March 29, 2012 | National Post

The ‘Global March to Jerusalem’: Hateful Ignorance on Parade

March 29, 2012 | National Post

The ‘Global March to Jerusalem’: Hateful Ignorance on Parade

When Israeli paratroopers entered Jerusalem’s Old City during the Six-Day War of 1967, they had to rely on a passing bystander — an old Arab Jerusalemite — to guide them to the Western Wall of Herod’s long-destroyed Jewish Temple.

Why did these soldiers not know the way to the holiest place in all Judaism? Because none had ever visited it. When the Jordanians ruled Jerusalem, Jewish visitors were persona non grata, and many synagogues were bulldozed.

I recite these facts in anticipation of March 30, the date picked by activists for what they call the “Global March to Jerusalem.”

“The march will demand freedom for Jerusalem and its people and to put an end to the Apartheid, ethnic cleansing and Judaisation policies affecting the people, land and sanctity of Jerusalem,” the web site informs us. “We aim to highlight the cause of Jerusalem (the City of Peace) which is considered the key to peace and war in the region and the world. The march will confirm that the policies and practices of the racist Zionist state of Israel against Jerusalem and its people are a crime not only against Palestinians but against all humanity.”

With just a few sentences, the web site summarizes the dominant strains of anti-Israeli propaganda that circulate in the Arab and Muslim worlds (as well as at the United Nations Human Rights Council, which just adopted five new resolutions against Israel, including one written by Syria). In regard to Jerusalem, in particular, the Global March organizers emphasize the image of the city as a sort of once-peaceful, once-tolerant Eden, that recently has become corrupted and desecrated by hateful Jews.

And so it is worth taking a moment to remember what Jerusalem and the surroundings looked like before the Israelis took control of the area 45 years ago.

Far from the thriving centre of tourism and spiritual life that the city has become under the Israelis, Hashemite Jerusalem was something of a backwater. Even the Temple Mount — then, as now, controlled by Muslims — attracted few Islamic visitors. Jewish prayer at the Western Wall was practically non-existent: The faithful were confined to a tiny, constrained pit the size of a bowling lane.

And what about now? From the manner by which Israel’s shrillest enemies describe the Jewish state, one would think that the mosques had all been destroyed or turned into pig stys. And yet al-Aqsa and the holy Muslim buildings it contains have become an active place of worship for Muslims from around the world. Indeed, Muslims are free to pray at mosques all over Israel (and, unlike in many Muslim nations, Shiite and Sunni worshipers do not have to worry bout being blown up by their opposite number as they pray), just as Christians gather and worship freely at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, and Bahá’ís congregate freely at the Bahá’í World Centre in Haifa.

Unless you count the oddballs over at “Jews for Jesus,” there is not a single religious faith that does not enjoy full freedom of worship in Israel. Only a tiny, militant, widely despised fringe of Jews seek to remove the Temple Mount from Muslim religious custody.

Once the Jordanians were thrown out in 1967, archeologists from around the world descended on Jerusalem to excavate the treasures that Muslims had feared would weaken their claim to the city. In recent decades, as Simon Sebag Montefiore recounts in his newest book, “Canaanite fortifications, Judaean seals, Herodian foundations, Maccabean and Byzantine walls, Roman streets, Umayyad palaces, Ayyubid gates [and] Crusader churches” have all been uncovered.

Muslim leaders, on the other hand, when given the chance to excavate an area under the Temple Mount in the mid-1990s, took the opportunity to throw out tons of uninspected material, along with untold historical treasures. To his dying day, Yasser Arafat trafficked in the bizarre conspiracy theory that Jerusalem had never been a Jewish holy city. Such ignorance permeates Palestinian propaganda to this day.

But that Israel’s tolerant attitude toward other faiths’ presence in Jerusalem were mirrored by, say, Saudi Arabia, where non-Muslims aren’t allowed even to enter Muslim holy cities, let alone build churches or synagogues.

And yet we never hear of a “Global March to Mecca.” Odd that, no?

Jews and Arabs likely will continue to fight over control of Jerusalem for many years. But let us dispense with the idea that the Israeli presence amounts to a “racist” desecration of an otherwise “peaceful” city. If the moral battle between Jews and Arab were fought on the basis of who governed Jerusalem in a more tolerant and civilized fashion, the victor would not be hard to choose.

— Jonathan Kay is Managing Editor for Comment at the National Post, and a fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

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