Palestinian Christians in Jerusalem

By Kort, Nora | The Ecumenical Review, March 2012 | Go to article overview
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Palestinian Christians in Jerusalem

Kort, Nora, The Ecumenical Review

Throughout its five thousand years of history, Jerusalem has continued to thrive as an important political and cultural center, and it is the centuries-long home for the three monotheistic religions. This city has withstood many wars and conflicts, but despite many turbulent events, it has retained a peaceful image of unity and sacredness. However, due to its significance as a political symbol and geographic center of the region, great struggles have ensued over who has the right to possess Jerusalem. In its recent history, the Arab-Israeli conflict has fueled a long conflict regarding its future and has rendered Jerusalem a vital but unresolved question in Middle East politics. Up to the present, Jerusalem remains at the heart of the Arab-Israeli conflict. Throughout history, those ruling Jerusalem have employed continuous and well-planned strategies of territorial, demographic, religious and property claims in order to maintain control over the city's sovereignty. This is what is happening today under the Israeli occupation of Jerusalem and the Palestinian territories.

Jerusalem throughout the Ages

Throughout the ages, Jerusalem has had its prosperous times of co-existence and justice as well as some dark periods of oppressive rule and bloodshed. The earliest traces of permanent settlement in Jerusalem date back to approximately five thousand years ago. The first known tribes were the Canaanites and the Jebusites. Around three thousand years ago, King David conquered the city from the Jebusites, which became the beginning of the Jewish claim to the city. The Jews were later driven out by the Babylonians, but around 500 BCE were allowed to come back by the Persian King Cyrus. A number of foreign rulers followed and in 63 BCE the Romans gained control over Jerusalem. The city remained under the control of the Eastern Roman Empire until the 7th century, when the Muslim Caliph, Omar Ibn Al-Khattab came; in 638 CE the Orthodox Patriarch Sophronius handed over to him the keys of Jerusalem. The Arab Muslim Caliph granted the citizens of the city the status of "protected people" or thimis, which gave them the freedom to worship. That was a period in which harmony and tolerance reigned. (1)

A darker period followed at the beginning of the 11th century, when the Egyptian Caliph Al-Hakim persecuted Christians and Jews and destroyed the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. A later conquest of the city by the Seljuk Turks led to many oppressive reprisals on the inhabitants of the city. Jerusalem then remained under Islamic Arab rule until it was captured in 1099 CE during the Crusades.

The Crusades (Al-Faranja) turned Jerusalem into a Christian city where non-Christians were not permitted to live. This lasted until 1187 when Salah Eddin conquered the city and restored Jerusalem to its former role. He left the Holy Sepulchre open to Christians, and in 1192 reopened the city to pilgrimages. Then, following the 1229 fall of Jerusalem to Fredrick II, Jerusalem was closed to Muslims and Jews, and in 1244, it came under the rule of the Egyptian Mamluks. (2)

The Mamluks governed Jerusalem from Cairo (1260-1515), followed by the Ottomans (1516-1918). The Mamluks and the Ottomans transformed the city's physical attributes, endowing it with splendid religious monuments. The Ottomans built the walls and gates of the Old City (1537-1541) and renovated the Dome of the Rock. Jerusalem remained in their hands until 1917. (3)

The British Mandate followed (1917-1948), during which Jerusalem was recognized as the administrative and political capital of Palestine. In 1947, Britain announced that it would not continue administering Palestine and turned to the newly created United Nations for a solution. The United Nations Special Committee on Palestine recommended partitioning Palestine into an Arab and a Jewish state, and that the city of Jerusalem (extending to Bethlehem) be established as a corpus separatum under a special international regime administered by the United Nations.

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