The Palestinians' historic connection to Jerusalem must also be recognized

Islam has been dominant in Jerusalem for 1,210 out of the last 1,388 years.

More than 350,000 Palestinian Arabs currently live in Jerusalem, a city of slightly less than one million people. (photo credit: AMMAR AWAD / REUTERS)
More than 350,000 Palestinian Arabs currently live in Jerusalem, a city of slightly less than one million people.
(photo credit: AMMAR AWAD / REUTERS)
At the time that Israelis, Palestinians, and many around the world, were focused on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s plans for unilateral annexation of the Jordan Valley and Jewish settlements in the West Bank, few remember that since its 1967 occupation, Israel had unilaterally annexed two other areas (east Jerusalem in 1967 and the Golan Heights in 1981). And while different Israeli governments have agreed to negotiate both territories despite being annexed to Israel, no country in the world (including the US) has ever recognized the Israeli annexation of east Jerusalem.
In the midst of all that, the well respected, Jordanian Aal al-Bayt Institute, has come up with a Jerusalem White Paper that sheds light on the city’s millennial Arab history and the important role of the Hashemites in protecting the city’s holy places since the beginning of the 20th century. This 108-page white paper includes never-before-published documents and photos dealing with the city’s history and the Islamic/Arab role in the holy city for millennials. The Royal Aal al-Bayt Institute for Islamic Thought, an Islamic nongovernmental institute, has been headed since 2000 by Prince Ghazi bin Muhammad, the personal envoy and special adviser to Jordan’s King Abdullah II.
The professionally produced, well footnoted document, gives both archaeological, biblical and historic references to the city’s history. While its emphasis is on the Arab/Islamic presence in Jerusalem, it doesn’t ignore or deny Christian or Jewish connection to the city. Palestinian Jerusalemites – both Muslim and Christian – have welcomed the paper and reacted positively to it, but few Israelis have commented on it.
The paper moves from archaeological discoveries to biblical records, quoting Genesis 10:1-20, that shows “the Arabs, Hamites, Canaanites and Jebusites were the original inhabitants of the land of Palestine, including the area of Jerusalem.” As to the history of Jerusalem by religion, the authors state that “Jews have been there for about 3,000 years, Christians have been there for about 2,000 years and Muslims have been there for about 1,400 years. However, Islam has been dominant in Jerusalem for 1,210 out of the last 1,388 years,” the paper argues. “This is more than the period of Jewish domination over the last 3,020 years (953 years) or Christian domination over the last 2,000 years (417 years).”
Although Israeli researchers and journalists were given access to the document and were encouraged to write or comment about it, few have so far responded. One of those who did respond to my query was that the Jewish presence in Jerusalem is also not ignored. The word “Jew” is mentioned 65 times in the paper and the term “Jewish” appears in the document 34 times. The paper dedicates a section to the Jewish presence between 1000 BCE and 600 BCE talking about the Prophet-King David who conquered Jerusalem, which became the capital of his kingdom. The paper also talks about Jerusalem as a mixed Jewish city in the period 539 to 37 BCE.
YONATAN MIZRAHI, CEO of Emek Shaveh, an Israeli nongovernmental organization working to defend cultural heritage rights and to protect ancient sites, told the US-based news site Al-Monitor, “While the historic timeline looks fine to me, I disagree that Arabs have been here before the time of King David. I don’t think that Canaanites are the Arabs’ ancestors.”
Mizrahi’s comments encouraged me to further research the issue of the connection of Canaanites to Arabs and according to a study published in the respected National Geographic magazine this May talks about a DNA study of Canaanite graves that was compared to people living today.
The study in biology journal Cell also shows that migrants from the distant Caucasus Mountains combined with the indigenous population to forge the unique Canaanite culture that dominated the area between Egypt and Mesopotamia during the Bronze Age, lasting from approximately 3500 BCE until 1200 BCE. The researchers also compared the ancient DNA with that of modern populations and found that most Arab and Jewish groups in the region owe more than half of their DNA to Canaanites and other peoples who inhabited the ancient Near East – an area encompassing much of the modern Levant, Caucasus, and Iran.
The only serious conclusion that can come from combining both the results of that DNA study and the inclusive report by the Jordanian institute, would be that the solution to the hardest of all Middle East problems, that of Jerusalem, needs to be based on a genuinely shared solution and not on an exclusive one.
Jerusalem today has more that 350,000 Palestinian Arabs living in the city of slightly under one million people. But Palestinian residents of Jerusalem suffer from systematic racist prejudice in Israeli policies, and are politically disenfranchised. Arab Jerusalemites are not able to establish political movements and to make any political connections with their Palestinian brethren outside of the city that was unilaterally annexed.
If we are to learn from history, we will conclude that when people tried to keep Jerusalem exclusively to one side or one religion that situation brought about doom; whereas when those who had control over the city agreed to share it with others, the situation survived much longer. Perhaps, as the current momentum for West Bank annexation is on hold, all of us Jerusalemites can have the courage to find a way to work together without any one side trying to negate the other from Jerusalem, maybe we can begin the hard and badly needed march towards a genuinely fair resolution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
The writer is an award-winning Palestinian journalist who divides his time between Amman and Jerusalem.