Jerusalem: Let’s rebuild it on the principles of justice

By Ameen Izzadeen
Warning: This article may contain ideas that religiously sensitive readers may find disturbing, despite efforts to keep the article balanced.
When religion and politics mix, the combination can produce either a just socio-political-and-economic order or a hypocritical world order that justifies oppression, injustice and racism.
In the United States, the First Amendment which seeks to keep Church and State separate was introduced to protect religion from the corruption of politics — and politics being abused by some corrupt religious leaders.
Yet, secularism in politics is a myth not only in the United States but also in states such as Turkey and India where secularism is constitutionally promulgated. Religious beliefs and prejudices do play a major role in shaping world politics. The most recent example is the United States President Donald Trump’s statement recognizing Jerusalem, the whole of it, as the capital of Israel, with no regard for international law, world public opinion and, above all, the Palestinian people’s right to live.
His decision was not based on justice or international law. Rather the maverick President was apparently seeking to appease a Zionist casino mogul, who made a multimillion dollar political investment in Trump’s presidency, and some of the pro-Zionist Evangelical Christians, Trump’s core vote base.
For these evangelicals, the Trump statement was a fulfillment of a prophecy regarding the second coming of Jesus Christ. According to their theology, God still loves the Jews, despite their rejection of Jesus’ mission and their role in the crucifixion. These orthodox or hardcore evangelicals say that as the end time nears, the Jews will experience a religious rebirth and rebuild the temple in Jerusalem. This would spark a series of cataclysmic events culminating in the Battle of Armageddon, the last war of humanity. But it would also cause the Jews to finally accept Jesus as their savior. After all this occurred, Jesus would return in glory and God’s kingdom — a thousand-year reign of peace. And it would begin in Jerusalem. (http://edition.cnn.com/2017/12/08/opinions/jerusalem-israel-evangelicals-end-times-butler-bass-opinion/index.html).
Most Catholic and mainstream Christian theologians, especially churches embracing liberation theology and espousing social justice, do not subscribe to this apocalyptic interpretation.
More than a dozen patriarchs representing Palestinian Christians and Jerusalem’s main churches have, in a letter to Trump, rejected his Jerusalem declaration.
“Our oppressors have decided to deprive us from the joy of Christmas,” Patriarch Michel Sabbah, the former archbishop and Latin patriarch of Jerusalem, told his congregation.
“The Bible originated in Palestine, not in the Bible Belt (in the US), but people in the Bible Belt read the Bible in a way that really makes our lives difficult,” said Rev. Mitri Raheb, a Lutheran pastor in Bethlehem.
Pope Francis, last week, reiterated that East Jerusalem was an occupied territory. He appealed to the international community to respect the city’s status in keeping with “the relevant resolutions of the United Nations.”
The Catholic Church, Protestant churches, the Egyptian Coptic Church, Iraq’s Chaldean Christians, the Greek Orthodox Christians and several other US denominations have expressed their opposition to Trump’s move.
Yet, some influential Christian groups in the US are seeking to fast track the second coming of Jesus. If Jesus were to come today, whom will he support – the oppressed Palestinians who live a life of humiliation under the Israeli gun or the Zionists who have usurped the Palestinian land, their freedom and their dignity? See Mathew 25:31 onwards.
If the Zionists and their US supporters could interpret their scriptures and history the way they want in their attempt to justify their stance on Jerusalem, should not the Palestinian Muslims and Christians also have the right to interpret the scriptures and their history to assert their claim for Jerusalem?
The Quran in reference to Jerusalem says: “Glory to (God) Who did take His servant (Muhammad) for a Journey by night from the Sacred Mosque (in Makkah) to the farthest Mosque (in Jerusalem), whose precincts We did bless, in order that We might show him some of Our Signs: for He is the One Who heareth and seeth (all things).” – Chapter 17 Verse 1.
The Muslims also believe in a prophecy regarding the second coming of Jesus and has a narration of Jerusalem vis-à-vis events leading to end times.
Which interpretation or which religion does international law recognise?
The Zionists say Jerusalem has been their historic capital for 3,000 years. Famous Palestinian intellectual Edward Said, linguistic professor at the Colombia University, said the Zionist claim was not the only claim to this land. “It’s a claim among many others.”
He insisted that the Arabs had a much greater claim to the land of Palestine because “they have a longer history of inhabitance, of actual residence in Palestine than the Jews did.” The overall Jewish actual inhabitance in Palestine throughout history, according to him, amounted to 200 to 260 years, much less than the Arabs’ 1,192 years.
The professor, who wrote “Orientalism”, a highly acclaimed critique on Western prejudice of matters East, would say the land of Palestine was inhabited or conquered by many other peoples throughout history and they included the Canaanites, Jebusites, the Assyrians, the Philistines, the Babylonians, the Israelites, the Archaemenids, the Seleucids and others.
So history has many versions.
Laws are based on principles of justice, equality and human rights. A legal system is just only if it is applied without discrimination, be it economic status, social standing or religious beliefs of the people.
Issues subjected to law’s intervention — especially a matter as contentious as Jerusalem, with followers of different religions making rival claims — should be sorted out in terms of principles of a ‘universal religion’ accepted by all. The universal religion – call it humanity — comprises core values every established religion seeks to promote – core values such as compassion, love, justice, peace, equality and the truth without contamination.
Legends like Mahatma Gandhi believed in the universal religion. That is why Gandhi could say “Palestine belongs to the Arabs in the same sense that England belongs to the English or France to the French. It is wrong and inhuman to impose the Jews on the Arabs… Surely it would be a crime against humanity to reduce the proud Arabs so that Palestine can be restored to the Jews partly or wholly as their national home.”
In this abstract universal religion, there is no place for claims such as a people being “chosen”. Chosen does not mean superiority over other humans. If one insists that Jews are the chosen people, and therefore superior to others, aren’t they advocating racism, instead of eliminating it, as the universal religion demands? God cannot be a racist God. God’s universal religion dictates that no one human being is superior to another human being. Superiority is not judged by one’s birth into a particular race, caste, tribe or economic class, but by one’s righteous action. The more one is righteous and just, the more she or he is close to God.
In terms of the universal religious values such as compassion and cohabitation, the Jews have the right to live in Palestine and Israel has a right to exist within the 1967 borders, side by side with the state of Palestine — but certainly not as colonialists to continue the imperialistic projects of, first Britain, and now the United States.
The Third Temple should not be and cannot be built on oppression and injustice.
(This article first appeared in the Daily Mirror, Sri Lanka)

About ameenizzadeen

journalist and global justice activist
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