Saturday, December 09, 2017

O Jerusalem! Will There Be Fallout From Trump's Jerusalem Decision?

"O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills prophets and stones those who are sent to it. How often I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!" (Matthew 23: 37). Barely a few hours after President Donald Trump made his historic announcement that the United States would recognize Jerusalem as Israel's political capital (it was already seen as its religious capital, and is viewed as one of the most important holy sites by not just Jews, but Christians and Muslims), that the stones of intolerance were gathered up and the winds of fanned the flames of hatred between the three Abrahamic religions. In fact, there are still Arab nations which refuse to even acknowledge the existence of Israel itself, let alone Jerusalem being its capital. Regardless of how you feel about Trump, his decision, or the Middle East in general, "The Donald" has set in motion a chain events which will radically affect not just Israel, or America, or even the Middle East. It will affect the world. The only real question is whether or not events can be contained and directed toward a final peaceful understanding among all those involved, or if the global power keg everyone has been trying to avoid since the creation of modern Israel in 1948 has finally been lit.

Jerusalem was once called the "Navel of the World" and the "Center of Creation". It is sacred to all three of the Abrahamic faiths, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. For Israel, it was the hilltop fortress conquered by its perhaps their greatest leader (other than Moses of course), the mythical King David, who refounded as the capitol of his Kingdom; the "City of David". It was also home to the Ark of the Covenant which contained the first Ten of the Commandments as written down by Moses; housed over time in two great temple complexes (the first was destroyed by the Assyrian King, Nebuchadnezzar II); the second one was destroyed by the Romans following another attempt to revolt against the authority of Rome, with its people either killed, enslaved, or scattered to the winds. Before the Romans, there was a hodgepodge of local groups who fought for control of the hilltop fortress, the Canaanites, Philistines, Egyptians, Persians, then the empires of Hittites, Assyrians, and Babylonians. Then came the Greeks led by the "Two Horned God", Alexander the Great, then at last, came the Romans.

For the Christians, it was the birthplace of their religion. It was where Jesus tried and crucified for treason and inciting insurrection against the authority of Rome. It was also where, according to the Book of Acts, where he was "resurrected" and ascended into Heaven. Jerusalem was the center of early Judeo-Christian leadership under Jesus' brother James and the surviving disciples. It remained central to the development of Christianity and after the "Great Schism" of 1054 which divided Christendom into Western or Roman Christianity based in Rome and Eastern Christianity based in Constantinople (now Istanbul) , where it remained a part of the Eastern Orthodox Church and part of the Byzantine Empire, also called the Eastern Roman Empire.

For Muslims, Jerusalem is their third most holy city, behind Mecca and Medina. According to the Koran, it's prophet, Muhammad, set off for a "far away land" during his "Night Journey" or "Isra and Mi'raj" and ascended into Heaven on the back of his white mare, Buraq. While Jerusalem isn't specifically named nor is the location of this "Place of Prostration The Farthest", a collection of writings called the "hadith" which describes words used or actions taken by Muhammad or his habits and mannerisms.

The hadith is based on oral stories about the life of Muhammad, identifies "The Farthest" as possibly Jerusalem. In Islamic law, the hadith is second to the Koran in authority. Muslim military, political, and religious leader therefore undertook what they believed to be a divine mission to capture the city, which it did in 638 CE. Sixty years later, the Al-Aqsa Mosque was built, along with the Dome of the Rock shrine; the supposed site where Buraq left its hoof marks in a rock as it pushed off to Heaven with Muhammad on its back (it is also believed that the Patriarch Abraham was to sacrifice his son Isaac on the same rock. Also some of the patriarchs, their wives and children are believed to be buried somewhere below in the numerous tunnels and niches). Perhaps the central contention with the Mosque is that it was also located on the site where the Great Temple had been located before being leveled by the Romans centuries before.

Since then, and the building of the Aqsa Mosque, Jerusalem has been the scene of some of the bloodiest battles in the Middle East, between Christian Crusaders like the Knights Templars and the Knight Hospitallers, and numerous Muslim military leaders and Sultans. In time, it came under the control of the Ottoman Empire, where it remained until the end of World War I when the region of what was then known as Palestine was ceded to the British Empire. In 1917, a document called the "Balfour Declaration" was published which agreed, in theory, with the establishment of a Jewish homeland in Palestine (the publication was actually a letter from British Foreign Secretary Lord Alfred Balfour to Lord Walter Rothschild ). The Declaration, inspired hope among the various Zionist organizations, not to mention increased Jewish support in its war efforts, especially against the Ottoman Empire, an ally of Germany and the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

After being ceded to Great Britain following World War I, Jewish immigration increased, but only slightly. The Arab population living in Palestine and in Jerusalem in particular, wasn't thrilled about more Jews moving in or the possibility of a Jewish State. It was World War II which would change everything. As just about everyone knows, the Nazis spent an inordinate amount of time rounding up Gypsies, Slavs, and Jews, first for the purpose of removing them from German held territories (the idea at the time was to deport them to one of their old colonies held by either England or France, or possibly ever Sri Lanka). When that idea fizzled, it was decided that a "Final Solution" was needed. As a result, approximately six million Jews were systematically murdered (along with tens of thousands of Slavs and Gypsies). By the end of the war and the revelation of the Holocaust to the world, there was at least a catalyst for the establishment of a Jewish Homeland. I guess one could argue that the Nazis made Israel possible. Although the British were hesitant due to Arab resistance, they were compelled to move forward when UN Resolution 181 was passed in 1947. Thus, in May of 1948, the Jewish State of Israel came into being, and was immediately attacked by a coalition of Arab nations.

While the State withstood the attack and though it had secured West Jerusalem, it was far from over. In 1956, Israel was again attacked and was able to repulse the Arab League as it was called. in 1967, Israel, upon learning of plans for another sneak attack, launched a preemptive war which came to be known as "The Six Days War". It was during this war, that the Israeli army under the leadership of Defense Minister Moshe Dayan, Chief of Staff Yitzhak Rabin, and Commander Uzi Narkiss captured East Jerusalem and the Old City. Israel was again attacked in 1973, in what was known as the Yom Kippur War, which was the last major Arab offensive. Since then, Israel has faced numerous attacks by terrorists groups, from within and outside its borders. Now, let's take a look at some important numbers and additional history in order to understand the full picture.

Christianity is the world' s largest religion (includes Protestant, Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, various smaller sects as well as those who self-identify as such) with 33%. Islam has the second largest population of adherents with 21% (regardless of sects). Third largest are those who don't identity with any organized religion. This includes agnostics, Humanists, theists, atheists, and those who check the "none of the above" box. Hinduism is next with 14% of the world's population. The rest, neo-pagan/Wiccan, Buddhism, Spiritualism, indigenous, and so on are all roughly 6% each. Lastly, we come to Judaism which has a whopping 0.22% adherents (which includes Ashkenazi, Sephardic, and those who identify as Jewish but aren't active). By comparison, that's 14 million Jews worldwide as opposed to 2.1 billion Christians, Islam has 1.5 billion. Secular/Nonreligious make up 1.1 billion. Hinduism has 900 million while Buddhism has 376 million, while little ole Israel has just 14 million globally.

That should give you some idea as to what I mean when I say this seemingly simple recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capitol could have global implications. We have to keep in mind while the US has been battling Islamic extremism since November of 1979 and the attack on the US Embassy in Tehran and taking of 60 American hostages, Israel has been battling them since 1948 (the US hostages weren't freed until 444 days later, on January 21, 1981, just hours after Ronald Reagan was sworn in as President), but that's not all. We need to also bear in mind that extremist Islam has also been on a campaign of destruction against the adherents of Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism. Taoism and Confucianism, Zoroastrianism (perhaps the oldest continuing mono-theism religion in the world) and other smaller religions.

Since the advent of ISIS/ISIL/DESH, Al Qaeda, Boko Harem, and other splinter groups of religious zealots, there has been an ongoing genocide in the Middle East against various groups like the Kurds, Yazidis, but more notably, against Eastern Orthodox, Assyrian and Chaldean Christians, the oldest Christian communities in the Middle East, with little or no media coverage and virtually no worldwide condemnation. Which hard numbers are often difficult to come by, it's estimated that more than 700,000 of the regions 1.1 million Christians have been forced to flee from ISIS. Thousands of Christians has been beheaded, burned, impaled, flailed, crucified, hanged, shot, or stoned to death. Yazidis and Kurds captured have face much the same situation, also in the hundreds if not thousands. Meanwhile, young girls, regardless of the ethnic group of religion, have been sold as sex slaves and/or ordinary menial labor throughout the Muslim World, from Africa to Asia.

Meanwhile, despite the ongoing genocide, approximately 1% to 2% have been able to flee the danger and make it safely to Europe due to border restrictions by Syria, Turkey, and Lebanon. The overwhelming number of migrants are Muslim. Those who do manage to make the journey are put in refugee camps which are populated by the very same groups which had previously persecuted them. Many have complained to authorities about beatings, rapes, robberies, or murders with little done to help them. In 2010 and before, 99% of new Middle East refugees admitted to the US were Muslim. Barely 1% are Christian. The rest were left to do the best they could to survive; many seeking safety with the Kurds and Yazidis. Since 2016, that number has substantially improved, though Christian immigrants remain a minority among the refugees. There has also been the clashes between to the two opposing sects of Islam, Shiite and Sunni with thousands murdered on both sides (ISIS, Al Qaeda, and other similar terrorist groups are predominately Sunni).

Now that you have a little background of what's admittedly a complicated history, let's address the issue of Trump's recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital and what that might possibly mean. Trump's action was jeered not just by Palestinians, but by Arab and non-Arab leaders worldwide, including Pope Francis, who said that the decision would cause "irreparable harm" to the city and the Holy Land. While Israel has intended to make Jerusalem its capital since its inception in 1948, international pressure has forced Israel from making a formal declaration and other key nations have insisted that they could not recognize Jerusalem as its capital in the name of peace. Indeed, the fate of Jerusalem has been at the center of every peace conference in the Middle East since 1948. Several of our allies quietly agreed and withheld their public praise. Christian evangelical leaders mostly applauded the decision, while others thought it would destabilized the region, including Elizabeth Eaton, the presiding bishop for the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, the largest Lutheran synod in America. Ms. Eaton said that she thought the decision would likely lead to a "high probability of leading to violence and bloodshed" and set back any chances for peace. Many independent Christian churches in Jerusalem sent Trump a joint letter expressing the same sentiments. Muslim-Americans were quite unhappy to say the least. Leaders of Jordan, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia immediately expressed deep concerns and thought the decision would derail any real chance of peace in the region.

In my opinion, Trump has made a serious strategic mistake with respect to his Middle East policy (such as it is). Muslim moderates have been slowing growing a spine and starting to speak out. ISIS, Al Qaeda, and other Islamic extremists are on the ropes (largely due to Russia's efforts--thank you), a reformist effort is under way in Saudi Arabia by Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman, warming relations with Jordan, a building stability in Egypt, Libya, and Iraq, and something approaching dialogue with Iran, not to mention the deteriorating situation in Europe amid escalating violence, Trump's action might be the one thing that will unite the Muslim cause across nationalistic or religious divides. It may be the one thing which breaths life back into the largely defeated terrorist organizations. Yes, it was a nice gesture of friendship with Israel. They know we have their backs. However, unless this decision is reversed, we might need to start worrying about our backs.

Report: ISIS Has Crucified, Tortured Thousands of Christians in Iraq, Syria

The New Exodus: Christians Flee ISIS in Middle East

Fact Check: Trump's Tweets on Christians, ISIS And Vetting Miss The Bigger Picture

Religious Leader Divided Over Trump's Jerusalem Decision

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