There has never been a more contested and coveted piece of real estate than Jerusalem. A Canaanite city-state founded 4,000 years ago as an oasis for caravans crossing the Arabian Desert has become sacred to the world. The global community spoke up this week at the United Nations. In a 14 to 1 vote, the UN Security Council condemned (President Donald) Trump’s decision to unilaterally recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. The U.S. was the sole veto. Trump’s faithful base, the evangelical Christians, a global grassroots network with access to this administration, provided the impetus. To hasten the second coming of the Messiah, they believe all Jews must return to Israel; at which point, Christians will ascend to heaven, and Jews will go to hell! (Except those who (accept) Jesus as Lord.) Although Christian-Zionists profess to be friends of Israel, their ideology is deeply anti-Semitic.
Twice, I traveled to Israel and Palestine with a Christian contingent focused on human rights. They assured me that the belief in the rapture and the final battle of Armageddon were distortions of their faith. Together, we visited ancient churches, sailed in wooden boats on the lake where rabbi Jesus is said to have walked on water. They accompanied me to the Wailing Wall where we waited for the arrival of the Sabbath. And we documented the horror of military occupation. Our mutual belief in human rights overcame religious differences.
In 1967, on my way to live on a kibbutz in Israel, I got stranded in East Jerusalem, Jordan. Authorities informed me it took three days to get a visa to pass through the United Nations checkpoint into West Jerusalem, Israel. The Damascus Gate, a massive portal in the northern wall of the Old City, ushered me into a biblical looking world where I chanced to meet a Palestinian family whose hospitality was impossible to refuse. Unbeknownst to me, I had just met the so-called enemy of our people.
They knew I was Jewish, so they insisted on taking me to the Wailing Wall, and to the nearby Temple Mount. Jews believe this plateau to be the site of their destroyed temple. Two mosques, Al-Aqsa and the Dome of the Rock, have graced the Temple Mount for over 1,300 years. Jews and Muslims both claim lineage to Abraham, whose descendants were promised by God, a land flowing with milk and honey. A massive black granite rock protected by the iconic golden dome is where the Prophet Mohammed began his heavenly ascent, where Abraham almost sacrificed his son Isaac (Muslims believe it was Ishmael), (and) where farmers threshed grain during the reign of King David. On the Via Dolorosa, pilgrims trace the path of Jesus. Many believe the Church of the Holy Sepulcher to be the site of Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection.
For thousands of years, historic Palestine has known a succession of conquerors and rulers. Going backwards in time—Israel, Jordan, the British, Ottoman Turks, Mameluks, Crusaders, Ayyubids, Fatimids, Abbasids, Umayyads, Persians, Byzantines, Romans, Jewish Hasmoneans, Greeks, Seleucids, Egyptians, Macedonians, Babylonians, Kings of Judah, etc. What if every civilization that ever lived in Palestine-Canaan-Judeah-Samaria claimed the right to return?
After a spectacular military victory in 1967, Israel unlawfully annexed East Jerusalem, redrawing municipal boundaries (and) intentionally leaving out densely-populated Palestinian areas in order to shape a demographic reality of a Jewish majority. But more than 300,000 Palestinians still live in the city. Their permanent residency status entitles them to live and work in Israel, to receive benefits and vote in local elections— but they cannot participate in national elections as voters or as candidates. Laws passed in the Israeli Knesset deny Palestinians from East Jerusalem the possibility of living there with spouses from Gaza, the West Bank or other countries. Since 1967, Israel has revoked the permanent residency of some 14,500 Palestinians. Palestinians are essentially stateless.
Along with growing chaos and violence in the West Bank and Gaza, there is a growing inevitability. Although many Jews are reluctant to let go of the idea of two states, this possibility is officially dead. We are edging toward a democratic state of Israel—one person, one vote. The struggle for civil rights is beginning. Wise Jewish elders, including Judah Magnes, Martin Buber and Albert Einstein, believed Israel should have been created as a bi-national state from its inception. The UN Partition Plan of 1948 called for Jerusalem to become an international city. The promise of Jerusalem is to become a city radiating peace across a war-weary world.
Keltz is a longtime resident of Taos and author of “Scrapbook of a Taos Hippie.” Her most recent publication, “Unexpected Bride in the Promised Land,” is a historical memoir that describes her experience of finding sanctuary with a Palestinian family during the 1967 War in Israel-Palestine. As a retired educator, Keltz is free to visit grandkids an both coasts and is working on her next book.