President Donald Trump’s proclamation on Wednesday “officially recognizing Jerusalem as [Israel’s] capital” and his decision to relocate the “United States Embassy to Israel to Jerusalem as soon as practicable” has rocked the world.
The measure certainly has its opponents, including Pope Francis and the heads of some Christian churches in Jerusalem. In fact, 13 church leaders from Greek, Syrian and Armenian Orthodox, Catholic, Lutheran and other traditions signed a letter to Trump that warned of potential repercussions, according to The Los Angeles Times.
“We are certain that such steps will yield increased hatred, conflict, violence and suffering in Jerusalem and the Holy Land,” the letter read.
Pope Francis, who spoke out on Wednesday before Trump’s announcement, asked that the status quo be respected.
“I make a heartfelt appeal so that all commit themselves to respecting the status quo of the city, in conformity with the pertinent resolutions of the United Nations,” the pontiff said.
But plenty of support also streamed in from a variety of sources. Nathan Diament, executive director of the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America, for instance, heralded the decision, according to NPR.
“It’s been the consensus mainline view for decades, because Jerusalem is the capital city for Israel and the Jewish people,” he said. “The United States puts its embassies in capital cities, and it’s unjust and discriminatory to say we’re going to single out Israel as the one country where we don’t put our embassy [in the capital].”
With the slew agreement and disagreement in mind, you might be wondering why Jerusalem is such a point of contention — and why the city remains so important to Christians, Jews and Muslims, alike.
To begin: Jerusalem is one of the oldest cities on Earth, with religious connections dating back to 1050 B.C. when King David conquered the locality. After that, the Temple on the Mount was built, as USA Today noted.
Today, the Western Wall — a portion of that temple — remains a holy place for Jews. Meanwhile, the Dome of the Rock and the Al-Aqsa Mosque are nearby on the Temple mount. The site is the location where Muslims believe that Muhammad ascended, thus making the area vitally important to Islamic adherents.
It’s basically the third holiest site in Islam after Mecca and Medina, as Reuters reported.
Adding to the Jewish roots there is the fact that the area is also believed by Jews to be the place where Abraham readied himself to sacrifice his son Isaac (as you know, God stepped in and that sacrifice didn’t happen). Jews call the city Jerusalem, while Arabs refer to it as Al-Quds (“The Holy”).
Also, for Christians, Jerusalem is remembered as the place where Jesus walked and was crucified. The Church of the Holy Sepulchre is also believed by many to be the location of Christ’s tomb, according to USA Today.
Take those religious issues and mix them into the political landscape and you can easily see why there’s chaos. Consider that Israel has long called Jerusalem its capital, though Palestinians also believe that the eastern portion of the city should be the center of their future independent state. The two sides have been battling over the land for eons.
CNN has a bit of the history:
The United Nations partition plan drawn up in 1947 envisaged Jerusalem as a separate “international city.” But the war that followed Israel’s declaration of independence one year later left the city divided. When fighting ended in 1949, the armistice border — often called the Green Line because it was drawn in green ink — saw Israel in control of the western half, and Jordan in control of the eastern half, which included the famous Old City.
During the 1967 Six-Day War, Israel occupied East Jerusalem. Since then, all of the city has been under Israel’s authority. The city marks “Jerusalem Day” in late May or early June. But Palestinians, and many in the international community, continue to see East Jerusalem as the capital of a future Palestinian state.
Until this week, the U.S. had joined the rest of the world in refusing to take sides on the matter. But that changed with Trump’s declaration on Wednesday — a move that CNN said could “inflame tensions in the region and unsettle the prospects for peace.”
And considering the history and the religious connections to the city, it’s no surprise that there’s controversy.
The U.S. will also move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, though the timeframe for that isn’t clear. Currently, there are 86 embassies in Tel Aviv and zero in Jerusalem — but that will change when the U.S. relocates its facility there. The history on the matter, even in the U.S., is complicated.
As Faithwire previously reported, a U.S. law passed in 1995 called for the embassy to be moved to Jerusalem, but the past three presidents have enacted waivers to delay such a move, citing security concerns, as CNN reported.