Old City voices split over UNESCO resolution

Outside a church in the Armenian Quarter, an Armenian historian in his 60s said he would not comment on the issue for fear of being perceived as partial to either side.

October 28, 2016 06:49
3 minute read.
AN AERIAL view of the Old City of Jerusalem.

AN AERIAL view of the Old City of Jerusalem.. (photo credit: REUTERS)

Depending on which quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City one treaded Thursday, UNESCO’s resolution ignoring Jewish ties to Judaism’s holiest site, the Temple Mount, was considered a disgrace, triumph or too politically loaded to be commented on.

Indeed, sentiments about the subject could be neatly compartmentalized based entirely on geopolitical and religious affiliation.

In short, Muslims lauded the decision as a triumph; Jews and Christians patently condemned it as an abomination; and fearing reprisal from either side, Armenians – ostensibly representing Switzerland in the debate – remained neutral.

Noting that Jesus’s involvement in the Temple Mount is repeatedly stated in the New Testament and was a key factor in the creation of Christianity, international tourists visiting the Last Supper Room in the Christian Quarter uniformly denounced UNESCO’s move as appalling.

“All of us believe that Jerusalem belongs to the Jews,” said Lisa Wilson, of North Carolina. “UNESCO is stupid because it is a fact that the Temple Mount belongs to the Jews.”

“You must be blind not to see that,” added Rosie Thor, of Austria.

“The UN has taken a knee to the Arab world,” Thor’s friend Tom, also of Austria, opined.

Jennifer, a Christian secretary from Upstate New York, who requested her last name not be published, expressed visceral disdain regarding the decision.

“I think it’s a disgrace because it’s history,” she said while buying dates and figs from an Israeli vendor near the entrance to Zion Gate.

“The Temple Mount always belonged to the Jewish people. You can’t change that.”

Not so, said Imad Salahma, a 48-year-old Arab merchant who lives in the Muslim Quarter and personalized possession of the contested compound.

“Al-Aksa Mosque is like my wife,” he said. “It is an honor for us, and I can’t let someone else visit my wife; not even for five minutes.”

Asked to comment on Jewish claims of an inexorable connection to the Temple Mount based on volumes of historical text about the First and Second Temples, Salahma remained unequivocal.

“Never!” he responded. “It is only for Muslims. They [Jews] can have their quarter of the Old City, but al-Aksa is for us. This is what I believe.”

A 30-something Arab souvenir shop worker who requested that his name not be published, echoed Salahma’s sentiments.

“Of course, the Holy Sanctuary belongs to the Muslims,” he said. “Also, if the [nation members] of UNESCO agreed to this, then the Jews should ask them about the vote.”

“The [compound] belongs to the Muslims,” added an octogenarian Arab man sitting with his cane in the Muslim Quarter, who identified himself as Yussuf. “It always has, and always will.”

Pressed about the plethora of evidence stating otherwise, Yussuf said he was unmoved.

“There is no proof of the Jewish people being there,” he said. “Even the Western Wall is Muslim. The Jewish people can visit, but only if they don’t make trouble for the Muslims.”

Outside a church in the Armenian Quarter, an Armenian historian in his 60s said he would not comment on the issue for fear of being perceived as partial to either side.

“We have to live in the Old City with all the parties involved and do not want to take a position on this particular issue,” he said, requesting that his name not be published. “This issue is loaded with politics, and for the time being I do not want to comment.”

An Armenian security guard also cited the polarizing nature of the vote as reason not to become involved.

“It’s not for us to speak about to the press,” he explained. “In this situation, we take no sides.”

Meanwhile, Yaakov Kirschenbaum, 59, a 10th generation Jerusalem Jew walking near Jaffa Gate with his wife Leah, expressed incredulity about the decision.

“It is simply not factually or historically correct,” he said. “According to the Bible, Jerusalem was always connected to the Jewish people, and always will be. Everyone knows that Christianity and Islam were byproducts of the Jewish religion, and you can’t say that the Temple Mount is not relevant to the Jewish people.”

Kirschenbaum said he attributes the vote to mounting international Arab pressure.

“Islam is spreading, especially in Europe, and this is the manifestation of that,” he said. “Basically, they can pass anything based on majority rule, and it will only get worse.”

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