University of Helsinki
In: Marhaba, Yearbook of the Finnish—Arabic Society
Helsinki 1992, p. 28—33.
In Jerusalem, deﬁ-;-ned by the Concise Oxford Dictionary, as ‘‘holy city west of River Jordan’’, I have lived almost three decades. Many threads of memory bring me to this unique city, recalling the widely known verse ‘‘If I forget you, O Jerusalem, may my right hand forget her cunning !’’ [Ps. 137:5]. Jerusalem is one of the most ancient cities in the world, mentioned in the Egyptian ‘‘Execration Texts’’ of the 19th—18th centuries B.C., (a)wshlmm = rushalimum, and in the letters of the Pharoahs of Egypt found at Tell-Amarna of the 14th cent. B.C, Urusalim, Salem, Shalem. According to the tradition of Jewish sages (Midrash Rabbah, ns’), Jerusalem (a name coined by Medieval Christians) has seventy names, nicknames and epithets like God. The following are some examples: Ursalimmu, Urusilimmu, ’Wrwslym, ⁄-;-lm (Gen 14:18, cf. Ps 76:2), Moriah (Gn 22:2, 2Ch 3:1), Zion (Is 1:27), Jebus (Jud 19:10), the City of David (2 Sam 5:7, 9), the Holy City (Is 52:1-;- very common in medieval Hebrew lit.), God’s City (Ps 46.5), Ari’el ( Is 29:1, 2), the City (Jer 32:24), Yrwð-;-lm (about 700 times in the OT-;- 74 times in the NT-;- not mentioned in the Koran), City of Justice, City of Peace, the Navel of the World, the Life, the Joy of all the Earth, (Ps 48: 3) Hierosolyma, Ierusalem (in the Septuagint), Aelia Capitolina (136 A.D.), God’s House (in a 4th cent. in-script-ion, Domus Domini Ibimus = let us go to the house of God), Ilia, al-Balâ-;-ṭ-;- (the palace), Bait al-Maqdis (the House of Holiness), al-Quds al-Sharî-;-f (the Noble Holiness), al-Quds, Urshalî-;-m (in a 10th cent. Ms.).
The etymology of the name Irusalem is not certain, perhaps it originated from the root Yrw meaning to establish (cf. Job 38:6) and the name of a west Semitic deity. Accordingly the meaning would be foundation of Salem. Jerusalem, as the city of peace, is a later midrashic explanation. This folk etymology, based on the poetic appellations ascribed to the city, lacks historical justification.
Jerusalem embodies the heart of the Arab (and Muslim) – Israeli conflict emotionally, nationally, historically and from the religious point of view. It is one of the most delicate and knotty problems of current international politics. In the long history of Jerusalem, religion and politics have been always mixed together, and it is very difficult to draw any borderlines between them. Therefore the deep attachment of Jews, Christians, and Muslims to the city is an amalgam of historical, religious, national and spiritual sentiments. Seeking mutually acceptable arrangements for the final political status of Yerû-;-ð-;-alaim, al-Quds, Jerusalem seems to be a gigantic task. This assertion rests on the contradictory positions of the parties involved. The Arabs stand for land for peace, whereas Israel alludes to peace for peace. Recently the prime minister of Israel, Y. Shamir, has declared, ‘‘We are going ahead with two tracks, keeping Eretz Yisrael along with an unrelenting effort towards peace’’ [Jerusalem Post, Febr. 15, 1992, p. 2]. Jewish fundamentalists regard the Arabs as Amalekites (cf. 1 Samuel 15) and Muslim fundamentalists call for Jihâ-;-ds against the Jews. The ﬂ-;-ames of religious passions are fanned by such groups, albeit small in the present time but they are active and effective.
Officially, Jerusalem has been the capital of the State of Israel since May 23, 1950. Yet there are no embassies there, (except the so-called International Christian Embassy, a body of fundamentalists, founded in 1980) no de jure recognition by the international community. The old part of the city was officially annexed to Israel on July 30, 1980 (unofficially on June 28, 1967). It is worth mentioning that thirty years before the war of 1967 (naksa -;-the six day war), the first president of Israel, H. Weizmann, who lived in Reḥ-;-ovot, declared ‘‘I would not take the Old City [even] as a gift. There are too many complications associated with it’’. The same city was also declared as the capital of the Exile Palestinian Government established in Algiers on November 15, 1988. The first meeting of the PLO in 1964 was held in Jerusalem.
Very often people behave in such a manner, which does not follow the teachings of their religion, and yet they claim that they adhere to every word of their holy book. In Jerusalem every thing has a tremendous significance. Past, present and future are connected together in a sensitive vein of passion, meaning and pride. Clear religious motives penetrate every manifestation of life. A great deal of space in the various international means of communication is devoted to Jerusalem.
“We are about to enter one of the holiest places on earth, sacred to three faiths, please keep your heads lowered". These words of double meaning appeared under a caricature in the Newsweek magazine (October, 22, 1990) after the murder of twenty Palestinians by Israeli troops in the area of the al-Ḥ-;-aram al-Sharî-;-f / Temple Mount, near a gate known as Gate of Peace. The recent statement of nine leaders of churches in Jerusalem, concerning treatment of a holy Christian site, has caused repercussions. These leaders have also threatened to ask for UN protection. In reaction the Mayor of the city, Teddy Kollek, has castigated the leaders and rejected the plea.
Jerusalem, in its two parts (the old part´-or-Arab / occupied Jerusalem and the new part, as Arabs call it-;- the western city and the eastern one´-or-the united / liberated Jerusalem, the eternal capital of Israel as named by the Jews) is, as we shall see, unique in many respects. Thus any comparison with cities such as Belfast, Brussels and Montreal can not be entirely justified. The total population of Jerusalem is about 530,000 inhabitants, of which 28% are Arabs (=148,400). In the light of an approved Israeli plan, 200,000 Jews will come and live in the city by 1995. In the twenty five years which followed the 1967 war, over 80,000 new apartments for Jews have been built in Jerusalem with state funds, whereas for Arabs there has been no such projects. The Old City has been surrounded by the so-called ‘‘security belt’’, Ma˓-;-