The Trouble with Jerusalem

– and how it could be resolved




The Trouble started in Antiquity

Today’s trouble with Jerusalem started nearly 2000 years ago, when certain groups among the Jews started to believe they had the power to liberate their country from the Roman occupation. The Romans had no intention to tolerate what they perceived as continued acts of Jewish terror. After decades of fighting they destroyed the Second Temple, which they had helped to rebuild less than one hundred years earlier, and finally they even drove the Jews off their Promised Land.

If I take the “New Testament” as an account of Jewish life of that time I get to see the Romans as a power tolerant in religious matters – unlike the Seleucids at the time of the Maccabees – with no intention of interfering, but interested rather in cooperating with religious authorities. Of course they collected taxes. Occupying a country is expensive – and these expenses had to be paid for, but in return the occupying power served as a provider of peace – as long as there was no revolt.

From the descriptions of the New Testament I do not get the impression religious life was in any essential way impeded – quite the opposite, the special status of King Herod with the Romans had enabled him to embellish the Second Temple in a most luxurious way – after its somewhat austere reconstruction following the end of the Babylonian Exile.

The Romans wielded the secular sway, not the religious one. Permanent peaceful cohabitation would have been possible. One of the Jewish teachers of that time, Jesus, had suggested just that – but who was he to be listened to? It took 1700 hundred years until, in the age of enlightenment, his “Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s and unto God that which is God’s” came to be generally accepted and led the Western world to a new form of government: democracy.

In other words: there could have been peace back then, but Jewish extremists thought they needed secular control as well (all too similar to the attitude of Muslim extremists today) – and in that gamble they lost their all.


In the eyes of an external observer things developed in a logical manner: first the Temple was destroyed, and sixty years later, as a consequence of the Bar Kohba uprising, the Roman Emperor Hadrian ordered the expulsion of all Jews from their Holy Land, forbidding any Jew ever again to enter the area of Jerusalem – with the effect that 1700 years later only about 10.000 Jews were living in the area of their Promised Land.


Jerusalem under Muslim Rule

The Romans could not enforce their decree for all time. Five centuries after the Emperor Hadrian’s decree, the region was taken from the Romans by Muslim armies, only six years after Mohammed’s death. And from then on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem was neither Jewish nor Roman but a Muslim mosque. The Jews were not allowed to rebuild their Temple. They remained excluded from their ancient sanctuary, and cut off from their spiritual center – now as a consequence of the Muslim doctrine of Islamic superiority over Judaism and Christianity.


Zionist Immigration versus Sharia

Under these conditions the Muslims could afford to be tolerant towards the Jews throughout the ages – as long as they remained subjugated. This changed when the Jews, in the 19th century, began once again to migrate to their ancient homeland – a while before the Zionist movement.

The Ottoman Sultan Abdul Aziz I, who then ruled the Holy Land, reacted at once and expressly forbade any Jewish immigration – in spite of an existing law, which allowed foreigners to buy land; and this ban was renewed by his successors including Sultan Abdul Hamid II, who were moreover confronted with the Zionist immigration movement which had just begun. But in spite of these orders the number of Jews living in the Holy Land grew sixfold to 60.000 within the last decades of the Ottoman Empire.

And soon – long before any Palestinians were in danger of being expropriated – the Jewish presence began to disturb the Muslim populace. There was little sympathy for this people without a homeland. Quite the contrary. The Jewish presence near their ancient sanctuary aroused suspicion; it called Islamic identity into question, because now the growing number of Jews did not see themselves as subject Dhimmis any more, as all Jews within the realm of Islam had done hitherto. They even wanted to create a new national identity for themselves – within the Islamic sphere of influence! This was seen as an unheard of provocation against Sharia, Islamic law, an attack against the Islamic identity of the Muslims living in this land. It had to be stopped! Sultan Abdul Aziz, as Caliph and religious leader of all Muslims, had been wise enough to forbid any Jewish immigration! And that ban remained effective for the duration of the Ottoman Empire. But even after the disappearance of the Caliphate no Arab nation could allow the formation of a Jewish state in this area. To any disciple of Sharia this was imperative.

And from that point of view, all political reactions to the Jewish immigration, starting with the decision of Sultan Abdul Aziz to forbid Jewish immigration up to today’s political program of Hamas, which refuses to recognize the Statehood of Israel, can only be seen as a logical consequence of Islamic law and identity – the more so in that one further alarming sign was troubling the Muslims: for nearly 2000 years the Jews had been disconnected from their spiritual center, and therefore Judaism did not need to be taken really seriously; figuratively speaking the Jewish religion was “separated from its head” and was thus in no position to challenge Islam. But now there was a good chance that the Jews might eventually question Muslim ownership of the Temple Mount and again take possession again of their ancient holy ground, expelling the Muslim mosques. The mere possibility that they might be capable of doing so appeared to Muslims as a fundamental threat against their religion – no matter what Jewish religious authorities might say.

There are thus two major reasons why there can never be peace with Israel – even though today’s legislation in most Islamic states no longer includes any “dhimmi”-status: the Jews are seen as a provocative foreign entity within the realm of Islam, and the reawakening of the Jewish religion at the sites of their Biblical past, as a threat to Islamic identity.

The return of the Jews could therefore not be tolerated. They had to be regarded as a hostile foreign power comparable to the Christian crusaders. From the standpoint of Sharia, only a temporary truce is possible when dealing with such a hostile extra-Islamic political power. In the long run, only one of two solutions is thinkable: subjugation of the non-Islamic element or its elimination from the area! And precisely that is the goal of Hamas and the leaders of Iran to this very day. From the point of view of Sharia all Arab governments which make peace with Israel can only be considered un-Islamic. This for instance is the main point in the Muslim Brotherhood’s argumentation against the government of Egypt and its peace with Israel.


How the Dogma of Secularism Impedes the Vision of Western Politicians

This correlation, unfortunately, seems beyond the conceptual grasp of Western politicians. Because of their strict dogma of separating religion from political praxis and thereby excluding it from their field of vision, Western politicians either dismiss such movements as the Muslim Brotherhood or see them as opponents to be overcome by military means. Instead of realizing that such extremist groups are like the tips of icebergs in an ocean of shared beliefs, they regard them as isolated phenomena – despite the fact that the Brotherhood’s way of thinking not only led to the assassination of the Egyptian president Sadat but influenced the convictions of a majority of people in every single Islamic country.

Since their a-religious dogma blinds them to the religious issue which they are thus unable to address, Western politicians have come to believe secularism to be intrinsic to human nature and naturally acceptable to people of other cultures – instead of remembering the centuries of warfare and suffering which Western peoples had to traverse before they reached a degree of awareness that enabled them to separate religion and state.

Muslim politicians on the other hand are far from adopting the perspective of Western politicians; without voicing it, often without even being conscious of it, they view the matter from a Sharia standpoint, even when they regard themselves as secular or atheists – because as politicians they are dependent on public opinion, which is rooted in Sharia. And for Sharia, solving the Middle East conflict is not a matter of politics; it is fundamentally a matter of religion – or, as some politicians might put it: of culture.

So far, it does not seem to have crossed Western politicians’ minds that peace with Israel might not be a matter of “bilateral” negotiations, but calls for a substantial change in the Muslims’ view of Islamic identity. But also in the West the pressure of circumstances will trigger a change in awareness.


A Renewal of Sharia Is Needed

But what in the world could motivate the Muslim Umma to change that aspect of Muslim identity? Why should they leave off demanding that the followers of other religions within their sphere of influence must be subjugated and had to accept a status kn own as “Dhimmi”, meaning “protected people”? Why should they stop levying a special tax on them and why should they not deny them certain rights? Why should they now, after 1400 years of such Islamic practices, come to view such people differently?

They can do so because now, for the first time in human history, the world has become irreversibly one. The old Sharia doctrine of the two worlds, the “House of Peace”, namely Islam, and the “House of War”, the rest of the world, which is waiting to be subdued, can no longer seriously be continued in its old form. The victory of Islam over the rest of the world can not be accomplished in the same way as the rise of Islam was accomplished in the first Islamic centuries. The world has become too complex.


Instead, Muslims could find a new way of gaining influence: if they are not already practicing this, they could learn from the Qur’an to see the Jews as colleagues competing in faith. Sura 5,48 or 51 states: “if God had so willed, He would have made you a single people, but (His plan is) to test you in what He hath given you: so strive as in a race in all virtues.” Muslims could – as one such virtue – develop compassion for their brothers, the Jews, and realize that the Jews had been excluded from their sanctuary for almost 2000 years, first by the Romans, but then, for almost 1400 years by the Muslims themselves, who had then in their quite understandable zeal and excitement occupied the Jewish Temple Mount and kept the Jews from reconnecting to their historical roots, and from reconstructing their Temple.

Such a compassionate attitude towards the victims would be genuinely Islamic and would lead to a renewal of Sharia, freeing the Jews (and also the Christians within the realm of Islam) of their degrading “Dhimmi”-status, conceding that they may henceforth freely practice all aspects of their religion. Without such freedom the divinely ordained competition in virtue would not be possible.

By such a renewal of Sharia, Islamic law would simultaneously conform to international law and to the central Muslim beliefs of Mohammed as the “Seal of the Prophets” and of Islam as the all-inclusive final religion for all mankind – all on the basis of the Qur’anic commandment of competition in virtue between the children of Abraham.


The Contribution of the Jews

What I have just said may make it sound as if Jews need do nothing to accomplish peace. But of course, in order to receive mercy the Jews must themselves show mercy. By this, I do not mean such acts as the “unilateral withdrawal” of Israeli troops from Gaza, which represented no act of mercy but just another form of repression since after that withdrawal the people of Gaza were locked into the tight confines of their territory as in a prison. I mean that Jews too must stop regarding Muslims and Christians as their own “Dhimmis”. Palestinian citizens of Israel must be treated as equals. And just as the Iraqis are now trying to accomplish a just distribution of power in Iraq, so a just sharing of power will have to be exhibited in Israel. House demolitions, for example, must cease; justice must replace mere legalism grounded in the martial law of a long-departed British army of occupation – for there can be no such thing as “guilt through kinship” in any democratic jurisdiction.

And the Chief Rabbis of Israel could call the attention of the Israeli government to the Bible and its commandments regarding the treatment of “strangers”, who, in this case, are in most cases no strangers at all but the long-established inhabitants of the land. After this, adequate compensations for expropriations will be only natural.


And one more thing comes to mind: gratitude for being graced with the privilege of belonging to an extraordinary evolutionary branch of human civilization, one which has not only brought forth the direct line of “God’s Chosen People”, but two other fruitful branches, the Christians and the Muslims and their offshoots – including, of course, the children of Enlightenment, not only the religiously-minded but those who regard themselves as secular or even atheists.


With all that in mind Jerusalem can once again become what it may have been some 3000 years ago, a city of peace. Unilateral solutions cannot accomplish that, but only compassion and understanding, encompassing the great difficulties which others must overcome in order to attain such a state of compassion.


Muslims Come Up with The Solution

And once compassion has become the way in which we look upon one another, more and more of the children of Abraham will become aware of the whole Abrahamic community. Out of that growing Abrahamic awareness, and primed on compassion by their daily prayers to “God, the merciful, the benevolent”,  Muslims will come up with a suggestion to Christians and Jews. They will say: Let us create a pan-Abrahamic sanctuary to show to the world our underlying oneness. Let us create one sanctuary with separate levels for each of us – including a New Jewish Temple. Since we would like to keep the whole of the Temple Mount the New Jewish Temple should not take away any space on the ground but should begin high above the Holy of Holies of the former Temple, and thus meet Halakhic requirements for a New Temple. And from there – without any intermixing – link the holiest places of Christianity and Islam into one magnificent Abrahamic sanctuary, which can then be the seal of eternal peace between these three faiths.

And each of the three Abrahamic religions can rejoice in this project, as can all their schools, sects and denominations, because their needs too will be taken into account. Thus they all will want to declare their respect for one another, in the spirit of the verse of the Qur’an cited above.


The Outcome

And how could such an undertaking have any outcome other than that which the prophet Micah saw? “And many nations shall come, and say, Come, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, and to the house of the God of Jacob; and He will teach us His ways, and we will walk in His paths” (Mi 4,2).




A short abstract of this article you will find at

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