Jerusalem 3000: An Uncertain Celebration

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Jerusalem 3000

An Uncertain Celebration

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About 3,000 years ago, David, son of Jesse, became king over the people of Israel. But he came to the throne of a divided nation. Israel was torn by tribal as well as family loyalties. Some had supported the family of David's predecessor, Saul, and some had shown loyalty to David. So David knew he had to try to bind up old wounds and unify his people.

After reigning over Israel for 71/2 years from Hebron, deep in the tribal lands of Judah, David decided he and the nation as a whole needed a fresh start, so he captured the Jebusite stronghold of Jerusalem and made it his capital.

This bold move accomplished two things: It removed the last vestige of Canaanite power in the area. And, since no Israelite tribe had occupied the city for some time, Jerusalem gave David a neutral location from which to rule a united kingdom comprised of 12 tribes whose relationships continued to be strained with tribal jealousies and bickering. David's new capital not only became the unifying governmental and spiritual center of his people, it became-historically and prophetically-the geographic focal point of human history.

This year the modern nation of Israel is celebrating the trimillennial anniversary of the establishment of Jerusalem as David's capital. But, rather than being a celebration of unity as in David's time, Jerusalem 3000, as the festivities are called, ironically has become a source of division. In fact, critics of the celebration abound, and few aspects of the anniversary go unquestioned. Of all the ambivalence surrounding the celebration, nothing seems more uncertain than the future of the city that is at the heart of the celebration.

As Israel celebrates Jerusalem 3000, it is clear that local, national and international political complexities have tied a Gordian knot the likes of which only divine intervention can sever.

A celebration mired in dispute

"United Jerusalem is ours! Jerusalem forever!" With those words September 4, 1995, the late Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin inaugurated Jerusalem 3000, a 16-month celebration leading up to January 12, 1997. Two months after his announcement, Mr. Rabin was dead, assassinated by a fellow Jew at a peace rally in Tel Aviv. The celebration he launched with such high hopes is now often ridiculed by Jews and non-Jews alike.

Not even the date of the celebration goes uncriticized. In the estimation of many laymen and scholars, the "3000" in Jerusalem 3000 is premature. Scholars from an ultrareligious Jewish sect, the Charedim (meaning "those who tremble"), believe that the anniversary of King David's conquest of Jerusalem should not take place until the year 2132. Their date is based on the second-century Sedar Olam Raba-a document that charts Jewish history.

But, according to Israel's Ben-Zvi Institute, "[t]he accepted date for this event is based on the account in the Bible, on archaeological data and on external sources, which confirm that it took place about 1004 B.C.E." (before the common era, the equivalent of B.C.). Still other scholars insist the celebration is three to seven years off. Organizers acknowledge the controversy concerning the date of the celebration but note that, if nothing else, 1996 is a pretty good compromise.

Not even the schedule of cultural events has escaped criticism. Referring to the list of operas, symphonies and other musical performances planned for throughout the celebration, Jerusalem's ultrareligious Deputy Mayor Meir Porush told the Jerusalem Post's news service: "These celebrations have no Jewish content. They are good for Washington, D.C., but not for Jerusalem."

The deputy mayor's comment aptly illustrates not only the deep divisions over Jerusalem 3000 but the dramatic shift in the city's political climate. Nowhere is that transformation felt more than in the ousting of a political icon.

Shift in city administration

Few men have left more of an imprint on Jerusalem than its former mayor, Teddy Kollek, who managed the city from 1965 until his electoral defeat in 1993. Among other highly visible projects, Mr. Kollek helped found the Israel Museum and the Jerusalem Foundation. The latter funneled more than $350 million into the physical transformation of the city into an international cultural center. In fact, one of Jerusalem's most noted architectural points of interest stems from a Kollek-era mandate (a holdover from British policy) that all buildings in the city be faced with local Jerusalem limestone. The result of that regulation gives Jerusalem its breathtakingly beautiful tawny glow at sunrise and especially at sunset.

As for Jerusalem 3000, this was to be the grand finale for Teddy, as the mayor was commonly called. Instead, Mr. Kollek's successor, Ehud Olmert, is now running the event.

Mr. Olmert, a member of the conservative Likud Party, defeated Mr. Kollek with the help of the Charedim, Israel's version of the American religious right. As a payback for the Charedim's support, Mayor Olmert, himself not ultrareligious, has favored Charedim politicians with many high local government appointments. This sect, which until recently avoided politics, now holds and exercises the balance of political power in Jerusalem-and it wants to make some changes.

First, with Charedim adherents fast increasing and housing hard to come by, one of the first changes involves lifting the ban-stringently enforced during the Kollek years-on high-rise apartments. Next on their agenda is making the rule of law more responsive to conservative religious views. To fans of former mayor Kollek, this means that the wheels are in motion to turn Jerusalem into the center of Jewish fundamentalism.

Still more criticism

From the perspective of the Palestinian population of the city, Jerusalem 3000 is a celebration of Jewish control. The Arab community has pointed out that the only recognition given the Arab contributions to the city's history is a single museum exhibit called The Contribution of Islam to Western Culture, Science and Art. No one was surprised that the Palestinians have boycotted the opening and subsequent celebrations.

One magazine editorial, noting the lack of recognition for Jerusalem's non-Jewish population in the celebration, said: "What's sad about this amnesia is that this ancient holy city deserves better. If Israel really wants to celebrate Jerusalem, and not just attract homesick tourist dollars . . ., it can further the peace process by recognizing the spiritual feelings of all its citizens" (Glow, September 4, 1995).

Another group conspicuously absent at the opening ceremonies was the diplomatic corps from the European Union. Many other diplomats have approached the celebration with extreme caution so no one will think they advocate Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. None wishes to lend support to any de-facto recognition of Israel's control. And none wishes to say or do anything that indicates that any of the world's politicians look upon East Jerusalem as anything other than occupied territory.

Even Zvi Raviv, the international coordinator of Jerusalem 3000, admits that many Palestinians and members of the diplomatic corps hold the impression that, in light of the peace process between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization, the celebration is not so much a commemoration of the establishment of King David's ancient capital as it is a slick diplomatic move to gain recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital.

But Mr. Raviv counters the idea by noting that the celebration was planned by the Kollek administration long before the Oslo peace agreement was signed on September 28, 1995.

Whose Jerusalem?

As a spiritual center for three of the world's religions-Judaism, Christianity and Islam-the city faces political realities more complex than those of most other cities on the planet. Jews and Arabs both point to long connections with Jerusalem. Their claims will be put to the test in the next round of bargaining in the peace process.

For Jerusalem's Palestinian population, the Oslo Agreement and the continuing peace process are much on their minds. To them, the single most important issue is sovereignty, and they make no bones about it. They want East Jerusalem to be the capital of their new state, and they offer a practical view of why this should be so.

"What good is it to control some area if you cannot go there except with guns, and you cannot enjoy life there?" said Faisal Husseini, head of the Palestine Liberation Organization in Jerusalem. "I think people want to enjoy life in Jerusalem, and not to have all this fighting go on. I accept that the west side of the city is under Israeli sovereignty if the east side is under Palestinian sovereignty" ("Passions Set in Stone," by Paul Goldberger, New York Times Magazine, September 10, 1995, p. 76).

The official Israeli position views any such division of Jerusalem as out of the question. Mayor Olmert was quoted as saying, "If Jerusalem is split, the city will be destroyed-it will be a death penalty on the city." Yet, clearly, other Israelis seem to be willing to look at the issue. In a poll conducted by the Israel-Palestine Center for Research and Information in May 1995, 28 percent of Israeli adults said they were ready to accept some form of a division of sovereignty of Jerusalem.

The recent election of Benjamin Netanyahu as prime minister of Israel has only further clouded the peace process between Israel and the PLO. The newly elected prime minister has made sweeping promises for strengthening and increasing Israeli settlements in occupied lands. And for those promises he received enormous and unexpected support from religious Jews. Concerning the issue of Jerusalem specifically, Netanyahu noted in his victory speech the special connection of the Jewish past with the present and applied it specifically to Jerusalem. Mr. Netanyahu called Jerusalem "the eternal capital of the Jewish people and the city that will never be divided again . . ."

Mr. Netanyahu's election has left many Arab nations cautious at best about further progress toward peace. The threat of violence will loom large if the new Netanyahu government is perceived as reneging on negotiating in good-faith issues like the status of Jerusalem-issues that were being discussed with the previous Labor government. At this point, Palestinians are relying on foreign governments-especially the United States-to pressure the Israelis to continue the course set by the Rabin-Peres administration.

It is not yet clear what will be the result of the political, social and religious forces at work in Jerusalem. Surely the most difficult issue of the coming peace talks will center on Jerusalem. With the potential for at least a tense peace or another hot war in the Middle East, the stakes for Israelis, Palestinians and the rest of the world are enormous.

Anciently, the Hebrew prophet Zechariah wrote that "it shall happen in that day that I will make Jerusalem a very heavy stone for all peoples; all who would heave it away will surely be cut in pieces, though all nations of the earth are gathered against it" (Zechariah 12:3). His words echo with a striking resonance in today's circumstances.

What lies ahead for Jerusalem?

Over the centuries, Jerusalem has endured the boot of many an occupying army. Jesus Christ foretold the devastation of Jerusalem that occurred in A.D. 70 by Titus's Roman legions. "Do you not see all these things?" Christ asked His disciples while surveying the buildings of the temple complex. "Assuredly, I say to you, not one stone shall be left here upon another, that shall not be thrown down" (Matthew 24:1, 2). All that remain today of Herod the Great's once magnificent temple complex are the foundation stones of the western and southern retaining walls of the temple enclosure.

After predicting for His disciples the destruction of the temple, Jesus led them out of the city and up to the Mount of Olives for a private conversation. There He answered their questions about the sign of His second coming and of the end of the age. He told them of intervening wars and rumors of wars, of nation rising up against nation, of tribulation and persecution and of a time of the preaching of the gospel message-the good news of the coming Kingdom of God-to all the nations as a witness, "and then the end will come" (Matthew 24:3-15). Christ went on to tell of a terrible war that will befall Judea (verses 16-21).

Sobering times indeed lie ahead. But the good news for Jerusalem-and for other bloodstained cities like Beirut, Sarajevo and Belfast-is that the story doesn't end there. There is indeed wonderful news ahead.

The book of Zechariah includes a heartening prophecy concerning Jerusalem. In the 14th chapter we read that God says He will gather all the nations to battle against Jerusalem, and the city will fall. But, as all hope seems lost, we read in verse 3 that "in that day His feet will stand on the Mount of Olives." And in verse 5 we read, "Thus the LORD my God will come, and all the saints with You."

This joyous passage concerning the Messiah's dramatic return gives hope to Jerusalem and all mankind. It closes with the profound statement that "Jerusalem shall be safely inhabited" (verse 11).

Something to celebrate

Is a time of peace and safety possible in Jerusalem? According to Bible prophecy, yes, it is possible. No longer a "heavy stone" (Zechariah 12:3) for the nations, Jerusalem will stand as a model city for the entire world. Only under the righteous government of God, administered through Jesus Christ, will such a time arrive.

Jesus will bring to fulfillment such prophetic passages as Isaiah 60 and Ezekiel 40-48, which picture a glorious future for Jerusalem. David, the king who brought peace to Israel 3,000 years ago, will be resurrected to eternal life and will lead the nation, under Christ, to peace once more (Jeremiah 30:9; Ezekiel 37:24, 25). Under the glorious rule of Jesus Christ, the city will become the religious capital of the world (Jeremiah 3:17; Zechariah 14:16, 17).

The Jerusalem of the Kingdom of God will be all that King David, and the celebrants of Jerusalem 3000, could have hoped for-and more.

The modern Jewish state's celebration of Jerusalem 3000 is a far cry from the event that took place in David's era. The arguments and political implications concerning the gala have served only to heighten differences. Sadly, much potentially historic significance has been lost in all of the bickering.

When David was crowned king of Israel in Hebron, he began a healing process. We read in 1 Chronicles 11:1-3 of his coronation acclamation: "Indeed we are your bone and your flesh. Also, in time past, even when Saul was king, you were the one who led Israel out and brought them in; and the LORD your God said to you, 'You shall shepherd My people Israel, and be ruler over My people Israel.'"

In many ways, David's long-awaited coronation foreshadowed a far greater coronation than his own: that of Jesus Christ, the descendant of David. As ancient Israel had to await David's rulership to be unified, humanity awaits the return of Jesus Christ to turn from living a way of confrontation to one of cooperation. As David became the shepherd of his people, Jesus Christ will return as the loving Shepherd, not only of Israel, but of all mankind. He will heal and unify a world torn by strife and sin. Jerusalem will at last see true and lasting peace.