammad was said to have ascended to heaven from Jerusalem. During the crusades, Christians and Muslims fought for the holy city, starting from the 11th century to the 15th. But from 1516 to 1917, it was controlled by the Ottoman Empire.

A state is born

Interestingly, December 11 also marks the 101th  year of the arrival of British General Edmund Allenby and his men in Jerusalem in 1917, capturing the city from the hold of the Ottomans. The Ottoman defence would collapse a few weeks after Allenby entered the Old City by foot in the fag end of the World War I, which would result in the desegregation of the Ottoman Empire. After the War, the British got the League of Nations mandate to rule Palestine, including Jerusalem, during which the Jewish migration into the region stepped up.

The British hold over historic Palestine, including the city of Jerusalem, lasted till the end of the World War II. After the War, the UN General Assembly passed a partition plan “to create an independent Jewish state, an independent Arab state and the city of Jerusalem” under the rule of an international trusteeship. The UN didn’t implement the plan. As soon as the British pulled out of Palestine, the Zionists declared the state of Israel (May 14, 1948), triggering the first Arab-Israel war. Both Harry S Truman, the American President, and Joseph Stalin, the Soviet supremo, immediately recognised the new state, giving it international legitimacy.

Status quo

In the Arab-Israeli war, Israel captured the western part of Jerusalem, and Jordan took the east, including the Old City, which houses the holy places of the three Abrahamic faiths — the Church of Holy Sepulchre which, according to believers, has the site where Jesus was crucified and his empty tomb; the Wailing Wall, which is believed to be the remains of the Second Jewish Temple built by Herod the Great; and Al-Aqsa Mosque from where the Islamic Prophet was believed to have ascended to heaven on Al-Burāq, the heavenly creature.

Till 1967, East Jerusalem remained under Jordanian control and in the Six-Day War of the year, the Israelis captured the whole of the city and annexed the East. In 1980, the right-wing Likud government declared “Jerusalem, complete and united” as its capital (a move nullified by the UN Security Council). Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians in East Jerusalem are neither Israeli citizens nor Palestinian citizens. They do not have voting rights, though they pay taxes to the state of Israel.

According to the internationally recognised two-state plan — which India also supports — East Jerusalem should be the capital of an independent Palestine state. This is the reason most world powers, including India, are not recognising Jerusalem as Israel’s capital even after the Zionists moved their administrative headquarters to the western part of the city (the Israeli Parliament, Knesset, is in West Jerusalem and so are the key ministries, while most embassies are situated in Tel Aviv). Donald Trump has defied this consensus by moving the embassy to Jerusalem. But the dispute over the city remains unsettled.

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