Dore Gold, former Israeli ambassador to the UN and Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs president, has a stern warning for the religious faithful. "Taking the holy sites of Jerusalem which are presently protected and secure and putting them under the uncertainty of Palestinian rule or of some poorly defined special regime for the holy basin is to put their future in great doubt." Gold's warning is not simply a theoretical exercise. At next month's planned summit in Annapolis, the fate of this special city appears to be on the table. It all began with a statement by Vice Premier Haim Ramon two weeks ago. "Whoever thinks the subject of discussions will be limited to the structure of Palestinian institutions is deluded. Israel has an interest to get recognition of all of Jerusalem's Jewish neighborhoods, and to hand over control of Arab neighborhoods to the Palestinians," he said. His plan proposes splitting Jerusalem, transferring the city's Arab neighborhoods to Palestinian control and giving up sovereignty over parts of the Old City (excluding the Jewish Quarter and the Western Wall). Ramon's statement unleashed a firestorm of political activity and realignment. But, as Gold takes pains to explain, Jerusalem is not just any piece of territory or any political football. "Jerusalem has been a part of Jewish faith and religious practice since the time of King David and King Solomon," he says. "The most widely practiced ceremonies in Judaism today, the Passover Seder and the Ne'ila prayer of Yom Kippur, close with the declaration 'Next year in Jerusalem.' The call for rebuilding Jerusalem is a part of Jewish daily prayer and of the grace after meals. Thus Jerusalem is at the heart of Jewish religious consciousness." Gold likewise stresses Jerusalem's significance to Christians and Muslims, though with some qualifications. "Christians treasure the importance of Jerusalem, but their main institutions developed elsewhere," he says, referring to Rome and Constantinople. "For Islam, Jerusalem has special meaning. But Jerusalem never appears in the Koran. And the proper place of pilgrimage for haj is Mecca, with Medina being the second most holy city in Islam. Jerusalem was never the seat of the Islamic caliphate." Gold concludes, "Only a free and democratic Israel can protect Jerusalem for all faiths." But this does not reflect the view of those attending the US-sponsored summit. As such, leaders of the three major faiths must deal with the proposed division. The competing claims of Jews, Muslims and Christians cannot all be realized. In interviews with In Jerusalem this week, the emotions of faith representatives ran high. All shared one major concern: to fiercely safeguard the holy places and ensure freedom of worship. MK Rabbi Benny Elon (National Union-NRP) speaks about a different kind of division concerning Jerusalem. "Today the world is divided between those who recognize the full meaning of holiness of Jerusalem for the Jewish people according to the Bible, and the rest that recognize it but fight against it. And this is exactly what the Muslims are trying to do," he says. "Jerusalem is the place where the Jerusalem above and the Jerusalem below meet. The place where heaven and earth kiss." The impact of the return of Jewish sovereignty to this city cannot be overstated according to Elon. "The Bible spoke about how one day God would return us to Zion. The fact that He now has, means that it's real. He never abandoned us. He kept His covenant with us. It is an earthquake." One of the consequences of this return is that those Christians who once believed the Jews no longer were God's chosen people, an ideology known as Replacement Theology, were forced to alter their assessment. "Today, after the existence of the State of Israel, they [Christians] understand more and more that this theory has nothing to do with reality and the opposite is right," says Elon. For Elon, the future of Jerusalem has a universalist message. "When Jews and others recognize the meaning of Jerusalem according to the Bible, the importance of Jewish sovereignty in Jerusalem, they can take part in it in joy and celebration. And take part in the vision of Isaiah for the future to dance in the streets of Jerusalem. They will come to Jerusalem to sing this song." Other Orthodox rabbis concur. Rabbi Sholom Gold, the founder of Kehillat Zichron Ya'acov in Har Nof and the dean of Avrom Silver Jerusalem College of Adults, says dividing the capital is unthinkable. "It would be a travesty of Jewish history and whoever does it must answer to 4,000 years of history from Abraham until today." Rabbi David Stern, the director of the Old City-based Jerusalem Connection, is certain that this debate is a critical trial for the Jewish people. "This is the test of the generation to be able to stand up and state unequivocally that this land is ours." Evangelical Christians couldn't agree more. "We recognize first and foremost that God attached the Jewish people to this city centuries before the rise of Christianity and Islam," says David Parsons, media director of the International Christian Embassy in Jerusalem (ICEJ), an umbrella organization that rallies evangelicals. "On one level Jerusalem is intended to be a house of prayer for all peoples and therefore must be shared. But on another, deeper level, God attached the Jews to this city and called it your holy city," says Parsons. "Jews are the proper custodians of the holy sites. And we are comfortable with that because your scripture says you must keep it open to all for prayer. And Israel has the best record in this regard when you compare it with the city's other conquerors." While his organization stands up for Jewish claims, Parsons also recognizes that ICEJ cannot, to borrow a phrase from another Christian denomination, be more Catholic than the pope. "We join our faith with the faith of Jews who want to retain sovereignty over all the city. But at the end of the day, Israel is a democracy and Israelis must decide what to do. One can sometimes misapply vicarious faith. And God is ultimately interested in what you think about it." ONE PRIME concern about dividing Jerusalem is the impact it will have on the ability of worshipers to get to their holy places. This consideration has prompted many to oppose returning to pre-1967 borders and making them international crossings. Uwe Graebe is the provost of the German-speaking Lutheran Church in Israel, the Palestinian Authority-controlled territories and Jordan. "I simply cannot imagine Jerusalem as a divided city," he says. "The question is not how Jerusalem can be cut up or divided, the question is how Jerusalem can be shared - with justice and equality for all of its cultures and all of its residents." As Graebe conceives of the consequences of division in human terms, he maintains that any solution to the situation must be accordingly pragmatic. "A wall dividing this city would be a disaster - a human disaster in terms of the freedom of movement of people and their ability to get from their homes to their places of worship," he explains. "Ultimately this city will have to be shared. And how that will happen is a question that must be answered on the political level and not on the religious level." When asked about the validity of opposition to division on religious grounds, Graebe upholds the legitimacy of scripture-based claims. "Those promises still hold," he says. "I would never challenge the promises of the Old Testament. God does not revoke his promises. "However," he adds, "that promise is not as simple as an inscription in the land registry. Those promises carry an immense amount of responsibility. They are so demanding. Those who are promised are called upon to act justly and to be a light unto the nations." Despite the various difficulties involved in gaining entry to holy sites, overall Graebe applauds Israel's custodianship of the city. "On a larger scale the State of Israel tries to preserve religious freedom in this city," he says. Christian Information Center director Father Athanasius tends to agree with Graebe. "As a representative of one of the more important Christian groups [Franciscan ministry], I can say that we don't want to live in a divided city. The whole impact of walls and division is not something Christians want." When Athanasius reflects on the hardships his community faced in the city before 1967, he confirms his opposition to division. "In Christianity, unity is an ideal," he explains. "It is not always a reality, but it is an ideal. A divided city would represent for us a massive failure." As for religious-based territorial promises, Athanasius likewise believes that "it is dangerous to use scripture as a real estate book." And while he is not optimistic about the future of Jerusalem, he concedes that he lives by hope. STILL OTHER Jews and Christians maintain, albeit reluctantly, that divisions must be made for the sake of peace. "King Solomon, when he wanted to make an agreement with the king of Tyre, made a pact and he gave up control of dozens of cities in Israel as a gesture to the king of Tyre and nobody condemned King Solomon for it," points out Labor-Meimad MK Rabbi Michael Melchior. "There were no demonstrations which said you cannot give up the Land of Israel, it's a cardinal sin and so on." For Melchior, religious injunctions against the ceding of territory are not as clear-cut as others claim. "The problem is that the issue of sovereignty is a modern political concept which is not reflected in the sources we generally deal with. And therefore it becomes a question of interpretation or taste or ideology, not a question of Halacha." While the notion of dividing Jerusalem tears at his heart, Melchior says he is prepared. "If it is done for the sake of the future and the strengthening and the good of the Jewish people and peace with our neighbors, then I think it's absolutely something we should consider," he says. Still, any proposal would have to meet certain criteria, he says. Melchior was a member of the cabinet in 2000 when Jerusalem was last on the table. "I was the only one in our Labor-Meimad group who voted against the [then-US president Bill] Clinton proposals because I did not like the solutions put up for Jerusalem," he recalls. "The Palestinians both then and also today cultivate a theory that the Jews have no connection to the Temple Mount," he says. "I will never accept a deal which is based on such a lie. I don't believe in deals which are based on lies." Raphael Minassian is the bishop of the Armenian Catholic Church of Israel, the PA-controlled territories and Jordan. Although he believes that the Land of Israel was promised to the Jews by God, he stresses the importance of giving. "Division does not give you peace. Peace starts from within and goes out from there," he says. This peace, he explains, can be interpreted as generosity. "Giving is much stronger than taking. When I give I can receive much more." Minassian's interpretation of this giving as it relates to the Jewish people may be surprising to many. "The Jews remain the chosen people. And as the legitimate son, they have the duty and responsibility to take care of their second, weaker brother [Muslims]," he explains. "They [Muslims] are the weaker brother because they are fighting," he says. "Fighting is the tool of the weaker party." For Minassian, the Jewish people's entitlement to the Land of Israel goes without saying, but internal divisions have kept them from fulfilling their destiny. "If they took this call literally, they could have much more. They could have the whole entire world. All of it. But they are divided among themselves." "DISCUSSIONS ABOUT dividing Jerusalem as if it is not already divided do not respond to the reality as we experience it," Rabbi Michael Marmur, dean of the Reform Hebrew Union College, points out. "It already is a divided city." Marmur confesses that he is nervous that finalizing this division won't bring a stable peace. Even so, he believes it is time to make bold concessions for the sake of peace. "I am more concerned about an intransigent position that does not move things forward and leaves us without any peace," he says. While Marmur stresses that he is not a New Ager or moral equivocator who thinks that both sides are entirely equal, he says that there are two national claims or narratives, both of which need expression. When asked about the biblical verses used to stake Jewish claims for the land, Marmur bristles. "Whatever list of rabbinic citations which speak to the Jewish claim to every millimeter of this land, there are more that talk about this as a city of peace, a city that makes peace," he says. International Jewish Committee chairman Rabbi David Rosen also sees Jerusalem as already divided. "I find these questions about dividing Jerusalem rather strange," he says. "We have already divided Jerusalem. There is a wall going right through the middle of it. The only debate is under whose sovereignty it will be." Rosen has led a delegation of leaders from the three religions in speaking with US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice about ensuring that freedom of worship is upheld in any future deal. "It is the role of religious leaders to guarantee freedom of access," Rosen says. "This is the main religious perspective: to guarantee access to holy sites." Sheikh Abdullah Nimer Darwish, founder of the Islamic Movement in Israel, works with Melchior in the pursuit of cooperation between the faiths and peace. His is an encouraging perspective. "All of us, Muslims, Jews, and Christians, must build leadership from all the religions together, to protect holy places together," he says. Darwish is hesitant about making any changes to the status quo. "We must not change anything until we all agree on what to change," he says. According to Darwish, all holy sites should remain under the control of their respective religions. "The Western Wall for the Jews, the Temple Mount under the Muslims, churches under the responsibility of the Christians... Peace is the will of God, not the blood, not the war, not the killing. The peace." But in speaking with his Palestinian Authority colleagues, the picture is more intransigent. Dr. Ikrema Sabri, former mufti of Jerusalem, is unequivocal about his desire to see the city return to the 1967 borders. "Islam said the city was to be under the authority of Muslims because it is a Muslim city," he says. When pressed his views become clearer. "Islam wants all of Palestine. It is the paradise of the Middle East. But if Israel accepts [UN decisions], then there will be no more fighting." Sabri insists that Islam would ensure tolerance for all religions. "Everyone is free in his religion under Muslims. Islam respects other religions and there was always freedom for all religions [under Muslim rule]." Despite this week's findings of First Temple remains on the Mount by the Muslim Wakf, Sabri argues that there never was a Jewish temple there. Asked if Jews would ever be allowed to pray on the Mount, he fervently objects. "It is not the Temple Mount, you must say Al-Aksa. And no Jews have the right to pray at the mosque. It was always only a mosque - all 144 dunams, the entire area. No Jewish prayer. If the Jews want real peace, they must not do anything to try to pray on Al-Aksa. Everyone knows that." Likewise, Sabri has a selective reading of the Jewish and Christian historical record. "There was never a Jewish temple on Al-Aksa and there is no proof that there was ever a temple. Because Allah is fair, he would not agree to make Al-Aksa if there were a temple there for others beforehand." Similarly, Sabri maintains that the Western Wall was not part of the Jewish Temple, although he says that Jews would be permitted to pray there if the site were under Muslim jurisdiction. "The wall is not part of the Jewish temple, it is just the Western Wall of the mosque," he says. "There is not a single stone with any relation at all to the history of the Hebrews. "Zionism tries to trick the Jews claiming that this was part of a Jewish Temple, but they dug there and they found nothing." Islamic leaders were not always so certain. The Supreme Muslim Council in 1930 wrote that the Temple Mount's "sanctity dates from earliest times. Its identity with the site of Solomon's Temple is beyond dispute." When asked if he thinks there will be peace with Israel, Sabri shakes his head. "No. The Orthodox Jews do not want peace. And this government takes the land of the Arabs. Any government that wants peace does not take the land of others. "Jews will always make problems. And they want to do wrong again, you see. This is what they do," he explains. "When they occupied the country, they did many unfair things. But Israeli power and their soldiers did not take us on the boat of peace."

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