Hopes for the city

Jerusalemites have been watching the war up North on their television screens - without realizing what a key role the city actually plays in the violence.

Yitzhak Reiter named his last book From Jerusalem to Mecca and Back (published in 2005 by the Jerusalem Institute for Israel Studies) to signify that images from Jerusalem are broadcast and disseminated throughout the Muslim world - symbolized by Mecca - and then echoed back in the form of Islamist organizations bent on liberating Jerusalem. As Reiter, a professor at the Ashkelon Academic College, notes, the image of the Dome of the Rock and al-Aksa Mosque can be found on official documents, stamps and television stations throughout the Islamic world. The future of Jerusalem, he argues, is a critical part of the conflict. "You can say that almost every Muslim constituency in the world is using Jerusalem today," Reiter told In Jerusalem, adding that the celebration of a 'Jerusalem Day' in many Islamic states is proof of their ultimate desire for the city. The Ayatollah Khomeini designated the last Friday of Ramadan to be Jerusalem Day and the Organization of the Islamic Conference, an association of 56 Islamic states, assigned it to the day Saladin conquered Jerusalem. In contrast, he continues, Hizbullah would love to see Jerusalem returned to the Muslims, but this is not their primary concern. Rather, this use of Jerusalem is purely instrumental. "Now they use the Shaba Farms," Reiter says. "Tomorrow they'll use the Jerusalem issue, and they can use every religious or national banner." Asher Kaufmann, professor of Middle Eastern Studies at the Hebrew University, agrees that Hizbullah uses Jerusalem in its rhetoric. This is particularly facile, he continues, because they are commentating from outside the conflict: after all, they can say whatever they want about Jerusalem without worry about being pressured to follow up on it. Hamas, on the other hand, is an internal player and does need to cope with day-to-day realities in the territories. For that reason, in Kaufmann's opinion, Hamas has been more willing than Hizbullah to reach a cease-fire in the current conflict. "For the two sides of the conflict, Israelis and Palestinians," Kaufmann said, "their wet dream is to wake up tomorrow morning and not to see the other." Kaufmann thinks that "in the mindset of a Khomeini, or a Mahmoud Ahmedinejad, President of Iran, or a Nasrallah - all of whom are Islamist outsiders to the Israel-Palestine issue - Jerusalem is equated with the entire land of Israel." He explains, "Jerusalem is a symbol. [To them], If Jerusalem is not in Israeli hands then there is no Israel... We will take Jerusalem and by taking Jerusalem you will not be here." In contrast, Raphael Israeli, associate professor of East Asian Studies and Islamic Civilization at Hebrew University, contends that only twice in history has the Islamic world considered Jerusalem as central to their faith - first when it was captured by the Crusaders in 1099, and then again when it became the capital of the State of Israel. "They very conveniently call Israel the new Crusaders," Israeli says, "because that arouses feelings among the Muslim population exactly as it did a thousand years ago." Israeli thinks that in the modern age, various political figures attempt to assume the role of the revered Saladin, who conquered the Holy City of Jerusalem for the Muslims. Gamal Abdel Nasser, former president of Egypt, was such a man, as are Khomeini and Ahmedinejad. Because Nasrallah, on the other hand, is ultimately a pawn of the Iranian regime, Israeli doesn't think he could ever be a Saladin in his own right. "As Khomeini said to the Iranian kids who were sent to the minefields of the battles of Iraq," Israeli quotes, "'My children, the road to Jerusalem goes via Baghdad.' This is a geographic statement, since Baghdad is indeed halfway between Teheran and Jerusalem." But more importantly, he concludes, this is also "the manifestation of the aspirations of the Muslims."